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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 11/18/2010

Nationals brass departs as baseball meetings close

By Adam Kilgore

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo and Owner Mark Lerner this afternoon departed the annual General Manager Meetings and Owners Meetings, held jointly in Orlando. Rizzo, despite many discussions, had yet to strike any deals and did not expect any free agent signings or trades in the next few days.

But he added a deal could always, "become imminent quickly." Along with hearing interest on several tradable players - notably left fielder Josh Willingham - Rizzo met with the agents of free agent pitchers Carl Pavano and Jorge de la Rosa, regarded as the two best available free agent starters after Cliff Lee.

Lerner directed any questions to Rizzo, an early that sign despite the departure of Team President Stan Kasten - who served, among his many roles, as the mouthpiece for ownership - Lerner may not take a decidedly more public role. To be fair, Lerner had a busy schedule to keep and a flight to catch. Lerner said he would take questions at the winter meetings, which will be held in Orlando in early December.

The biggest talk at the meetings among general managers and owners centered on the possible expansion of baseball's postseason. Commissioner Bud Selig, in a press conference, did not offer any specifics. His general tone, though, suggested that additional postseason rounds is a matter of when, not if, it becomes a reality.

"Eight [playoff teams] is a very fair number," Selig said. "But so is 10."

By Adam Kilgore  | November 18, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
 
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Next: With Jesus Flores healthy, a look at the Nationals catching situation

Comments

If they are going to add two more teams to the postseason, then trim the regular season by 10 games. Or more. But that will never happen. The playoffs and World Series are going into November, and that is just crazy with football in full swing.

Posted by: poncedeleroy | November 18, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Everyone makes the playoffs! Stupid

Fish are after Pavano too...

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=5820406

Posted by: Kev29 | November 18, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I think its ridiculous to hear fans of sports they allegedly love complaining that the season is too long. I think more playoff teams means more cities get to experience playoff baseball firsthand and thats a good thing. Wasn't it fun three years ago when the Caps snuck into the playoffs with their late season run. If there were only four teams per conference there is no way they make it in.

Posted by: gws2p | November 18, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

why do I get the sinking feeling that this will get blown up before it gets better? Like we should just go to sleep and hope it's 2012 or 13 when we wake up?

Posted by: 1of9000 | November 18, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

why do I get the sinking feeling that this will get blown up before it gets better? Like we should just go to sleep and hope it's 2012 or 13 when we wake up? Posted by: 1of9000 | November 18, 2010 2:41 PM

Unless ownership makes a deeper commitment to winning than it has thus far, you have just summarized Phase I of Nats' team-building process.

In Phase II, we wake up in 2013, look around, go back to sleep, and hope it is 2016 by the time we wake up again.

Posted by: EdDC | November 18, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

A 3 year $30M offer, if that is accurate, was very likely DOA and he Nats had to know it when they made the offer in the first place. What comparable contract were the Nats looking at to come up with that figure?? Dunn is likely going to get something like $15-20M more than that, maybe more -- not even close to the Nats's best offer. So, can someone explain again for me why Rizzo did not trade the guy if they never really wanted him in 2011? Posted by: dfh21 | November 18, 2010 1:12 PM |

The Nats did not trade Dunn because they would have received lesser players in return for a half-season rental. That would be bad publicity for the franchise. In the off-season, you can potentially camouflage the Dunn non-signing by acquiring other players.

To those who preach "pitching, pitching, pitching" please ask Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez if hitting is important too. He had an ERA of 2.27, a WHIP of 1.057, and a 13-12 record. Yes, pitching is most important. Sometimes it helps if you keep your best hitters-- if you want to attract pitchers.

Posted by: EdDC | November 18, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

No way Dunn is getting $45M to $50M to sign for 3 years. $30M for 3 years was a little low but the holdup has been the length of the contract.

Posted by: Jurgensen9 | November 18, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

...and how long will RZimm be content to remain while we churn players? His patience can't be unlimited. 2011 Nat's mantra - next year, next year....?

Posted by: 1of9000 | November 18, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

The Nationals are going to sign another 32 year old junker ball pitcher like Jason Marquis. And they are going to pay good $$ for him.

That's what last place teams do.

No major free agent is going to come here as he knows the team isn't ready to win and the club in any case isn't going to offer convincing dollars.

It's a do-loop for clubs like the Nationals and Royals and Pirates and Orioles.

Promise the fans that 'this offseason will be different' and then go about your cheap, miserly ways trying to offer a guy $3M a year when he can get $5M from other teams.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | November 18, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

@ Jergensen9

According to Boz, Dunn was available to the Nats in mid-season for a 3 year deal for $40 million. The Nats wouldn't do it. After futzing around with it all year, they finally, with free agency a few weeks away, offered for the first time a 3 year contract, but only at $30 million. As Boz wrote "too little too late." It is, and has always been, about the money. Cheap perennial last place ownership is what we are stuck with.

Posted by: NatsFly | November 18, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Why does anyone think Dunn only gets $10M per year? I am not sure that there is a recent contract for a power hitter in his prime that says that is the right number. I am thinnking that Dunn will sign for something like $47M (3 years @ $14M with an option year and $5M buy out kind of deal and he might just get 4 years -- he is young and steady enough and he has proven durable) that would still make the guy crazy cheap compared to Howard or whatever Fielder will get or what the true elite 1B's -- Gonzalez and Pujols and Tex will be getting (by tens of Millions), no? Why do people see Dunn making something like 25% of Howard's deal?

EdDc -- The Nats would have received lesser players than what for a half season of Dunn (and his now Type A status)? Less than the potentially 2 draft picks they might get if he walks? If that's what Rizzo is saying, that is hard to believe.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 18, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Lerner is a cheapo and Rizzo is a fraidy cat. That's the perfect combination to run a franchise into the ground.

Posted by: bupbups | November 18, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

dfh,

If the Nats had traded Dunn last summer, the Nats would have received a lesser player than Dunn is worth. The reason for that is that Dunn would only have been a half-season rental for his new club. Yes, the players received in such a trade could still be better than the draft choices. I agree with that. But that would leave the Nats with a PR problem--unloading Dunn for lesser value than Dunn is worth, simply because the Nats admit they don't want to re-sign Dunn for fairly big bucks (by Nats' standards). Too blatant! It reveals their cheapness too much.

In the off-season, the Nats can get around the PR problem of unloading Dunn, by bring in a variety of new players to boost fan interest. That's what I mean by "camouflaging" the Nats' release of Dunn.

It doesn't produce wins, but it is good business, if your goal is short-term profit.

Posted by: EdDC | November 18, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

A couple of years ago when the Olsen/Willingham deal was made, the discussions had begun at the GM meetings and were completed a few weeks later. No trade now does not mean significan progress has not been made.

For those complaining that signing Pavano or a similar pitcher is somehow a bad thing - don't assume that will be the final move. It may be an appropriate first step prior to trading another pitcher (or three) to fill another need. Junkballers are not bad. Bad pitchers are bad. Pavano would have been staff ace this past year. He would likely be an excellent #2 or #3 starter.

Finally, on the question of should the Nats trade Dunn early if they strongly suspected they would not sign him. My take is not unless there was an overwhelming return in trade. And I think we can safely say there was not. Worst case now is two high draft picks in return.

Posted by: natbiscuits | November 18, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

"According to Boz, Dunn was available to the Nats in mid-season for a 3 year deal for $40 million. The Nats wouldn't do it. After futzing around with it all year, they finally, with free agency a few weeks away, offered for the first time a 3 year contract, but only at $30 million. As Boz wrote "too little too late."

Why in the world would anyone think that Boswell knows what he's talking about? He hasn't pontificated with this much of a sense of certainty and rectitude since the day he declared himself a Gibbsologist and absolutely guaranteed that Joe Gibbs would come back for the last season of his five year deal. Of course we all remember how that one turned out - Gibbs resigned the very next day. This time around, it looks like the more Boswell blusters the more likely he'll end up being declared a Dunnce.

Posted by: nunof1 | November 18, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Nats fans should get ready for a big let down in 2011. Ownership has already given up on the season. The team will be signing no quality free agents again this year. The team apparently thinks the Pittsburgh Pirates model is the one to follow. The 2011 team will not have either Strasburg or Dunn. There is no way it will win 69 games next year.

I wish I was wrong, but ownership is demonstrating that they will not spend on free agents. We are going to have to wait until some kid in high school now finally makes good in the year 2020.

Posted by: cr8oncsu | November 18, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Natsbis -- how can we safely say there was not a deal out there for Dunn at the deadline better than the potential of two draft picks (it was no given then and is till not a given now that they get two picks for Dunn -- should a club with a protected pick take him)? You seem to be saying that if there was a better deal they would have taken it and they did not make a deal so there must not have been a deal to be made.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 18, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Because if there was an overwhelming opportunity, they would have taken the deal... You see that's the thing about overwhelming deals, they are overwhelming.... No deal, therefore, no offer.

The concept that somehow they missed an opportunity that a better team would have obviously taken is folly. There was no Mike Stanton or Desmond Jennings for an unsigned Dunn.

Posted by: natbiscuits | November 18, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Pants had his chance with Dunn, it's common knowledge he blew it. If he had thought it was a good idea to sign him, he could have sold it to ownership, but he didn't. He was a great advertisement for the Nats when MLB network asked him about the new playoff scenario last night, and it took him a whole minute to stammer through an answer that only should have taken 15 seconds. You can tell when he gets caught off guard and hasn't rehearsed his b.s. because when he's talking smoothly he's LY-ING.

Rizzo? Pull the trigger? He'll dump Willingham for some speculative pitching. The only trigger he's pulling is on a firing squad for his offense. The genius put Harper on a low A team, which is barely out of high school ball, after he left him off the full time roster in Arizona - I mean, what is he trying to prove? Have him at Hagerstown for a month? Then what? AA? AAA? It doesn't matter how well the kid mashes, Pants will have a schedule ON PAPER, and if he hits. .120 in AA, he's still gonna be moved up. It's got nothing to do with the kid's progress, just for who gets credit for his progress. People say hey it doesn't matter he'll be up in '12. What about this year? I can just about guarantee that they invite MAXWELL to camp because nobody wants him and they need bodies, but Harper shows up without a chance to make the big league roster? Pants has gotta take his blinders off and let his own instincts take over. If he has any. You also have to remember that the Lerners are hostage to Rizzo, because they don't know jack about their product. They really have no idea. And not every team is like that. They just got rid of the president's position. I mean, don't you think its helped the Phillies to have Giles upstairs? Reuben Amaro I'm sure does a fine job, but who's there to check your observations? This whole thing about Dum Dum Davey Johnson, and Boone, and Barry Larkin, and all these people who have cashed checks - what do they do?

Posted by: Brue | November 18, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Brue, if Rizzo had a decent budget to work with, of course he would pull the trigger! He is only timid because he has very few resources to work with. He can't take any chances. Everything he does has to be as close to a sure thing as he can get, because he won't get another chance at that position. If he can't take chances, that also means you won't get much upside surprise either. Having few resources robs your confidence and makes you afraid of your own shadow.

He didn't "blow it" with Dunn! Rizzo just decided he could not blow his whole off-season budget on one guy, who can't even field his position all that well. Thus, Rizzo rationalizes letting Dunn walk. So this makes the Nats far less interesting, and less likely to win games, without the big bopper. Yes, this is a bush league operation--but we can't blame Rizzo for that. Or Riggleman. Or Kasten for bailing either.

Posted by: EdDC | November 18, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Barry Larkin hasn't worked for the Nats for almost two years now. He's full time at the MLB Network.

Guess it's been at least that long that Brue's been p*ssing away the monthly cable money on cheap rotgut whiskey.

Posted by: nunof1 | November 18, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Brue, if Rizzo had a decent budget to work with, of course he would pull the trigger! He is only timid because he has very few resources to work with. He can't take any chances. Everything he does has to be as close to a sure thing as he can get, because he won't get another chance at that position. If he can't take chances, that also means you won't get much upside surprise either out of the off-season acquisitions. One thing I liked about JimBo is that he would take chances with low-budget and possible upside surprises; Rizzo is safer, and is considered more solid--which is OK too I guess.

Having few resources robs your confidence and makes you afraid of your own shadow. Rizzo didn't "blow it" with Dunn! Rizzo just decided he could not blow his whole off-season budget on one guy, who can't even field his position all that well. Thus, Rizzo rationalized letting Dunn walk. So this makes the Nats far less interesting, and less likely to win games, without the big bopper. Yes, this is a bush league operation--but we can't blame Rizzo for that. Or Riggleman. Or Kasten for bailing either.

Posted by: EdDC | November 18, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

While it's true that he didn't want to blow money on Dunn, his job is to sell management on a deal. Just like he sold them on Marquis for $15 million. Same thing. They're waiting for him to actually convince them, and you can't blame them - either he's not bright enough, forceful enough, or whatever to get it done. If you want to play GM, you have to have the stones to trade talent as well as acquire talent. Eyeing talent is just one part of the job. You have to know the nuts and bolts of putting a roster together, and you can go .500 on $65-70 million payroll. Once you do that, you can play fantasy ball and pick someone up to fill a specific need. But until then, you need to create some synergy in your lineup. Like the Marlins do every year.

Posted by: Brue | November 18, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

GM: I need to sell you on Dunn. He is vital to our ballclub, and I must re-sign him if we are to show our players and fan base that we are for real. All I need is a $72 million budget.

Owner: You can do whatever you want to do. You have total flexibility. Your budget is $65 million.

GM: That means no Dunn!

Owner: That's your decision.

Posted by: EdDC | November 18, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

EdDC- If that is how the coversation went down, then Rizzo had to move Dunn at the deadline. The club could have saved $4M by moving him and saved having to hand out signing bonuses to two top 100 picks, potentially. If the budget is the big anchor dragging Rizzo down, then he has not played well within the constraint. He could have moved Dunn for SOMETHING that could have helped this club in 2011, yet Rizzo was not even trying to do so by his own admissions.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 19, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

You guys absolutely kill me by shooting down a Pavano deal. Nats are not getting Cliff Lee, period. Pavano is next best free agent available and doesn't cost any draft picks. Your other option is to sign a lesser feee agent or keep going with what we have. DUUUHHH!

Posted by: shanks1 | November 19, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

No, Jorge De la Rosa is the option I want them to take.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 19, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

EdDC- If that is how the coversation went down, then Rizzo had to move Dunn at the deadline. The club could have saved $4M by moving him and saved having to hand out signing bonuses to two top 100 picks, potentially. If the budget is the big anchor dragging Rizzo down, then he has not played well within the constraint. He could have moved Dunn for SOMETHING that could have helped this club in 2011, yet Rizzo was not even trying to do so by his own admissions. Posted by: dfh21 | November 19, 2010 8:20 AM

My guess is that Rizzo would have preferred to sign Dunn, if he could get a somewhat expanded budget. Failing there, he would have preferred to trade Dunn at the deadline. but he was not allowed, for business reasons. The Nats' successful profit formula depends on low payroll and a loyal fan base producing about 22,000 a game. Dumping Dunn at mid-season would leave the team with a dull product, and would risk losing some of the loyal fans. He had to be kept for business reasons.

Now, in the off-season, you can let him go, and camouflage his departure by signing a variety of new guys, while still keeping your payroll in the mid-60-million range. The loyal fan base will be on board with this approach. It is business, not baseball. It is Lerner, not Rizzo. Rizzo is an employee. You can't just evaluate moves on a baseball basis.

Posted by: EdDC | November 19, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

If you read Boswell's columns over the years and compare it to subsequent results, you'll realize he is rarely right but never in doubt. Unlike others I won't try to guess conversations and negotiations that I'm not a part of, thanks. But looking at the big picture, some thoughts:

(1) spending money to spend money is just dumb - ask the Mets, Tigers and Cubs. Three $100 million payrolls, no winning records. Spend money, yes - when you are improving the team in the short and long term.

(2) In the same vein, paying $10 million a season for Carl Pavano is also just dumb (or, if you prefer, a HUGE risk). At his age (35) and track record (has great seasons in the walk year of his contracts), he likely gives the Nats nothing that they won't get for a lot less money out of Hernandez, Lannan or Maya.

(3) Ignoring offense for pitching and defense is also dumb. Emphasize pitching and defense, sure, especially at the key "up the middle" positions (C, 2b, SS, CF). But you still have to score some runs. The A's were 1st in the AL at pitching and defense, 3rd in MLB - and had a losing record. Seattle went big for pitching and defense, with King Felix and Cliff Lee anchoring their rotation. They lost 100 games. The Giants only took off when Buster Posey showed up and solidified their lineup. And the hitters that the Nats do have (Zimmerman, Willingham and ... Morse?) are all right handed. A left handed thumper really helps their lineup.

Posted by: JCCfromDC | November 19, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

"It appears that, contrary to our impression before the meeting, acquiring better players will cost money. So that's out. But how about the new uniforms?"

Posted by: markfromark | November 19, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

People always mention the Mets, Cubs and now the Tigers (who have won most recent years and went to the WS not long ago) as examples of foolish spenders. Why not mention the Twins, Phillies, BoSox? Of course you can spend foolishly. There is also the option of spending well and wisely that the Nats could look into. I don't think anyone advocates foolish spending.

I agree that an old pitcher, a washed-up 1B and some new, mediocre OF would not turn the Nats' fortunes around. The usual low-budget approach could yield something like that, and that is probably foolish. But the Nats should take advantage of opportunities to add young talent with upside, via trades and free agent signings, even if it means payroll expansion. A multi-year process of jumping on these opportunities is what it will take. You mention the Tigers: do the Tigers regret acquiring and extending the (very) expensive Miguel Cabrera? Will the Nats ever consider doing something along those lines?

Posted by: EdDC | November 19, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I heard a guy on the radio come up with a plan for the regular season if they expand the playoffs, and it goes something like this.

you have 183 days between april 1 and septmeber 30. that's 26.15 weeks. with 1 off day for each team each week, and factoring in a 4 day break for the All Star game, that leaves you with 153 days to play 162 games.
Each team plays 6 games a week from 4-1 thru 9-30 except during All-star week. You can get 5 more games in if you start the season on 3/25, in domes or warm weathe spots mostly to account for weather. That makes 158 games played.

They can play a double header on Memorial Day Weekend, July Fourth and Labor Day Weekend. That takes care of 3 games. Throw in a double header in June for Inter league play and you have 162 played by September 25th.

Now, to account for rainouts and reschedules, you play a more balanced schedule to help with make up games when those teams play again later in the season. Also, you can give them a few days at the end of the year to make up games before the Playoffs start. If teams are not in the playoff race, they won't play those make ups. It works itself out from there. Playoffs start September 29th or 30th.
4 days for Wildcard series, best of 3.
7 days for division series, best of 5.
9 days for Chamionship series, best of 7
World Series starts on or around October 22th and is over by November 1st.

I know TV scheduling will make this more of a challenge, but there is lee way and room to manuever based on the calendar.

Posted by: jmurray019 | November 19, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

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