The big moves seem over now for the Nationals. They signed Jayson Werth. They traded Josh Willingham. They saw a bid for a No. 1 starting pitcher thwarted. They added first baseman Adam LaRoche.
So with that general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff turned their attention towards solidifying the rest of the ballclub for 2011 – the smaller moves that make limited waves over the winter, but hopefully pay dividends next season. Washington officially announced the trade for left-handed starter Tom Gorzelanny on Wednesday and the signing of utility man Jerry Hairston, Jr. The Nats have signed veteran reliever Todd Coffey – though no word yet on if that’s a major-league deal or at what price. Earlier in the week Alex Cora signed a minor-league contract and will compete for a back-up spot in the infield. You don’t invite people down to Nationals Park for a splashy press conference with these moves. But Rizzo feels strongly you can improve a team this way.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of our goals of trying to construct a ballclub,” Rizzo said. “We’re certainly never finished in trying to improve the ballclub any way we can. If we see some kind of a prudent move via free agency, a non-roster invitee or a trade we’re certainly open to do that. With that said I think we’ve had a terrific offseason. I think we’ve accomplished a lot of our goals and I think we’ve constructed a team that’s going to be a big upgrade from 2010.”
Of course, there are 29 other general manager who probably think the same thing. No time for optimism like the present, after all. Rizzo moved on the Gorzelanny trade – three minor-leaguers were sent to the Chicago Cubs – too add depth to the starting rotation. Three different talent evaluators scouted Gorzelanny last summer and told Rizzo the lefty was back to his 2007 velocity, touching 94 miles-per-hour and sitting comfortably in the low 90s. Rizzo even sees some upside in the 28-year-old.
“Competition for a starting rotation spot is what we were after,” Rizzo said.
But the Nats no longer have to count as heavily on some question marks in the back of their rotation. They still believe in Ross Detwiler. But the former first-round draft pick has to compete for a spot. The think Cuban signee Yunesky Maya is closer to the pitcher they saw in the Dominican Republic this winter than the 29-year-old rookie who appeared overwhelmed at times during his brief time in the majors last summer. And Rizzo says veteran Chien-Ming Wang – so good with the Yankees in the middle of this decade – is on his way to 100 percent health for spring training after a grueling two-year recovery from shoulder surgery. He’s no longer rehabbing, he is preparing to fight for a rotation spot.
Now, Washington has Livan Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, John Lannan and Gorzelanny to go with the three mentioned. Rizzo insisted in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he would have gone after Gorzelanny whether the Nats landed a No. 1 starter like Kansas City’s Zack Greinke or not. Adding a lefty starter under team control for three more years is never a bad thing.
Rizzo did announce that right-handed pitcher J.D. Martin was released from the 40-man roster to make room for LaRoche, whose contract was officially approved yesterday by Major League Baseball. There will be at least two more moves coming as Hairston and Gorzelanny need to be added, as well. Rizzo noted that a team can’t exceed the 40-man cap. When a player is added another has to be removed at the same time. There is no grace period.
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