With the end of the season fast approaching, Rizzo’s attention will soon turn to the Hot Stove League - negotiating with free agents and making trades to improve the Nationals for the 2011 season.
In the meantime, Rizzo sat down with MASNSports.com Nationals beat writer Ben Goessling to discuss some of the pressing issues the team will deal with in the offseason: the need for an ace in the rotation, the health of Chien-Ming Wang and the contract status of first baseman Adam Dunn.
Ben Goessling: In terms of building a rotation for next year, how do you feel with the inventory at this point? You know you’re not going to have Strasburg. How comfortable are you with everything else, and what do you feel you need to add?
Mike Rizzo: I think I’m pretty comfortable with it. We have seven guys vying for five rotation spots, at least, and that’s not factoring that someone might come up that we don’t expect to compete. Spring training’s going to be exciting next year because there’s going to be competition at several positions. And you know my philosophy - I love competition. I think it brings out the best in people when they have something to prove. So we’re comfortable with the depth and inventory we have. I certainly would like to get a guy to lead that rotation and be a front-of-the-rotation guy, via free agency or trades or that type of thing. Those, as you know, are few and far between. They’re tough to get and often expensive to get. But I feel comfortable with the depth. I do think we need a leader of that rotation. That would be one of our needs in the offseason.
BG: When you know you have Strasburg coming back in another year, can you count on him to be that leader, or is it too dicey with the injury to assume he’s going to be that guy?
Mike Rizzo: I count on Zimmermann to be part of it, so I think I’m going to plan on Stras being a part of it. That’s not to say we’re not going to make a stronger rotation where, if Stras or somebody else falls out of that plan, we’re still deep in the rotation inventory. We’ll get more guys than the five spots because you’re never going to go through a season with five starters. Once you get into championship-caliber play, you’re going to be needing more than five guys.
BG: You mentioned free-agent starting pitchers being expensive. Is that something you’d be open to taking a run at - a big-ticket free agent pitcher this offseason?
Mike Rizzo: We’re going to look at all our avenues. We’ve shown that we’ll go after free agents. We’re going to continue to be aggressive in that mode. We’re going to be aggressive in the trade aspect of acquiring players. As we’ve seen, we can be pretty creative with waiver claims and that type of thing. We’re going to be aggressive in all aspects to acquire the players we need to continue going in the right direction, to get us over the hump, to get us to being a championship-caliber club.
BG: Where does Chien-Ming Wang factor into things going forward? Obviously, he’s not going to pitch this year. Do you look at signing him to a contract before you get to arbitration with him?
Mike Rizzo: I’m in constant conversations with his agent. Alan Nero is not only a terrific agent, he’s a guy that I’ve known very well, and he’s a friend of mine. Chien-Ming has worked extremely hard this season in getting back - an extremely hard and extremely painful rehabilitation. It’s taken longer than obviously all of us thought. But we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We see a guy that hopefully can contribute to us next year. We’re certainly going to work on ways to keep him in the organization. The way he’s worked, it would be a shame if he doesn’t contribute for us this season.
BG: Is it frustrating or disappointing to have signed him, hoping he would be part of your rotation, and be at the end of the year knowing he’s not going to be?
Mike Rizzo: Yeah. It’s frustrating. It’s nothing that he did or we did. It’s just an unfortunate circumstance that it took longer than our training people thought or our doctors thought and than he thought. But like I said, he’s had a great attitude about it the whole time. I can’t fault him for not being prepared. We certainly weren’t going to rush him into performing for us this year and have him regress. I think he’s very appreciative of that, and I know his agent has been appreciative of the way we’ve handled him. Hopefully we can come to some agreement where we can reap the benefits of rehabbing him for the season.
BG: So he’ll go to instructional league and continue the rehab process?
Mike Rizzo: Yeah. He’s going to stay in Florida. He’s going to go through the instructional league and see if he can build arm strength at this point. That’s what he needs, to be stretched out and build arm strength. Hopefully he can come into spring training healthy and ready to compete for a spot.
BG: I know you’re not talking much about specifics with Adam Dunn (and his contract). But in a general sense, is there a point where you say things need to pick up, with free agency approaching? Are we at that point? What’s the philosophy there?
Mike Rizzo: The philosophy is, we like Adam Dunn. We think he’s part of the plan. We’re going to stay in communication and try and get him signed. If we can’t get him signed, it’ll be unfortunate, but we’re certainly going to have somebody at first base that’s going to be a bat for us, and I hope it’s Adam, because he’s done a lot for the organization and he’s a heck of a good player.
BG: You have until the offseason until he has to declare for free agency. But is there a point where the alarm goes off in your head and you say, ‘This thing needs to pick up?’
Mike Rizzo: No. I don’t think there’s any time parameters or any deadline, other than the imposed deadline by rule.
BG: Last thing: Bryce Harper. What’s he been up to since he was introduced here?
Mike Rizzo: He’ll be fully prepared when he gets down there (to Viera, Fla., for the Nationals’ instructional league) on the 16th. He’s been working out with a trainer from his agency group and working out baseball-wise with the college team (at Southern Nevada). He’s hitting them far, probably.