The most significant development of the trade deadline frenzy for the Washington Nationals was not the decision to deal Nick Johnson to the Florida Marlins or Joe Beimel to the Colorado Rockies. No, of far more importance was the Nationals’ decision not to trade Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham.
It’s not as if there weren’t suitors for the two sluggers. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo fielded dozens of calls in the days leading up to July 31 from counterparts wanting to know what it would take to land either outfielder. Those conversations quickly ended once Rizzo revealed his lofty asking price.
Rizzo, though, wasn’t asking for the moon because he thought he could get someone to take the leap. All along, he really didn’t want to trade Dunn or Willingham because he views both as key pieces to the Nationals’ puzzle in 2010… and beyond.
“We are in a building process. We are not rebuilding,” Rizzo said, almost defiantly, after the trade deadline passed Friday. “This is a team that, is in my opinion, not far away from being a good, solid baseball team. We’ve got some good, core players in Jesus Flores and Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, Cristian Guzman. These are good, core players that can win in the very near future.”
It should be pointed out that Rizzo has not received a title bump by Stan Kasten or the Lerner family. He remains GM in acting capacity only, not permanent.
You wouldn’t know that based on the way Rizzo has acted and spoken in the five months since he assumed the reins in the wake of Jim Bowden’s resignation. Every move he has made, every word he has uttered has indicated this is a guy who expects to hold this position for years.
Which may still be true. Rizzo may very well get the full-time GM job, but the Nationals are not simply handing him the job without considering plenty more options.
Major league sources said the Nationals are giving strong consideration to at least two other candidates for the job: Arizona vice president of player personnel Jerry DiPoto and Boston assistant GM Jed Hoyer.
DiPoto, 41, is a former major league reliever who turned into a front-office executive upon retirement. Hoyer, 35, is another of baseball’s young whiz kids who has worked under Red Sox GM Theo Epstein the past seven years. Neither guy comes from the same background as Rizzo, 48, who played minor league ball in the 1980s but has spent the bulk of his adult life as an old-school baseball scout, taking after his father.
So it’s hardly a given Rizzo will still be calling the shots this winter and beyond, selecting Washington’s new manager and making more roster changes heading into 2010. That unsettled job status, though, hasn’t kept him from performing his duties for the past five months as though he’s locked up.
Consider the long list of significant decisions the Nationals have made since March. Rizzo has been leading the charge all the way.
He recognized the deficiencies in Washington’s bullpen in spring training and acquired veteran help from the likes of Beimel, Julian Tavarez, Ron Villone, Mike MacDougal and others. It was his decision to demote Lastings Milledge only one week into the season, and later to trade Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Morgan and Sean Burnett. He made the difficult decisions to fire pitching coach Randy St. Claire in early June and manager Manny Acta during the All-Star break.
And as the clock was ticking down to 4 p.m. Friday, Rizzo was the one deciding which players to trade (Johnson, Beimel) and which players to retain (Dunn, Willingham).
“I understand that we’ve got holes to fill, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us this season, this offseason and through spring training,” he said. “But I feel that we’re prepared for it. I feel we’re going to get it right, and I do not believe this team needs a rebuilding process. We’re building for the future, but we are not tearing down and rebuilding.”
Does that sound like a guy who believes he’s not ultimately going to have the “acting” disclaimer removed from his title?
EX-NATIONALS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: THE 2005 TEAM
The trade of Nick Johnson leaves the Nationals with only three players from the inaugural D.C. club that enjoyed a thrilling first half and finished 81-81: Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman and Jason Bergmann. Only a handful of the guys from the 2005 team have gone on to bigger and better things, such as Marlon Byrd and Livan Hernandez. What’s amazing is how many players have disappeared. A stunning 16 guys from that roster never again played in the big leagues after 2005. The list includes such forgotten gems as Tony Blanco, Jeffrey Hammonds, Kenny Kelly, Joe Horgan and C.J. Nitkowski.
MINOR LEAGUE WATCH
The Nationals knew Destin Hood would be a long-term project when they took the speedy high school outfielder in the second round of last year’s draft and then convinced him to pass on a scholarship offer to play football at Alabama. So far, the decision has paid off. Hood was promoted to short-season Class A Vermont last week after an impressive run in the rookie Gulf Coast League. The 19-year-old led the GCL with 24 RBI and a .614 slugging percentage at the time of his promotion. Combined between the levels, he’s hitting .318 with 27 RBI and 16 extra-base hits in only 31 games.
Tracking the Nationals’ news and trends from the past week:
Nick Johnson was the last of a dying breed.
TRADE DEADLINE [DOWN]
Goodbye, Johnson and Beimel. Hello, guy who just had Tommy John surgery!
DUGOUT EMOTION [UP]
Riggleman actually has the nerve to frown after a bad play.
Milledge and Hanrahan look right at home in black and gold.