How Morgan and Burnett made their way to Washington


Welcome to another installment of National Matters with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. Already this week, Rizzo shared some of the inner workings about how a trade takes place.

Today, we’re going to delve deeper into his first deal with the Nationals - the four-player trade he made with the Pirates on June 30, 2009, which brought center fielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett to Washington. Rizzo sat with Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling to put together an inside look at the trade:

The Sean Burnett/Nyjer Morgan trade all started with what we felt was a glaring need in our organization. We felt we needed a guy that could really patrol center field. We felt we needed an established big league guy who could really handle center field.

Nyjer-Morgan_Home-Hitting-Tall.jpgThe other parts - if he’s left-handed, a leadoff hitter, a base-stealer, that type of thing was kind of secondary. We wanted a guy that could really get after it. We wanted a guy that was a live-body guy, that had a great, upbeat, positive attitude. I had recognized the Pirates had a surplus of guys. At that time, they still had Nate McLouth, and Nyjer was playing left because of it. I had seen Nyjer play a lot of games in left field. I saw the way he made breaks on balls, and his closing speed on fly balls in the gap. I said to myself, ‘This guy’s got to be able to play center field.’

Then, we got a little lucky. McLouth went down for a week or so (at the end of last April). I sent a couple of our scouts in there to see Nyjer play center field. They agreed with what my assessment was, that he could really play center field. Then we really dove into the background of the player, and we did a lot of due diligence on the player. Again, we were a little lucky.

(Triple-A Syracuse manager) Trent Jewett was with him for a long time. (Minor-league pitching coordinator) Spin Williams had him in the minor leagues for years. And as it turns out, he was big about Burnett, too. We had them scouted quite a bit in that window before we made the trade. We really battled hard to get that second piece in the trade, with Burnett. That was a part of it that really goes unnoticed. But as important as Nyjer was, Burnett was nearly as important. We really held out for that piece. The deal would have been done a couple weeks earlier without battling for that second piece.

And then when we were really getting into this, exchanging names for the second piece of the puzzle, we employed our sabermetrics guys. We’re a happy family when the sabermetrics matches up with what I think, so it worked out well. As it turns out, it came to the point where sabermetrically, this guy happened to be off the charts. It got to the point where it’s like, ‘Oh, jeez, now I want this guy more and more.’ All of a sudden, we’re holding out for this other piece, and they’re saying, ‘No, we can’t do that,’ and it’s kind of falling apart a little bit. And the next day, we built it back up. But it was two willing participants. The procedures we had put in place worked perfectly. At the end of the day, you have to have the guts to pull the trigger and make a deal.

All told, we probably made the first phone call about Nyjer two months before the trade. When McLouth went down, we had scouted him. From there, it was making sure this was the player we wanted, sending a scout to see him, scouting the second piece of it, too. It took a couple of months. When we were able to have Burnett as the second piece of the trade, that’s when we were able to do it.