General Manager Mike Rizzo met with reporters this afternoon, taking a break from a packed schedule on the first day of the winter meetings. He said the Nationals were not close on any deals at the moment, but he had many meetings lined up for the rest of the day.
Here are the key takeaways:
>>> Rizzo said he has met with two agents today, and more visits are planned for later on. He did not specify which representatives he met with or will meet with, but one could assume he chatted with Mark Buehrle’s representatives from CAA Sports.
Buehrle remains the Nationals’ top target, and acquiring him would likely require granting a no-trade clause. The Nationals had a strict policy against no-trade clauses under Stan Kasten, but they gave Jayson Werth one last year. While Rizzo remains generally opposed, he would be willing to bend for “the right fit” — and the Nationals clearly believe Buehrle is the right fit.
“We’ve opened that door,” Rizzo said. “We prefer not to. It would be a huge part of the negotiation. For the right player and the right fit, I think you have to be open-minded and flexible to at least think about it and talk about it.”
>>> As we touched on in our last post, there are a lot of moving parts to the Nationals’ pursuit of a center fielder. Rizzo said he met with two teams to talk about trades, presumably engaging them about center fielders. While the Nationals will explore trades, they do not feel forced to pull the trigger – in large part because they feel comfortable with Jayson Werth in center and, possibly, Bryce Harper in right field.
“That was one of the reasons that we put Jayson out there” in September, Rizzo said. “We felt that he played quite well out there. It doesn’t really keyhole us into having to make a trade for a center fielder. We feel that we could have a center fielder in-house already.
“There’s a chance that we’ve got in-house candidates [to play right field]. Harper and several others that could fill that bill, depending on if we deem Harper ready. When we feel he would be ready goes into the equation.”
It still seems unlikely the Nationals would promote Harper to the majors on opening day, seeing that he has fewer than 600 professional at-bats, he’s 19 and he has never played in Class AAA. But Davey Johnson has been pushing the possibility, and Rizzo clearly hasn’t ruled it out.
Another consideration for the Nationals as they try to land a center fielder is their minor league pipeline. In Michael Taylor, Brian Goodwin and Eury Perez, the Nationals have three potential center fielders who are 20 or younger at the moment. None are ready for the majors now, and probably will not be ready until 2014. But their presence means the Nationals can afford to consider short-term and long-term options.
“That’s definitely part of it,” Rizzo said. “We definitely have in-house candidates to play center field. We just don’t feel that anyone of them is ready in 2012 to take on the major league role. But suffice to say, we feel we’re very deep in center field candidates who are just, right now, a few years away.”
“We feel we do have good depth, not only in young controllable players in the majors, but also in the minor league system. But it’s taken us quite a long time to get to the point where we are fairly deep with fairly impactful minor league players in the system. We don’t want to erase that with one trade. We’re going to be prudent and careful.”
>>> The Nationals’ primary focus in acquiring a pitcher has been on the free agent market, mostly on Buehrle and, if they are unable to sign him, Roy Oswalt. But Rizzo also said he would be open to trading for one, too. The Nationals had talks this year with the Astros about left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who reportedly remains available. Another possible name is Gio Gonzalez, the Oakland A’s left-hander.
“We certainly have been active in the starting pitching trade market,” Rizzo said. “If the acquisition of one outweighs the pain of giving up a player or a package of good players that creates holes, then you can afford to do something.”