By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009
INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Rizzo's first winter meetings as the Washington Nationals' general manager were particularly busy. The Nationals made three acquisitions -- trading for reliever Brian Bruney, signing veteran catcher Ivan Rodríguez to a two-year, $6 million deal and signing outfielder Jerry Owens to a minor league contract -- and remained involved in discussions with almost every free agent starting pitcher left not named John Lackey.
"We came here with a checklist of things to try to accomplish over the course of the offseason," Rizzo said before departing for Washington after the meetings concluded Thursday. "We think we've made solid progress to acquire the things we need to be a better ballclub for next year. We're far from finished, but we think this was a good starting point and we feel good about it."
As a whole, the market for free agent pitching is shifting significantly upward, with the deals signed by Randy Wolf (three years, $29.75 million from Milwaukee), Brad Penny (one year, $7.5 million from St. Louis) and Rich Harden (one year, $7.5 million from Texas) signaling rising prices on the remaining inventory -- both on the prime (Lackey) and sub-prime (Jon Garland, Jason Marquis, Vicente Padilla, Joel Piñeiro, et al.) markets.
A team like the Nationals, then, must either raise its offers in line with the current market, or aim a little lower.
"We're engaged with a lot of agents on a lot of pitchers," Rizzo said. "We're trying to find the best fit for us, with the best pitchers at the ability level we're looking at. I think it's going to take a little bit of time. I don't think it's going to be a real fast-moving market. But as always happens, when pitchers start [signing], there usually is a domino effect."
At the highest levels of the available-talent market, little appears to have changed, other than a little bit of weeding out. Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay remains a target of at least four teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels), and free agent outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay don't appear close to signing.
"Across the board, everyone I've talked to has said it's been a slow meetings," said Mets GM Omar Minaya, whose team was in play for Bay, catcher Bengie Molina and possibly Lackey.
Whereas once upon a time, big deals got done one after the other at the winter meetings, these days it is the week after that gets most of the action, as teams are more meticulous about checking medical records and accounting for every dollar in every deal.
"You never know what the exact timetable is," Baltimore Orioles GM Andy MacPhail said, ". . . but I think there will be a lot of activity between now and Christmas."
The Red Sox, itching to make a move after the rival Yankees traded for center fielder Curtis Granderson, were close to finalizing a trade with the Rangers that would send veteran third baseman Mike Lowell to Texas in exchange for backup catcher Max Ramirez. The real value in the trade for Boston, however, would be the space freed up for the possible signing of Bay and/or third baseman Adrian Beltre. The Rangers, however, are believed to be taking a particularly close look at Lowell's surgically repaired hip.
"Both clubs are kind of evaluating," Rangers GM Jon Daniels told reporters. "I think the general parameters are understood. Both clubs need to decide whether it's the right fit."
Winter meetings notes: As expected, the Nationals used the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft to complete the trade of Bruney, selecting outfielder Jamie Hoffmann of the Los Angeles Dodgers at the behest of the New York Yankees, then handing him off to the Yankees. As part of their deal, the Yankees paid the $50,000 fee for making the draft pick.
The Nationals did not make another pick in the major league portion of the draft, but lost two players in the process. Pitcher Zack Segovia was released to free up the roster spot they used to select Hoffmann, and relief pitcher Zech Zinicola was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays. Former Nationals scouting director Dana Brown, now with the Blue Jays, has always liked Zinicola, so the Nationals were not surprised by the pick.
"I think [losing Zinicola] is a testament to where we've come in the organization," Rizzo said. The team had "very tough decisions at the bottom of that 40-man roster because of the good inventory of prospects that we have."
The Nationals made three picks in the minor league phase of the draft, but one of them -- right-hander Arismendy Mota, whom they took from the Chicago White Sox, was expected to be traded to the Chicago Cubs. The other two picks were lefty Michael Wlodarczyk from the Tampa Bay Rays and outfielder Nicholas Moresi from the Houston Astros, both of whom are likely to begin 2010 in Class A.