With the Nationals needing a center fielder and leadoff hitter, Rizzo refused to go the free agent route and sign B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays. Upton signed a five year $75 million contract with the NL East rival Atlanta Braves. Though there were whispers that Washington was in the hunt for Upton, it is highly unlikely that Rizzo thought seriously about doing it.
Trading for Span is more of Rizzo’s way. Besides signing outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven year, $126 million contract in 2010, Rizzo has built the Nationals with low priced free agents, shrewd trades and the draft. Washington would rather sign good, young players and give them long-term contracts than sign veteran free agents to huge deals.
The Nationals every day lineup consists of four highly touted players who came up through their minor league system in second baseman Danny Espinosa, shortstop Ian Desmond, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Bryce Harper. The starting pitching staff consists of draft picks Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, John Lannan and Ross Detwiler. Washington’s projected closer, Drew Storen, came up through the system as well.
Rizzo, also, believes in stocking his minor league system in order to make trades like the Span one. The Nationals traded minor league pitcher and former first round draft pick Alex Meyer for Span. Meyer is a 100 mile per hour fireball thrower that most teams would not have given up. However, Washington has stockpiled good, young arms in the majors and minors and can afford to trade one or two. Quality pitching has helped many teams acquire players that they need.
Since becoming the Nationals GM in 2009, Rizzo has come in with a plan and stuck to it. He only makes moves that the team deems necessary and never goes for the big splash. If Rizzo feels that a player on another team can help Washington, he will keep an eye on them and wait for a chance to make a deal.
A case in point is pitcher Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals knew going into 2012, that they had a good enough team to make a playoff run. They, also, had made a decision to put Strasburg on a 160 innings pitch limit as he continued his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Washington knew that they would need a strong starting pitcher to bolster the rotation and pick up the slack when Strasburg reached his innings limit. Rizzo decided that Gonzalez was that man and traded three minor league pitchers and a catcher to the Oakland Athletics for him. Gonzalez led the Nationals staff with a 21-8 record and 2.89 ERA.
The trade for Span is typical Rizzo. It is one of the reasons why he was named Executive of the Year by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. Rizzo understands that winners are built by stockpiling young talent and making shred moves. He knows how to think in the present and future.
None of us should be surprised that Rizzo went after Span instead of Upton. The trade is a direct reflection of the kind of GM he is.