Rizzo on Young, Desmond contract talks and hoisting a championship banner

A sea of red is spilling into Nationals Park through the center field gate, and we’re just about an hour away from first pitch here between the Nationals and Marlins.

Wilson Ramos is ready for his first regular season game in nearly 11 months, saying he’s as excited as he could possibly be. Denard Span is pumped for his first meaningful game in a Nats jersey, and says he had trouble sleeping last night because of all the excitement.

General manager Mike Rizzo is ready to go, as well.

“Opening day is a great day in the baseball calendar,” Rizzo said. “A hoopla day, and then after this, it starts becoming more of a routine and more of the real kind of baseball. But it’s a great atmosphere and we feel good about where we’re at coming off a good offseason and a good spring training, and looking forward to getting it going.”

Rizzo will enjoy the festivities today, but he and his staff, as always, are focused on improving the ballclub any way possible. One area the team is always looking to bolster is pitching depth, and Chris Young, still on the free agent market, is a guy Rizzo’s staff will continue to monitor.

Young spent spring training with the Nats, posting a 2.25 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts, but he opted out of his minor league deal last Monday, choosing to look around on the free agent market for a big league contract. He’s yet to find one to this point, and with the vast majority of teams having already finalized their opening day rosters, his chances of landing a big league deal might be dwindling.

Young raved about his time with the Nats, and even after opting out, said he’d love to return to the organization under the right circumstances. Rizzo said today that the Nats remain open to reuniting with Young.

“Our assistant GM has been in contact with his representatives and I think the decision is in Chris’ hands,” Rizzo said.

Right now, the first guy the Nats would turn to if a starting pitcher was to suffer an injury would probably be left-handed long reliever Zach Duke, but they’d love to get more proven starting depth at the Triple-A level. Re-signing Young to another minor league deal would be ideal, possibly with a later opt-out.

Remaining on the topics of contracts, Rizzo was asked where things stand on a contract extension with shortstop Ian Desmond. We’ve seen a number of players land extensions in the last week (Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was the latest to score a new long-term deal), and both Desmond and the Nats have expressed a willingness to get into extension talks.

“We don’t discuss negotiations with players and that type of thing,” Rizzo said. “But we feel Ian is one of our leaders, he’s one of the guys that are our core players, and he’s a guy that we’d like to be with the Nationals for a long time.”

Per a source, nothing is imminent between the Nats and Desmond’s camp, but things can always change quickly. For his part, Desmond says he isn’t thinking about an extension at this point, instead focusing on the on-field side of things.

“No, I am trying to do everything I can to win a World Series,” Desmond said. “Talking about that or revisiting that isn’t really going to help, so we’ll see where it goes.”

Meanwhile, the Nats will unveil a National League East championship banner above the scoreboard in just a bit, a moment that Rizzo will savor for a brief time before turning toward the 2013 season.

“Lot of pride,” Rizzo said. “It’s a lot of hard work from a lot people. It’s a proud day for the organization, and being the general manager for the organization, I take great pride in being the National League East champions, and today starts anew, so we’ll unveil that, put it behind us, and start looking towards ‘13 to do something special.”

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