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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: 'Money has nothing to do with who's going to play'

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said this morning that performance, and not financial considerations will, dictate the immediate future of Nationals players and the composition of the Nationals will be made with a simple primary aim: "We're going to field the best team we can to win the most games that we can," Rizzo said.

All spring, it has been assumed the Nationals will keep Stephen Strasburg out of the majors until June both for reasons pertaining to his development and the business of baseball. By keeping Strasburg in the minors until June, the Nationals would pause the clock one year for when he becomes eligible for free agency. Rizzo shot down that notion.

"That has nothing to do with it," Rizzo said. "It's the development of the player, for the long-term success of him and for the franchise. Those things, when you're trying to win ballgames, they don't enter a general manager's mind. Believe me."

In the case of shortstop Ian Desmond, the breakout player of Nationals camp, Rizzo's overriding sentiment is significant. Desmond has two options remaining, meaning he can be moved freely from the majors to minors without the Nationals having to worry about losing him to another team. The incumbent shortstop, Cristian Guzman, is making $8 million this season. But Rizzo said none of those extracurricular factors will determine who plays shortstop for the Nationals this year.

"I've said it the whole time: We're going to play the best 25 guys that give us the best chance to win," Rizzo said. "[They] are going to go north with us. I continue to say that. If [Desmond is] one of the best eight guys that we can put out there to win games, he's certainly to be. He's in the running to be an everyday guy.

"The money is out of the equation. Money has nothing to do with who's going to play and who's not going to play."

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 14, 2010; 9:09 AM ET
 
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Comments

If Rizzo didn't just say that on Opening Day, Ian Desmond will be his starting shortstop... and Drew Storen will be in his bullpen... then I'm not quite sure I can trust what he says ever again!

Even that being said, I still understand the notion of Strasburg going to the minors to dominate (hopefully) for a few months... there is a good probability he is already the best SP the Nats have (very good probability, aided by the fact that the rest of the Nats SP candidates are underwhelming)... but, I would have to support Strasburg getting his feet underneath him in the minors for two months before getting the call in early June if things work out...

But, if what Rizzo says is true, it will be hard for me to understand Storen not playing a key role in the bullpen from Day 1 (he already got his feet underneath him in the minors last year)... and Desmond not being the starting SS, or at least being on the team and playing 5-7 games a week at various positions, with hopefully taking over the starting SS gig pretty quickly...

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 14, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, this is an interesting statement from GM Rizzo.

There are 3 obvious litmus tests to his statements.

Strasburg - No matter what they do with him, they can say financial issues had nothing to do with it and it would be hard to argue with them. He's going to the minors for sure in April. Partly to defer his free agency, mostly because there are plenty of baseball people who sincerely think it's the right thing to do.

Storen - Again, they could send him to the Chiefs as the closer or put him on the 25 man, either way it's hard to argue.

Ian Desmond - This one is a bit more cut and dried. To now, he's earned his spot, outplayed Guzman in every way. But it's still early and Guz has legitimately missed some time in camp.
But I still believe that the Nat's will play Guzman near every day at shortstop, hope he produces, and then try and trade him. (Mets, Astros, Dodgers when Furcal predictably goes DL?)

Posted by: Sunderland | March 14, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Strasburg, Storen, Desmond, Maxwell: No Child Left Behind!

(OK, maybe Martis).

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 14, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I think you can parse this quote in a few ways

"It's the development of the player, for the long-term success of him and for the franchise. Those things, when you're trying to win ballgames, they don't enter a general manager's mind. Believe me."

The long term success of a player and the franchise DOES include future option and free agency considerations. Last year Rizzo and the Nationals delayed promoting Jordan Zimmermann long enough to push his free agency one season.

Was that move in the best interest of the team winning in 2009? It seems pretty clearly 'no' but that move helps the team in the long term by having him a National for a longer period of time.

Every team plays the option/free agency game with a player's contract (see David Price with the Rays and Matt Weiters with the Orioles). It's good baseball business sense.

The true test of Rizzo's belief is Ian Desmond. I'll be impressed if Rizzo and the Nats put Guzman's $8M on the bench and give the starting SS position to Desmond.

Posted by: Brian_ | March 14, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

>Strasburg - He's going to the minors for sure in April. Partly to defer his free agency, mostly because there are plenty of baseball people who sincerely think it's the right thing to do.

You glossed over it just like Rizzo. He can go to the minors in April, but there's a big window between April 4 and June 15. If they don't call him up before June 15 (or whatever the magic arbitration date is), then it's strictly to affect his time of service. So what if they put him in the minors in April. That's not the point - the question is how long he stays down there. Get his feet wet? He struck out almost 400 people last year, and he throws 100 mph, and his fastball might not even be his best pitch. He made Rick Porcello look like he was throwing 80%. Far as I can tell, Rizzo's completely full of ****. How stupid do they think people are? You're lookin at Marquis, Lannan, Olsen, Hernandez, and pick your poison at #5 - and only one of them can barely touch 90 on the radar gun. They're gonna be so far out of it by June 15, the team is gonna need tickets to get into the stadium.

Posted by: Brue | March 14, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

>The long term success of a player and the franchise DOES include future option and free agency considerations. Last year Rizzo and the Nationals delayed promoting Jordan Zimmermann long enough to push his free agency one season.

There are so many things they DON'T DO to plan for the long-term success, what you're suggesting is way down the list. They have a wretched farm system, they continually sign mediocre veterans to one-year deals with no hope of a replacement from the minors on the horizon. They cheaped it with Adam Dunn. Now he's gonna be a free agent. They didn't plan very well on that one, did they? They could have signed Aroldis Chapman, but they let a few million blow it, then announced it to the world as being prudent. He throws almost 100 mph, and they LET MONEY DICTATE WHAT THEY DID. Why not start winning now? They've had years to get it together, and THEY DON'T PLAN FOR THE LONG RANGE - that's the illusion they're selling because they're so unsuccessful. So what if they don't have Strasburg in 2016 or whatever. No one is going to care by then. Except for you, because you have a blog you want people to read.

Posted by: Brue | March 14, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

>The true test of Rizzo's belief is Ian Desmond. I'll be impressed if Rizzo and the Nats put Guzman's $8M on the bench and give the starting SS position to Desmond.

Posted by: Brian_

False. They should have put either Guzman or Desmond at 2B instead of signing Adam Kennedy for the next two years. They did that because they were too chicken to a) confront Guzman to move him to 2B, or b) for some reason thought that putting Desmond at 2B was a bad idea. So now they don't have enough ABs for Desmond. What do they do? They stick him in right field so he can play there once every two weeks, and take reps away from the INFIELD, where he needs to work on his 30-error per year average. They signed Adam Kennedy because they didn't have the balls to make a decision on Desmond. And that's the ONLY REASON. Management doesn't make hard decisions, and it sets them back. So now they're left with making one of those decisions ON ONE OF THE GREATEST PROSPECTS EVER because they can't do it with the rest of the players.

Posted by: Brue | March 14, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Brue - I'm with you that their rotation for April looks lousy, and the outlook for this team in April and May looks lousy.
They're betting the farm on surgery rehab arms, and it's most likely going to let them down and completely hose this season.

I'm just resigned to the notion that they're sending him down, and it's hard to argue that this is the wrong thing to do.

They've already discussed limiting their young arms to a 20% inning increase over last year. So it's not like they could plug him into the rotation and give him 32 starts anyhow. If he get 10 starts in DC, or 15 starts, or 20 starts, what's the diff?

It's the rehab rotation that's going to make or break this season. Because the Nat's FO is counting on those guys for about 85 starts.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 14, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

>I'm just resigned to the notion that they're sending him down, and it's hard to argue that this is the wrong thing to do.

The only reason it's the wrong thing to do is because the team is so bad. That's a situation the Nats created on their own. Of course, if they weren't this bad, they probably wouldn't have Strasburg so you can't have it both ways. The problem continues to be the staff not being addressed, so you're right - leave him there until June. Where's all the fun gone? They lose like crazy, lecture us about money, and keep the best prospects on the farm because they're worried about 6 years from now. And they bring it on themselves, so now we're in a position where leaving him there in the minors looks like the right thing to do basically only because they're so bad anyway. What's basically happening is that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy - they set it up so that it looks like the only option - they limit his innings artificially, limit his pitch counts, put a team together that's set up to fail. These are all things that management does. And BTW, if he's on a 150 inning count, that's more than 20 starts.

Posted by: Brue | March 14, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, this doesn't convince me at all that SS starts in the bigs. He needs to face AA or AAA for a month at least.

But Desmond. Had a great Sept, having a great spring. It's obvious that Guzman is not 100% physically and he is below average when he is 100%. If Desmond continues anything close to this pace, I don't see how they don't put him on the 25 man.

Same for Storen. If he keeps going like this, how do they leave him in the minors. Especially after this quote.

Posted by: Avar | March 14, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Brue:

there going to be out of it by June 15th with or without Strasburg and Storen. Will they get 5 extra wins during that period with Strasburg and Storen? WIll that dramatically change the teams record?

I'm fine with thinking long term with these guys since its not going to make any real difference this season anyway.

Posted by: stantonpark | March 14, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Check out Ben G over on MASN, he makes a great point about ownership and the team in general. Please people stop diluding the obvious, with all of the off-season hype about addressing this and that, they have addressed nothing. Brue is 100% correct, soft tossing pitchers with very little to back them up ain't gonna cut it. This is all smoke and mirrors and Rizzo and StanK are the masters of Lerner double speak. SS is a rare find, what do you do with him when its obvious that after the first 42 games, this team could easily be 10-32 is any ones guess. June 15th, July 1st, who cares by then this team won't be able to fill the park even if they give everyone who wants to come in free tickets? The negativity is already gaining speed on the few media outlets who have paid even the slightest bit of attention.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | March 14, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

aahhh, i meant They're instead of there.....

Posted by: stantonpark | March 14, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

TippyCanoe:

the Nats are already giving out free tickets. I got 24 freebies for my 2 20 game packages....

Posted by: stantonpark | March 14, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

>Same for Storen. If he keeps going like this, how do they leave him in the minors. Especially after this quote.

Posted by: Avar

More doublespeak. Why it's ok to bring up Storen at the beginning, and not Strasburg - is something you don't address. He's already thrown against AA, AAA and major league players in the Arizona fall league. He's throwing against major leaguers right now for six weeks. AAA is an utter waste of innings. Strasburg is a lot more ready than Storen. Once they get a book on Storen, who really only has two pitches, and is learning a third, they'll be more patient, then the real pitching will begin for him. I've seen some video where guys are chasing breaking balls in the dirt against him. That's not gonna keep happening forever. There's no other way to explain away Strasburg other than the fact that the front office hasn't done its job, and they're in a hopeless state for this year. If they had picked up a couple of hard throwing starters, with the offense they have, they would have been right in it. But they didn't.

Posted by: Brue | March 14, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I have completely come around to Brue's thinking. Jordan Zimmermann was the best pitcher in camp last year. How did starting him in the minors do anything but save the Nats money a few years from now? Desmond is our shortstop by merit. We as fans somehow buy into the company line that saving Lerner's money is good for us. It is getting harder and harder to swallow that morsel now. I would love to see a team that puts its best 25 players on the roster in April. I would love to take Rizzo at his word. I don't own season tickets so I do not have the financial stake in this team that others do. The "business" of baseball has created a diminishing fan base and a team so lacking in depth that it is only two injuries away from another horrid season.

Posted by: driley | March 14, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Desmond's time is now. That's what pissed me off about the Kennedy signing the most. Not a bad signing by any means, but as a season ticket holder I'd rather see Desmond's flashes than Kennedy's solid but unspectacular play.

Well, maybe we can deal Guzman still, though I doubt it. Would love if we just cut him if we couldn't get anything for him.

Posted by: CJArlington | March 14, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Jordan Zimmermann was the best pitcher in camp last year. How did starting him in the minors do anything but save the Nats money a few years from now?

Posted by: driley

He probably screwed his elbow up down in the minors too. Less oversight on what he's throwing, probably mixed in too many hard sliders. It's so much easier to control a player's movements when you're with them every day. They look like they're taking a more sophisticated approach with Strasburg and limiting his breaking balls, which is what you should do if you don't need to throw them. But if they stick him in the minors with the crappy fields/lights and uneven mounds, there's just more potential for him tweaking something. They can limit his pitch count on the big club. They're not gonna let him get into a 7th inning jam and leave him out there for 30 pitches anyway.

Posted by: Brue | March 14, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"All spring, it has been assumed the Nationals will keep Stephen Strasburg out of the majors until June both for reasons pertaining to his development and the business of baseball. By keeping Strasburg in the minors until June, the Nationals would pause the clock one year for when he becomes eligible for free agency. Rizzo shot down that notion"
----------------------------
Adam: This is just wrong in terms of baseball rules and you should correct your error instead of repeating it. As long as there are fewer than 172 days left in the season when a player gets called up, he will not be credited with a full season on MLB service. The Nats only need to wait until 4/16, really, to have this year come in at less than 172 days. Look at the MLB Player Agreement, XX.B(1)(Page 70)(Free agent eligibility is after 6 years of creditable service time) and rule XXI.A (Page 82) (definition of creditable service). There is no advantage to waiting until June. June is talked about for "super two" considerations, but since Stras has a 4 year contract, it takes him through the "Super 2 year" and his normal first year of arb. Super 2 is relevant for Storen, but the cut is usually a bit before June. It is somewhere inside of 140 days, and June 1 is 125 days.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 14, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

There's actually a legitimate reason for sending Strasburg down. If he starts the season with the team, he's expected to be the savior of an awful team. Maybe that'll be expected anyway even in June, but it won't be about this season.

An immediate call-up without any seasoning in the minors is a statement from management that he's ready and that he's different from 99% of all other pitching prospects. And maybe he is. I just don't think he needs the added pressure. He needs to feel like he's earned his call-up, even if it's just a short stint at AA or AAA and it doesn't really help him as a pitcher. He already thinks he's overhyped. Give him at least something close to a normal introduction to the league.

Posted by: thoward1223 | March 14, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

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