Johnson: Haren signing is "a great move"

Johnson: Haren signing is "a great move"
December 4, 2012, 4:30 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There are few managers in baseball more comfortable speaking their mind in front of reporters and cameras than Davey Johnson, so it was no surprise when the Nationals skipper didn't hold back this afternoon during his Winter Meetings media session.

Johnson spoke glowingly about today's signing of Dan Haren -- which, remember, is still pending a physical -- and made another impassioned pitch for Adam LaRoche to return to Washington.

He also had some revealing thoughts on Danny Espinosa, the Wilson Ramos/Kurt Suzuki catching situation, Game 5 of the NLDS and his motivation for 2013.

Here are the highlights, and there are plenty...

What is your reaction to the signing of Dan Haren?
"Well, you need to talk to Rizzo. I think it's a great move if we can get him. Great athlete, outstanding stuff, gamer. He fits right in. I know he can swing the bat. So he'll -- if we get that finalized -- he'll be a great addition."

As far as you know, is his back injury still an issue?
"He pitched a lot of innings, and he had a decent year for Anaheim. Also, the American League is a little bit tougher with an extra DH in there. I like his stuff. I like his competitiveness. I think, like a good starting staff, they all fit with each other, and I think he'll be one of the leaders on the staff."

Do you think Adam LaRoche will come back?
"Adam LaRoche is going to come back. I mean, if I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will. He came to my golf tournament [last weekend in Orlando]. ... There was two people there that I really wanted to see. One was Brooks Robinson, and he was outstanding, and he showed up. And the other guy was -- well, Bryce Harper was there too -- but the main guy was Adam LaRoche. I tried to give him the best team, had him and Rizzo around each other a lot, and I told him bring a pen from Kansas. I think Harolyn Cardozo, one of our assistants to the GM, she doesn't even eat meat, and she bought half a cow. We're trying to make it easier for him to come back."

Do you think last year's playoff experience will help moving forward?
"Well, last year, I thought for a young ballclub ... I thought the one drawback we had was the experience of being in the big games. Some of our young guys didn't really handle that big game situation. But they did so much and went so far, I think now we're prepared to handle any kind of situation it throws at us. But I knew that that was a possibility, and what happens sometimes, you don't attack the hitters as much. Some of the pitchers don't. They get a little too fine. But that's a learning experience. You can't teach that."

Danny Espinosa's name has come up a lot recently. I know you've always been a big supporter of him, but do you still see room for him to continue that maturation process?
"I talked to Danny. I understand Danny very well because he reminds me of myself. He's stubborn. But he told me in Houston the last month of the season, his goal every month is to improve a little bit. I thought he made giant steps this year. He's got a guy that wants his job and thinks he's better than him in Lombardozzi. And I like Lombardozzi also. Both had good years. But I think Danny's going to come in this coming year with a mindset kind of like Ian Desmond came into this last year, and it's going to be his job to lose."

What made you comfortable saying this would be your final year managing?
"Shoot, I thought it was my last year 10 years ago. But I really like the challenge. And I said at the end of the year in '11, that I wanted to be around because I thought this ballclub, if we do the things I thought we were capable of doing, we could win the pennant. We came so far, and I've been with clubs where we made progress like the New York Mets when I first came in, and we won 90 games, then 98, then 108. I think our organization, we're primed to take that next step. Normally, it takes longer. We made giant steps last year. But I think we're in a perfect position to show the world that we're a pretty good damn ballclub, and we can go farther into the postseason, and I want to be a part of that. I still have a love of the game, and I have a love of this organization. 'World Series or Bust': That's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that."

You guys haven't been afraid in the past to have more players than positions. If LaRoche comes back, is there a scenario in your mind that you could still keep Morse and find playing time for everyone?
"We have a lot of conversations on a daily basis, me and Rizzo, but I basically respect his judgment. And whatever he wants to do, I'm going to make it work. I mean, if we don't sign Adam, we have other alternatives, which I'm comfortable with. My job is to manage them. His job is to sign them. Whatever he does, my job, I'm going to be under the gun to make it work. ... You know, it's tougher because once you have everyday players that have established their credentials in the major leagues and are pretty good, it's hard to start sharing roles. But that's part of the game of baseball. We might have to make a move if we get too heavy that way."

Last year you had John Lannan as a backup starter. Do you feel like you have that now with Zach Duke and Christian Garcia, or fo you need another proven guy?
"I think Zach Duke gives us insurance in that area if something happens. We've got some guys in Triple-A that are just coming up that I haven't seen that much. But I really think that the main guy that I think can do it is Christian Garcia. In spring training, he'll piggy‑back guys and just start with two innings and see if we can stretch him out. ... I'm not making any judgments that he's going to be in the rotation, but that's what I'm going to give him every opportunity to do."

Do you find yourself replaying Game 5 in your mind at all?
"You know what, I play them just like I play them during the regular season, and I consider every game that I manage a big game. I had the right guy in there, and I liked giving guys an opportunity to pitch to hitters with the base open. That little phenom shortstop came up and got the game‑winning hit, and everybody thought I should have walked him. But I like to give them a chance, and I do it all year long. Sure, I can change my stripes and protect you guys from second-guessing me by doing something, but I like to give guys to have the opportunity to get any hitter out with a base open where they don't have to give in. If you don't understand that, I've done that my whole life, and I ain't changing. So I don't re-live it, because I think enough about what I'm doing before I do it, and I have all the reasons. I go through that checklist, knowing what's going to happen an inning or two ahead of time."

Once he's completely healthy, do you see Wilson Ramos as your starting catcher?
"It depends on his mobility and what the doctors say. He had two drastic knee surgeries. He really looked good to me with us in the playoffs, and he's driven. He's got a lot of potential offensively and defensively. We have two great No. 1 catchers. Sandy Leon and Solano, they're not chopped liver. So we're pretty well set there."

If they're both healthy, would you almost prefer to split the job and avoid some wear and tear, or do you prefer one guy?
"Whatever I do, I'll probably be successful at it. We'll just have to see how it goes. Guys go real good, stay a little longer. And [if they] cool off, I'll go with the other guy. But I'm very comfortable with both of them. I think they handle pitching staffs great, blocking and throwing are outstanding."