DALLAS - Mike Rizzo’s shopping list hasn’t changed, and he’s spent most of his day in his suite on the fifth floor of the Hilton Anatole laying the groundwork for moves that may or may not come to fruition during the remainder of baseball’s Winter Meetings.
He’s met with two agents representing free agents, though he declined to say whether the Nationals have extended a formal offer to either. Rizzo and the Nationals’ brain trust have also spoken to a pair of teams about trade possibilities, though the GM isn’t sure whether he’ll have a deal done in Texas or have to wait until later in the winter.
“I don’t think it’s important that we get it done at these meetings,” Rizzo said in his daily briefing with reporters who cover the team. “I think it’s important to get the right fit and right deal in place for us for spring training. But there’s no time pressure on us to get something done at these meetings.”
But Rizzo is steadfast that he can land the pieces he most wants - a center fielder and a frontline starting pitcher - before spring training commences in Viera, Fla., in February. He’s not sure whether those pieces are more suited to a trade or a free agent signing, but he’s not going to make a swap just to placate fans and/or media, and he doesn’t feel as if it’s a good idea to raid the organizational depth he’s so carefully crafted with any trade.
The Nationals have been linked to the top three free agent pitchers available - left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, and right-hander Roy Oswalt - though Rizzo seemed willing to consider a trade if none of the free agents pan out.
“We would certainly be open-minded on acquiring a starting pitcher via the trade route,” he said. “If we can’t land one of the free agents, we certainly have been active in the starting pitching trade market. Again, those are valuable pieces to any club and to acquire one will be painful in the players you have to give up. But if the acquisition of one outweighs the pain of giving up a good player or a package of good players that creates holes, if you’re deep at a certain position, then you can afford to do so.”
Finding a center fielder, preferably one who can hit leadoff and play strong defense, is equally challenging. Those teams that have that commodity aren’t willing to part with it without getting a substantial package in return, and while Rizzo is pleased with Washington’s depth, he’s not about to raid it for just anyone.
“The depth is an important part of it,” he said. “We feel we do have good depth, not only in young, controllable players on the big league level, but in the minor league system. It’s taken us a long time to get to that point where we are fairly deep and we have fairly impactful players in the minor league system. We don’t want to erase that in one trade. We’re g0oing to be prudent and careful because we feel we’ve got pieces in place that can help us internally. We’re not going to make a trade just to make a trade. Just because we have depth, we’re not automatically going to trade from that depth.”
But Rizzo isn’t worrying about acquiring an outfielder who would block center field prospects like Michael Taylor and Eury Perez. And if a trade can’t be worked out, he’ll gladly use Jayson Werth in center field, as manager Davey Johnson did late in the season, and look to fill a right field vacancy.
“It was once of the reasons that ... we put Jayson out there, to find out if we had ourselves a center fielder in-house,” Rizzo said. “We felt he played well out there. It doesn’t really keyhole us into having to make a trade for a center fielder because we feel we could have our center fielder in-house.”