03/03/10 6:49 PM ET
Q&A with Mike Rizzo
General manager pleased with progress, but won't stop
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
So Rizzo kept busy trying to improve the team this offseason, signing free agents Matt Capps, Adam Kennedy, Jason Marquis and Ivan Rodriguez, while trading for Brian Bruney.
Rizzo did more than just add players. He made more than 15 changes in the front office, including hiring his father, Phil, as senior advisor to the GM.
MLB.com caught up with Rizzo to talk about the Nationals, right-hander Stephen Strasburg and the possibility of naming third baseman Ryan Zimmerman captain of the team.
MLB.com: The Nationals' exhibition season starts Thursday. How is the team shaping up?
Mike Rizzo: The early returns from Spring Training are positive. Guys are getting their work in. We are seeing a progression in the pitching department. Of course, the pitching is ahead of the hitting. We are starting to see the position players swing the bat a little bit better. It's just good seeing guys moving around and getting ready to play the games.
MLB.com: Since you took over, you have made a lot of changes. What's the biggest change you have made?
Rizzo: We overhauled the roster from last year. I think the type of player that we brought in are good team players with good makeup -- good character. The camp is running very smoothly. There is good camaraderie and morale in the camp. We brought in some veterans. Those are the biggest keys that we addressed -- a veteran presence and getting character guys in the clubhouse that is going to bond together and really give 110 percent to make this club a winner.
MLB.com: Local reporters are speculating that you are not finished when it comes to making moves. Is that true?
Rizzo: You are never done. I talk to 10 general managers per day, just trying to cultivate some ideas that they may have about trades. We are always looking to improve the club in any way we can -- waiver claims, trades, free-agent signings. We are going to keep our eyes open and see if something happens in Spring Training. But there is nothing imminent. But we are never satisfied and never done.
MLB.com: Why are you never done when it come to making moves?
Rizzo: Because I don't think you will have the perfect club. Especially in the modern game, you never have enough pitching. So you are always focusing on getting more inventory on pitching and better pitching. There is change in the market every day. A player gets hurt, it may open up a trade possibility. A free-agent signing by another club may create a surplus at that position for them and there may be a need for you. Each move has a counteraction and ripple effect within the industry. That's why you could never be done or satisfied. You always have to keep communicating with other general managers, trying to see if something could be done that could help your ballclub.
MLB.com: What is your biggest concern about this team?
2010 Spring Training - Washington Nationals
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
Rizzo: It's a solid improvement from last year, but we have some question marks, health-wise. [Scott] Olsen. Has he bounced back from shoulder surgery? Is Chien-Ming Wang going to be the guy we hope he is going to be? Is Cristian Guzman's shoulder good enough to play shortstop? The answers look good right now, but when the regular season counts for real, that's when you really see if those guys are healthy or not.
MLB.com: The biggest talk in Spring Training has been Strasburg. How do you think he is handling all the attention?
Rizzo: I think he has been terrific. He gets his work in. He interacts with his teammates. He has a quiet confidence. He is more ears than he is mouth. As a rookie, that's great. Here's a guy that comes in with a lot of hype, which we have never seen before. But he has respect for the game, the Washington Nationals uniform and the veterans in the clubhouse. He has handled it beautifully, I think.
MLB.com: Have you seen anybody get as much hype as Strasburg?
Rizzo: I really haven't. [When I was with the D-backs], we signed Justin Upton. We had lofty expectations and a lot of hype. He was kind of a star since he was 16 years old, but it wasn't nearly the media attention that Stephen has received.
MLB.com: A lot of fans are hoping that Strasburg is on the Opening Day roster. What are your plans for him?
Rizzo: My stringent plan is, we are going to develop the player, to get the most out of him -- not only for 2010, but for the long-term. We are going to be cautious and careful with him, because he has a great future ahead of him. We are going to do what's best for Stephen and the Washington Nationals in 2010 and beyond.
MLB.com: As a person who has improved farm systems, you are not known to rush players.
Rizzo: That is an accurate statement. To rush a person to the big leagues and to have them take two or three steps backwards, I think, is the wrong plan. ... I have a plan in my mind for Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Derek Norris and all the rest of our top-flight prospects. We are going to dictate to them how we are going to handle their careers. But it's always in the best interest of the player and the organization.
MLB.com: I'm going to play a name game here and tell me what comes to mind: Let's start with Adam Dunn.
Rizzo: Established, consistent and a middle-of-the-lineup bat.
MLB.com: Fans are hoping that he gets a contract extension. What are your plans for him?
Rizzo: I made it pretty clear we have started to dabble with the talks -- to see if there is a possibility we can get him under control for a longer term. I love Adam. I think he brings a lot to our lineup. I think he brings protection for Ryan. I think he gives us legitimacy in the three-, four- or five-hole. He is a great character guy. He is a great guy in the clubhouse. He is a guy we signed to a two-year deal. At the right price, it makes sense to extend his contract.
MLB.com: Josh Willingham.
Rizzo: He is a consummate professional -- great hitter. He give us on-base percentage and power. He is a guy who grinds out at-bats. He is a middle-of-the-lineup hitter who is a super guy in the clubhouse. He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
Rizzo: Ryan Zimmerman, to me, is one of the top 10 players in baseball right now. He is going to blow by a lot of guys as far as production and the way he plays the game. Each and every year that I've been around, Ryan has come in better shape and more focused to perform on the field. He is going to be one of the handful of really great players in 2010 and beyond. He is a quiet leader. He makes it really easy on the general manager and the manager when your best player is your hardest worker, and that's what he is.
MLB.com: Is there any talk of naming Zimmerman captain of the Nationals?
Rizzo: I thought about it starting last year. It's something I continue to think about. He is the leader and a captain already. It's just that we haven't anointed him that and put the "C" on his jersey or anything like that. I don't know if he needs to be anointed as the captain. ... It is something I have thought about. I just haven't acted on it yet. I'm not sure that I will, but it is something I have thought about.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.