Rizzo on the season’s disappointments and offseason priorities

PHOENIX - Reporters sat down with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo for more than 13 minutes a bit ago, discussing what went wrong this season that left the Nats on the outside of the playoffs looking in and where Rizzo will look to improve the club this offseason.

I’ll have bits of that interview coming throughout the next few days, but first, here is some of the important quick-hit stuff that was discussed:

Rizzo declined to address the upcoming managerial search or what qualities he’ll look for in someone to replace Davey Johnson, saying he’ll wait until the season is over to get into that topic. But he did say that he’ll consult Johnson (but not his veteran players) when looking for a new manager.

“It’d be a resource I’d be foolish not to tap into,” Rizzo said of Johnson.

As for this season, Rizzo obviously didn’t hope or expect the Nats to be in the situation they are now - playing meaningless games late in September.

“I think the most disappointing is that at the end of the year, we didn’t win enough games to get into the playoffs,” Rizzo said. “There were a lot of exciting, good things that happened also. The emergence of Anthony Rendon as an everyday player. Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan as possible rotation starters. Just a lot of our younger players taking a step in their progression.”

On a smaller scale, the offensive issues over the first four months of the season were what jumped out at Rizzo as the biggest factor in the Nationals’ struggles.

“I think offensive efficiency is the thing that kind of disappointed us most,” he said. “It’s not doing the little things to create runs and manufacture runs. We were more reliant on the longball, I think, than we should’ve been, and I think it’s shown. We’ve created more runs, we’ve stolen more bases, we’ve hit with runners in scoring position much better recently, and that’s really the roster that we constructed all along, we just waited too long to get it going.”

When it comes to offseason priorities, Rizzo will put the managerial search atop the list, largely because that decision could end up playing a part in the way the roster is put together.

“A manager is going to have input on what we do with the roster construction and that type of thing,” Rizzo said. “But I think the team, as far as the core group, is set up pretty good. The core rotation and the core bullpen is set up pretty good. I think we’re going to look to obviously better ourselves in any way we can.

“But just looking at an overview, we’ll probably look to improve the bullpen, see if we can improve the bench a little bit. And any other way that we can improve the everyday lineup, if there’s any way we can do that, we’ll certainly look into that also.”

The Nationals could look to explore contract extensions with a couple of their arbitration-eligible players, and Ian Desmond would probably be atop that list. Desmond made $3.8 million this season in his first year of arbitration, and he has two arbitration years left, leaving him under team control through 2015.

But Desmond is due to get a hefty raise through arbitration this year, and the Nats might try and lock him up long-term before he has a chance to get close to free agency.

“Desi is one of our core players,” Rizzo said. “He’s one of our leaders on the team. If there’s a deal out there that we can get done that keeps him here for the long-term, it would be certainly up there on the priority list. It’s going to be a deal that would have to work for both parties.”

Jordan Zimmermann fit into that group, too?

“Yeah. He’s one of our own,” Rizzo said. “We drafted, developed and signed him. He’s one of the really good pitchers in the league. We’d certainly like to keep him on our team.”

Zimmermann is making $5.35 million through arbitration this season, and like Desmond, he’s under team control through 2015.

Back to Johnson, the Nats have announced that he’ll be kept on as a senior advisor to the general manager even after leaving his managerial role. What exactly will that leave Johnson working on?

“Davey’s going to be a consultant for us, and we’ll see him throughout spring training,” Rizzo said. “He’ll be meandering through our minor league system, not only looking at our players, but also helping our coaches and managers, learning their craft, evaluating them and helping them improve.

“He’s going to be an important piece for us and a guy who I can bounce a lot of things off.”

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