Asian Market May Provide Some Futures

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Since the Lerner family took over the Washington Nationals last summer, the club's front office has pushed the idea that they're trying to build the best scouting operation in the game. But until recently -- even as they made inroads in Latin America and had what most observers considered an exceptional amateur draft -- there was one major untapped region: Asia.

"We had nothing," team president Stan Kasten said. "Zero."

That's changing. Vice president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo and veteran scout Bill Singer recently returned from a two-week tour of Japan, where they scouted specific players -- those who are free agents as well as those likely to be "posted" for auction by their Japanese teams -- as well as met with officials for the majority of the Japanese professional clubs.

"We're trying to build relationships," Rizzo said. "This is the first time we really went in and saturated the country. As time goes by, we'll build databases and have more information. But we feel like we have a good handle on it."

Rizzo previously worked with Arizona. He joined the Nationals last year, he brought Singer with him -- particularly because of his expertise in Japan. The pair did not see the marquee Japanese free agent on the market -- outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who was injured -- but could return if Fukudome is healthy by the Japanese playoffs. Either way, the Nationals have taken their first steps in a new area.

"It's another place we need to be," Kasten said.

Pitcher Claimed

The Nationals claimed right-hander Enrique Gonzalez off trade waivers from Arizona. The 25-year-old was the Diamondbacks' pitcher of the year in 2004, but he is 3-7 with a 5.82 ERA in 23 major league appearances.

"We think with some tweaks . . . he can get better," Rizzo said. . . .

Rizzo has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the job as Pittsburgh's general manager, but the Pirates have not contacted the Nationals for permission to speak to Rizzo, according to a club source. Rizzo declined to comment about the job.

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