After Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo visited Mark Buehrle at his home in St. Louis on Nov. 21, he felt confident in his chances to land the left-hander, one of the most coveted free agents on the market. As the winter meetings churn forward, his sentiment has not changed.
The Nationals are one of five teams Buehrle has winnowed his choices to, and Rizzo has the sense Buehrle could decide quickly. He also has high hopes he’ll land the pitcher the Nationals made their top target this offseason.
“There was a connection there,” Rizzo said. “I went in there and really gave him a presentation of what we’re all about, what we’re trying to do now, what we’re trying to do in the future, what part does he play in it. How his family would be impacted, how we take care of players’ wives, security. All those factors came into it. It was a well-rounded presentation to show all the facets.”
Rizzo told Buehrle he would serve both as a top-of-the-rotation starter and a mentor to the Nationals’ young pitching staff. He emphasized how Washington appeals to a young family like Buehrle’s.
“At the beginning, there was a lot of interest,” Rizzo said. “When we left, there was a great interest in the Washington Nationals.”
Rizzo has been making pitches to free agents for three offseasons now as the Nationals’ general manager, and they have become easier for obvious reasons. He inherited a 103-loss team that had finished with the worst record in the majors two years running. He now runs a team packed with potential that finished third in the National League East and finished one win shy of .500.
“We’re beyond the point where we apologize for not being very good and we’re rebuilding,” Rizzo said. “I think we’re a solid team. We have a chance to compete, and we get that point across. We do it by what our reputation is amongst the players. They talk a lot. We have a good reputation out there as a good place to be.
“It’s an easier presentation to put together, I know that. It’s, ‘Here’s how we’re going to win, and here’s how you’re going to help us get there.’ We can base that on facts and names and not just concepts and philosophies.”
While Buehrle is the Nationals’ clear-cut top choice, Rizzo called C.J. Wilson “an extremely talented, young left-handed pitcher” who “will immediately improve a ball club.” Rizzo said he has spoken with Wilson, but the Nationals are not believed to be seriously pursuing him.