Nov 1, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo (left) watches as managerMatt Williams
(right) talks to the media during the press conference at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
It’s no secret that 2013 was a disappointing season for the Washington Nationals. From injuries to a lack of timely hitting, there were many issues that plagued the team last season. The Nationals failed to live up to lofty expectations, and there’s nobody more determined to turn things around in 2014 than general manager Mike Rizzo.
In the last four months, Rizzo has addressed virtually every hole the team had at the end of the season. Rizzo traded for Doug Fister to make one of the best rotations in baseball even better. He also signed outfielder Nate McLouth to bolster the bench and brought in a much-needed left-handed reliever in Jerry Blevins.
Rizzo has been a busy man this offseason, and in an interview with MLB Network’s Hot Stove on Tuesday morning, Rizzo hinted that he’s not done yet.
“We [got] a lot of our business done earlier in the winter,” Rizzo said. “We’re trying to find some smaller, less significant deals that could add up to big things down the road because you never know who you sign in January that could affect a pennant race.”
Rizzo did not reveal who those ‘less significant deals’ could be, but it has been heavily rumored that the Nationals are looking to sign free agent closer Grant Balfour. When asked about Balfour, Rizzo did not confirm the rumor, but he did not shoot it down either.
"“At this time of year, we look at any way to improve our club,” Rizzo said. “We feel our bullpen is extremely strong, but if you can strengthen a strength, that never hurts either. You can never have too many good players. You can never have too many good arms, good relievers. Leave no stone unturned.”"
As usual, Rizzo’s answer revealed nothing. But the fact that he even bothered to answer the question tells me that the Nationals are indeed interested in signing Balfour and that more than likely, they’re going to do it.
Balfour could be a big signing for the Nationals, but it is not the only thing Rizzo has to address in the coming weeks, as the Nationals may face arbitration hearings with Tyler Clippard and Doug Fister. Not only have the Nationals been unable to get a deal done with Clippard and Fister, but they are also quite far apart with both players on their 2014 salaries.
Despite the significant separation between the players and the team, Rizzo still hopes they can get a deal done before hearings begin next month.
"“We had a pretty good strategy with our filing numbers. You’re talking about two players that are extremely important to us coming into 2014 and beyond. We certainly don’t like taking people into the [hearings] and if we can avoid that with a deal that makes sense for both guys, I would certainly like to do it,” Rizzo said."
There’s a lot going on right now with the Nationals, but that doesn’t stop Rizzo from constantly looking towards the future. The Nationals have the rare commodity of having a surplus of young talent within the organization, but that also means that eventually the team will have to decide which of these players they would like to keep long-term.
"“Like a lot of other teams, we implement a one yer plan, a three-year plan, and a five-year plan going forward so we take into consideration all the long-term assets that we like as players. These deals have to make sense not only for players in the long-term, but for teams in the long-term. It has to be a careful balance and you can’t do it for all players.”"
No doubt Rizzo has a lot planned for the Nationals both short, and long-term. Although Rizzo is usually very quiet on what his plans are for the team, he was quite candid about one of his most important plans: attending this year’s NatsFest.
"“We’re scheduled to have the whole club there, we’ve got a lot of things going on. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a time when you can get really up close and personal with the players.”"
The Nationals will once again enter the season with sky-high expectations, and given Rizzo’s impressive offseason, it would be a shame if the team once again fails to live up to those expectations. As for Rizzo, he believes the Nationals will turn things around in 2014.
"“We’re fired up for the season, we’re ready to go for Spring Training. Looking forward to big things in Washington this year.”"
If there’s one thing Nationals fans learned last year, it’s that preseason expectations mean absolutely nothing over the course of a 162 game season. Only time will tell if this will finally be the year for the Washington Nationals. Until then, all Nationals fans are saying is ‘In Rizzo we trust.’
And indeed we do.