Sep 28, 2013, 8:29 PM EDT
PHOENIX — Mike Rizzo conducted a lengthy session with beat reporters shortly before tonight’s game against the Diamondbacks, both looking back at what happened this season and looking ahead to what he hopes to accomplish this offseason.
The Nationals general manager was disappointed in his team’s play through the first four months, was highly encouraged by how things turned around over the final two months and believes his roster needs only minor tweaking this winter.
Rizzo acknowledged his first task is hiring a new manager to replace Davey Johnson but said he wouldn’t discuss the process at all until the season ends.
Here’s a near-complete transcript of Rizzo’s session with us…
Q: What’s your No. 1 priority this offseason?
“I think first of all, after the season we’re going to start the search for a manager. I think that’s probably job No. 1, because a manager is going to have input on what we do with the roster construction and that type of thing. But I think the team, as far as the core group, is set up pretty good. The core rotation and the core bullpen is set up pretty good. I think we’re going to look to obviously better ourselves in any way we can. But just looking at an overview, we’ll probably look to improve the bullpen, see if we can improve the bench a little bit. And any other way that we can improve the everyday lineup, if there’s any way we can do that, we’ll certainly look into that also.”
Q: What was the highlight of season for you?
“I think the highlight was the group of games we played since August 9. We really turned our season around at that time and really played the way we expected ourselves to play the whole time. I think the brightest thing for us is the character of this club. Because there’s a lot of teams that played the way we played with the expectations we had that could have just folded it in and cashed it in for the season. But these guys pulled themselves up by the bootstraps when I think our low-water mark was about 6 games under .500 and played extremely well from there. To me, that shows the character and mettle of a champion. Although we didn’t play like a champion early enough in the season, I think that we finished with a flourish, and it’s going to set us up well going into the winter and into spring training.”
Q: Does the team’s performance the last six weeks change your approach this winter?
“No. You don’t evaluate on performance towards the end of the season. You look at the big picture and make your assessments on how guys have played over the course of the season, over the course of their careers and what their track records are. I don’t think that having a hot finish is going to sway us either way. But it was good to see. I don’t think we played hot at the end of the season. I think we played the way we were supposed to play the whole season toward the end of the season.”
Q: Does Ryan Zimmerman’s strong finish make you view his position differently moving forward?
“No, I never had any discussions or thoughts about anyone else. He was our third baseman of the future and a middle of the lineup hitter, and I knew that as his shoulder was rehabbing and getting better each and every day that he’d be the defensive guy that we’ve had in the past and hopefully we’ll have in the future.”
Q: Was the lack of offense the biggest issue this season?
“I think offensive efficiency is the thing that kind of disappointed us most. It’s not doing the little things to create runs and manufacture runs. We were more reliant on the long ball, I think, than we should’ve been and I think it’s shown. We’ve created more runs, we’ve stolen more bases, we’ve hit with runners in scoring position much better recently, and that’s really the roster that we constructed all along. We just waited too long to get it going.”
Q: How much did Bryce Harper’s injuries affect him?
“Well, I think not playing 100 percent always affects your productivity, but that’s part of the learning process. Bryce is going to be an everyday player and a middle of the lineup hitter, so he’s gonna have to get used to not playing at 100 percent fully healthy. So with that said, he’s had as good a season as any 20-year-old has had in the history of the game, and I think he’s up there in the tops of OPS, and he’s a guy that we rely on as a 20-year-old to carry a team that wins a lot of games.”
Q: What can Harper improve?
“Well, he’s gonna fine-tune his entire game. He’s got work to do on stealing bases, we feel he’ll be a very productive base-stealer and baserunner. He’s got good speed and pretty good technique that needs to get a little bit better. Routes and angles in the outfield and that type of thing, but that all comes with repetition, and so that’s gonna be a natural progression for him. His overall game is very good, and he’s a five-tool player that can do a lot of things for us. The more repetition, the more at-bats that he gets, the better he’s gonna play.”
Q: Are you convinced this year was an anomaly for Adam LaRoche, or are you concerned about him moving forward?
“I think this year was an anomaly for him. He showed streaks of being the Adam LaRoche that we all know. He had some physical ailments that curtailed some of his production. I’m confident he’ll come back to spring training next year fit, healthy and ready to produce, as he always has.”
Q: Do you have any regrets about this season?
“I think that will come in the assessment part. I’m sure there is. It’s been documented we probably should have went with another left-handed reliever to start the season. We made a decision we felt comfortable with at the time. There’s enough analyzation to go over. We’re going to dissect this season every which way we can and see what we can improve. The front-office decisions we made will be part of the analysis and we’ll see if we can improve that part of the analysis, too.”
Q: Is it important to try to sign Ian Desmond to an extension this winter?
“Desi is one of our core players. He’s one of our leaders on the team. If there’s a deal out there that we can get done that keeps him here for the long-term, it would be certainly up there on the priority list. It’s going to be a deal that would have to work for both parties.”
Q: Does the same apply to Jordan Zimmermann?
“Yeah. He’s one of our own. We drafted, developed and signed him. He’s one of the really good pitchers in the league. We’d certainly like to keep him on our team.”
Q: Do you expect your No. 5 starter to come from within the organization, or do you expect to add someone from outside?
“We certainly go four deep with a healthy [Ross] Detwiler. With the depth that we have in our young starting pitching, we could certainly fill from within. I don’t think it’s a necessity to go outside the organization, either in the free agent market or in the trade market. But we’re certainly not going to back away from looking at the free agent and the trade market to improve the club.”
Q: Where do things stand at second base entering next year?
“When the season ends tomorrow, [Anthony] Rendon will be our starting second baseman, but we’re going to go into spring training with an open competition for a lot of positions. It’s going to be something we’ve got a lot of good young players at that position. Rendon has played remarkably well at that position for a guy who is learning defensively at the major-league level and trying to hit for the first time at the major-league level. Compound that with that he’s played more games than he’s ever played in his career, and he’s had a remarkable rookie season. And let’s not forget about Danny Espinosa, who hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases in the big leagues already and is a stalwart defensive player. And [Steve Lombardozzi], who is one of the most steady players that we have on the ballclub. We’ve got a lot of good options over there and we’re going to roll them out there in spring training and see what happens.”
Q: What position are you most apt to look at in free agency?
“I don’t have any specific position in mind. We’re going to make decisions with a lot of things in mind. What makes the most sense for us? Where do you allocate the most money? But depending on what’s out there and what our needs are, that’s how we’ll make that decision.”
Q: How involved will Davey Johnson be moving forward?
“Davey’s going to be a consultant for us, and we’ll see him throughout spring training. He’ll be meandering through our minor-league system not only looking at our players but also helping our coaches and managers, learning their craft, evaluating them and helping them improve. He’s going to be an important piece for us and a guy who I can bounce a lot of things off.
Q: Will you seek his advice on a new manager?
“Of course we will. It’d be a resource I’d be foolish not to tap into.”
Q: Will players have say in the new manager?
“I don’t think that’s a place for the players to dabble in. It’s an organizational decision, and it’s got to be an organizational fit.”
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