Rizzo on Balfour, bullpen, arbitration negotiations and more

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo just met with reporters for nearly 10 minutes here at NatsFest, and covered a wide range of topics related to the Nats’ roster and remaining offseason pursuits.

Rizzo said that while the Nats are still open to upgrading their roster in any way that will improve the club, members of the front office aren’t necessarily actively seeking to make more moves. Asked if it’s reasonable to say that the Nats are receiving more phone calls from teams and agents than they’re making at this point, Rizzo responded in the affirmative.

“I think that’s a fair assessment of the market,” Rizzo said. “We’re not making a whole lot of phone calls to people, but if we see a value out there, we certainly would embrace it and see if it fits for us.”

Rizzo confirmed that the Nationals were in talks with reliever Grant Balfour, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Rays earlier this week. The Nats felt that they had put a solid proposal in front of the former Athletics closer, but in the end, the Florida resident opted to stay close to home by signing with the Rays, giving him an opportunity to remain in the closer’s role.

“We thought that there was a value there, and (I think) that sleeping in his own bed and being near to his home overrode what we were trying to get for him,” Rizzo said.

While the Nats made a run at Balfour, Rizzo said that the Nats aren’t making a concerted effort to upgrade their bullpen. Essentially, they saw Balfour as a guy who could offer good value and improve the club, but they don’t feel they need to now go sign a different free agent reliever.

“We’re really satisfied with our bullpen,” Rizzo said. “We like the construction of our bullpen and the construction of our roster.”

Rizzo said that he’s had discussions with “several agents” that represent Nats players about long-term extensions, but when asked if Wilson Ramos is among them, Rizzo said the Nats haven’t had those talks with Ramos’ agent to this point.

There are two Nationals players that are arbitration-eligible that are still without deals for the 2014 season: Tyler Clippard and Doug Fister. Clippard is seeking $6.35 million in 2014 while the Nationals countered with an offer of $4.45 million. Fister is seeking $8.5 million in 2014, while the Nationals have offered $5.5 million.

Rizzo said that he’s “optimistic” that the Nats will be able to avoid going to arbitration with those two pitchers. The Nats are currently talking about just one-year deals for Clippard and Fister, Rizzo said, as both sides just want to get the arbitration stuff done with for now.

On another note, Rizzo said that Bryce Harper (knee surgery), Stephen Strasburg (elbow surgery) and Adam LaRoche (elbow surgery) are all expected to be 100 percent going into spring training, but that they’ll be eased into action early on. Those players have met with team trainer John Philbin this offseason, and the Nats apparently have been monitoring their rehabs closely.

Finally, Livan Hernandez is here at NatsFest today. Asked if there was a capacity that Hernandez could help the Nats in 2014, Rizzo quipped, “Yeah, reliever.”

In all seriousness, Hernandez has talked in the past about hoping to earn some type of off-field job with the Nationals, and Rizzo seems open to that idea. He said that he would like Hernandez to be at spring training this year, and sees him as a wealth of knowledge that current Nats pitchers can learn from.

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