Jim Bowden interviews Mike Rizzo
So former Nats GM Jim Bowden--co-hosting a SIRIUS XM MLB Home Plate show with Seth Everett--interviewed current Nats GM Mike Rizzo Wednesday morning. That's like Vinny Cerrato interviewing Bruce Allen on the radio. That's like Glen Hanlon interviewing Bruce Boudreau on the radio. Heck, that's like Tony Kornheiser interviewing Mike Wise on the radio.
"First of all, how's my office?" began Bowden in the session's only awkward moment. "How does the chair feel? And how do you like the three TVs you're staring at right now?"
"The three TVs are doing well," Rizzo said amiably, possessing the calm self-assuredness of the victor. "The office is a little chilly right now, as you remember. I'm trying to get a little more comfortable. You know, it's a big seat to fill."
"Well, I'm trying to lose weight," Bowden responded.
They should go on the road, these two.
Bizarreness aside, it actually made for great radio, since Bowden was in a position of some power, knowing what he does. The questions were sometimes more interesting than the answers, as when Bowden raised the inevitable question about club finances.
"Mike, the Nationals' payroll, based on the other 30 clubs, was 28th in financial exposure long term," Bowden began. "The only two players you have signed long term, you have Dunn for one more year and of course Ryan Zimmerman. Do you think there'll be a time where the Nationals will be able to play for the top free agents in the marketplace?"
(What about Teixeira? I thought they offered $18 zillion more than everyone else?)
"I think so, I think we have a market here that can get us to that threshold," Rizzo replied. "I think once the revenues catch up with the city and the dynamic here, and let's not forget, the suburbs around Washington D.C. are some of the most lucrative suburbs in the country. And I think when the product improves, the revenues will improve. When the revenues improve, I think that we'll be able to compete in the very difficult National League East."
That's probably an honest answer, but, lucrative suburbs aside, I'm not sure it's very reassuring to Nats fans. Many fans would suggest that the team could have done more to help the product improve without waiting for the revenues to catch up. Of course the revenues will improve when the product improves, but how long is the wait? Bowden was also blunt when asking about the team's defense up the middle, bringing the kind of harsh truth-telling that only the man who acquired that defense himself could muster.
"You've still got some issues at second and short, where you really don't have the range or the defense that you really need at those positions," Bowden told Rizzo. "There's a couple of free agents sitting out there still, that if they're healthy, certainly could be a stop gap. I'm speaking of Orlando Hudson and Orlando Cabrera....There's not many teams out there for those two guys. Is there a shot of the Nationals signing one of those two guys Mike?"
"Well, we've got some feelers out to a lot of different players at a lot of different positions," Rizzo said. "We're trying to get better defensively up the middle. We've put together kind of a pitch-to-contact rotation here, so we certainly need to get better defensively. And we think we've helped ourselves with Pudge behind the plate and Morgan in center. Guzzie at shortstop, he's got fairly good hands and fairly good feet but his range obviously has backed up on him a little bit, and we do need to get better at second base, so we've talked to representatives of both of those two players and several others that we do have interest in. We've known going into the winter that that was going to be a point of emphasis, and we're working on all facets of trying to stabilize the up-the-middle positions."
(Nyjer Morgan also discussed this issue during his appearance on ESPN 980, talking about the "new people who are gonna come in...I think everybody knows who that is." Who, he was asked. "O-Dog!" was the answer. "Hopefully we can get O-Dog. We're trying to get that second baseman.")
That wasn't Bowden's best question, though. His best question involved Elijah Dukes:
"You were in the room with me when we traded Glenn Gibson for Elijah Dukes," Bowden pointed out, "and as we told ownership at that time, he's got as good a chance of landing in jail as he does in the All-Star Game, but he could get to either one. Obviously he's been through a lot off the field, a very tough upbringing. Wanted to check in on him, how's his maturity, how's he doing? And at this point in his career, do you think he's got a better chance of making an All-Star Game or landing back in jail?"
See, that's not a question I would likely ask. Credit to Bowden for going there. The answer was sort of what you'd expect. Rizzo's answer when asked if he knew what Stephen Strasburg was doing at that very instant was less predictable.
"I don't know what he's doing right now," Rizzo said. "I know he just got married and he's on his honeymoon, so I'd rather not address that question....He's happy, healthy, and will be 100 percent coming into spring training when pitchers and catchers all meet down in Melbourne."
At the end of the conversation, after Rizzo had hung up (and there are more quotes from him below), Everett, the co-host, pointed out that this was not nearly combustible enough to make into a reality program.
"Yeah, there wasn't enough drama, was there?" Bowden agreed. "Everyone's disappointed."
"It was a nice discussion, but I wanted a couple of fisticuffs there," Everett said.
"Yeah, that's probably not gonna happen," Bowden said. "Mike Rizzo did a great job when he was working for me, we got along extremely well, he's got a good nucleus of scouts there. And it's gonna take time to rebuild, when you're building it this way, from the bottom up, and you don't have the flexibility to make some big huge moves to help your big league club quicker. It just takes time. And unfortunately, as Tampa learned and Oakland learned and Minnesota learned over the years, sometimes it can take five-to-10 years. It takes a while."
Ok, more from Rizzo.
On free agents vs. development from within: "We've done an admirable job over the last three drafts,we've spent a lot of money on the amateur draft, we're making inroads internationally, increasing our exposure there and our expenditures there, and our base internationally. We've got the Major League budget here, we cleared some money last year....We're always gonna be [focused on] scouting and player development, we feel that's the way to build a franchise. But the moves like a Marquis and others have given us time for our minor leaguers, the guys that we've grown through our system, to reach their fulfillment in the big leagues."
On Pudge Rodriguez: "We thought we needed a veteran presence behind the plate, with the young pitching staff and a young prospect catcher in Jesus Flores. We thought that we needed some veteran leadership, a guy who could mentor a staff. And to get him on a two-year deal kind of gives us a timetable to get our other catching prospect, Derek Norris, into the big leagues. We think the timetable worked out well for us. We needed a guy who was more than a backup, a guy who could play on a every-day level for 80, 90 games, in case Jesus Flores is not coming back from shoulder and elbow surgery that he's had over the winter. It also lended us credibility in the industry. It was a great aid for us when we were recruiting a starting pitcher in that market. It also was instrumental in us getting Capps. They both mentioned throwing to Pudge was very, very instrumental in them coming to the Nationals."
On possibly drafting Bryce Harper: "Bryce certainly would be one of the guys we'd talk about. We had ourselves a little bit of a mock draft here a couple weeks ago, we brought in all our amateur guys to discuss that. We set up a top 100. There's several [players] I think that'll be involved in the first pick. I'm gonna try to see somewhere around 30 or 40 players this year in the amateur draft. We've got a really good set of amateur scouts that I trust, and I think it's gonna be a strong draft year, and I think we're gonna have a strong draft."
On shopping Josh Willingham for a starter: "We were close on a couple of deals that we thought were good deals for our organization. Once a lot of the right-handed bats had fallen, it has backed off a little bit. We're always looking. Josh is a guy that we love in the clubhouse, we love in the field, he's a guy that protects Dunn in the 5 hole there, so we're certainly not in the market of looking to move him. If it's a good young starter that's a long-term guy for us, we would think about it, but we're in no hurry to trade Willingham. He's too good in the 5 hole, he's too good in the clubhouse, and a good guy to be around."
On January optimism: "Well, I think there's gonna be a mixture of really good young players on the field mixed in with some experienced veterans to mentor them. I think that we've improved our bullpen. We've got an inning eater at the top of the rotation. I think with the maturation of guys like Lannan and Mock and Detwiler, we've got the assemblance of some good, young starters that are gonna perform for us. And I think a full season of having Nyjer Morgan in center field and having Dunn at first base and I think that with improved pitching, improved bullpen, we're looking to improve ourselves in the way we play the game and the energy that's on the field. I think there's a sense of optimism with not only our young players but the players that we have fielded for the 2010 season."
On Jim Bowden: "You will never hear me saying a bad word about Jim Bowden. I had a great three years with him, I appreciated him bringing me over here in the first place. He's one of the big reasons why I'm in the chair right now, so we had a great scenario together. He gets a little excited at times, excited and colorful when the doors are closed, but I learned a lot of things from him that I employ in my general managership today."
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