With the offseason starting to wind down and the start of spring training now less than a month away, MASNsports.com's Dan Kolko caught up with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo to discuss a few remaining roster question marks and how the team is shaping up this season.
Here is the full Q&A, which includes discussion about trade talks involving Michael Morse, the search for more starting pitching depth and the Nationals' policy on handing out no-trade clauses:
Dan Kolko: It appears your roster for this season is pretty much set, with Michael Morse remaining the major question mark at this point. When we talked to you after the Adam LaRoche signing, you said you had gotten interest from "several ballclubs" on Morse. Where do those talks stand now?
Mike Rizzo: We've gotten a great response of interest for Michael. He's a good player. He's got one year left of control at a very reasonable price for his skill set. So suffice to say, we're getting plenty of interest for him. We're going to sift out and try and get the most impactful deal for us that we can get, and I think there's enough interest in him out there that we'll get what we want, or we won't trade him.
DK: Like with John Lannan last year, is this a situation where you could see talks for Morse going deep into spring training if you don't get the kind of return that you're looking for?
MR: I've said it before, and kind of my M.O. is we're going to be patient and get a return that we feel is fair. Like we've done with the majority of the trades here, we're not trying to kill somebody in the trade. We like win-win situations. We need to get what we need to get for Mike Morse because he's a good player that as recent as 2011 hit .300 with 31 homers and close to 100 RBIs. So this is a good player. He'll be a good player for us if we keep him and he'll be a good player for whoever gets him, so we have to get a return that's befitting of his talent level.
DK: You've said throughout the offseason that adding more starting pitching depth is a priority for this team. Is that still an area you're focusing on?
MR: I'm very happy with the five major league starters that we've got penciled in. We've got guys in the system that we feel could be insurance for us after those guys. So I'm extremely pleased with our starting rotation in the big leagues. We're always looking to add depth, that's something we've been doing since I took over here, and we'll continue to do that, but if you're asking me if I'm content and happy with our starting rotation, I definitely am.
DK: When it comes to starters who could add organizational depth, Javier Vasquez is one guy who is out there. There were reports that you went down to Puerto Rico recently to watch Vasquez pitch. What can you tell me about that and where things stand with the search for additional starters?
MR: I've always loved Javier Vasquez. He's a terrific human being, he's a great family man. He's a great pitcher who, before he retired, was pitching extremely well. I went down to see for myself if he was back. His stuff is really good. I'm not sure if he's ready to jump back in to pitch full-time or if he still wants to be with his family. There are other people still available that would fulfill what we're trying to do: get some Triple-A depth and some insurance (by adding) major league starters still out there in the industry.
DK: Not sure if you are able to talk much about this, but have you done any negotiating with Vasquez or his agent, or have things not reached that stage yet?
MR: Now you know better than that I'm (not) going to tell you that!
DK: Fair enough. When it comes to the guys up for arbitration, have you taken part in any talks on multi-year extensions for guys like Jordan Zimmermann or Ian Desmond, or is that not in the works?
MR: No updates on long-term extension updates or arbitration updates. We're days away from filing date, so the boys, we're in full arbitration mode. We're nowhere near doing any of our arbitration cases yet.
DK: Would you be OK working on extensions for any of those arbitration guys into the season, or is that not something you would want to do once the regular season is under way?
MR: We don't have any hard and fast rules about negotiating into spring training or into the season.
DK: After LaRoche signed, he told reporters on a conference call that he wanted a no-trade clause but that the Nationals were not willing to give one. You gave Jayson Werth a no-trade clause two offseasons ago. What is the organizational policy on handing out no-trade clauses?
MR: We'd rather not give them, because it makes it harder to trade them. It gives the general manager less flexibility and less leverage on trades, so we'd rather not give them.
DK: Would you say that it's a hard-and-fast rule at this point not to give out no-trade clauses, or does it vary on a case-by-case basis?
MR: I would be very reluctant in giving out a no-trade, yes.
DK: With the start of spring training quickly approaching, how do you feel about the overall makeup of the roster and how the team is shaping up?
MR: Well, I think we're very satisfied with the roster we have. I think we're very, very balanced as far as a ballclub. I think we've got a very balanced lineup, combination of some really good on-base percentage guys high in the upper part of the lineup, we're very balanced left-handed and right-handed. We're a very competent power-hitting team. We've got speed and athleticism. I think we're going to improve our base-stealing numbers and we're going to be very aggressive going first-to-third.
Defensively, I think we've really improved ourselves by putting Denard Span in center and Bryce Harper in one of the corners. An outfield of Harper, Span and Werth defensively is as good as anybody in the league's, in my opinion. And our infield, I believe, is as good or better than anybody's in the league with the guys that we have.
We've got a very strong catching corps, we've got a young, controllable power-pitching starting rotation and we've got great flexibility and performance with swing-and-miss stuff in the bullpen. Our bench is experienced, more experienced now than they were last year, and with high upside. We've got guys that could play as everyday players on a lot of teams coming off the bench for us, and they're young, controllable guys. We've got a good minor league system. We've got guys that are ready to take the next step and compete to crack this very young, very talented major league roster. We feel that we're very interesting to play.