Photo taken by Pablo Roa
From the Alex Rodriguez ruling, to the Tanaka signing, to approving instant replay and more, it’s safe to say January was a busy month in Major League Baseball. Despite getting most of their offseason work done in December, general manager Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals had quite a busy month as well.
For most baseball teams, the busiest part of the month of January is the week leading up to the arbitration deadline, as it was for the Nationals. A total of eight players filed for arbitration and fortunately for the team, Mike Rizzo and his brain-trust were able to come to terms with all but two of these players, avoiding arbitration.
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 in an interview with MLB Network’s ‘Hot Stove’ in January."
The Nationals came into the month of January hoping to extend the contracts of Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann. Unfortunately, it looks like that won’t be happening anytime soon. Instead, to the surprise and disappointment of many, both Zimmermann and Desmond got two-year contracts, buying out their arbitration years.
Though it wasn’t what the team or the players wanted, a two-year deal is better than nothing, as Zimmermann and Desmond likely would have been much more expensive with two years of arbitration. Not only that, but the Nationals accomplished both deals while keeping an amicable relationship with both players — something that will come in handy if the Nationals want to negotiate with either next offseason.
"“They’ve been honest the whole time,” Zimmermann said. “There was never any hard feelings or anything like that. They were respectful and honest, told us what they wanted. And we were honest and told them what we wanted. It just didn’t work out. I’m staying in D.C. for another two years. I’m happy about that, and hopefully we can win a World Series.” -Zimmermann on his two-year extension to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post."
Zimmermann added that his two-year deal will ensure that there won’t be any contract-related distractions during Spring Training, and that it does not necessarily close the door on a potential contract extension next season.
"“If a year down the road or after this season if there’s a long-term deal that works out for both sides, we’d be happy and willing to do it,” Zimmermann said. “This is just a small little deal that takes us away from the arbitration. Now I can focus on baseball and not have to worry about the other stuff.”"
Extending Zimmermann and Desmond was not the only goal the Nationals failed to reach in January. The team had reportedly been pursuing Mark Reynolds to bolster the bench, and Grant Balfour to improve the bullpen. Unfortunately for the Nationals, both of these players signed elsewhere and if they want to improve those areas of the ball club, they’ll have to look somewhere else. Despite failing to accomplish these goals, Rizzo knows he got all of the important moves done in December and he’s confident that his team is ready to go as it is.
"“We like the club that we have right now, but we’re always open to add to the roster if it benefits us,” Rizzo told the Washington Post at NatsFest on Saturday. “So I wouldn’t say that we’re actively looking to add anybody, but we’re certainly not going to turn our backs if opportunity knocks and we can get a value. We’ll certainly look into it.”"
Perhaps the best part of January for the Nationals was NatsFest, which was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center last Saturday. During the four-hour event, fans had the opportunity to meet and greet their favorite Nationals players in a wide array of activities including Q and A sessions, player and mascot photo stations, autograph sessions and even batting cages. NatsFest was fun for the fans, but it was also an opportunity for some of the team’s key players to speak out about their health.
This year’s NatsFest also provided an intriguing plot twist for Spring Training, as Danny Espinosa announced that he will be given the chance to win back his old job at second base.
"“Matt and Mike have both called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back,” Espinosa told MASN. “That’s all I can ask for. I’ve never asked for anything to be handed to me. But if I can get a fair opportunity to win my job, I feel like I can do it.”"
January was a big month for baseball and it was a big month for the Washington Nationals. From avoiding arbitration with six key players to hosting an incredible NatsFest, the team had quite a month. Sure, the team failed to accomplish a few of its goals. But considering all they did in December, bringing in Doug Fister, Jerry Blevins and Nate McLouth, there wasn’t really much Mike Rizzo had to do in January.
As exciting as free agent signings and fan fests are, I think we can all agree that the best part about January is that it’s finally over, and that we’re one step closer to baseball. The Nationals loaded their truck for Vierra on Friday, and pitchers and catchers report in only two weeks. We may still be a couple of months away from Opening Day, but it’s coming… And it’s coming fast.