Mike Rizzo goes one-on-one with Mark Zuckerman on the Nats' offseason
Mike Rizzo was willing to keep Michael Morse on his bench this season if he didn't receive a strong trade offer for the slugger. The Nationals general manager, though, was confident all along he'd get the kind of offer he was seeking.
"We could've kept him. And knowing me, if we didn't get the deal we wanted, we would've kept him," Rizzo said. "But I don't think it would've been fair to him in a contract year to come off the bench. I don't think his skills are really indicative of a bench player. There was enough interest. We were getting enough phone calls and hits on him, I thought there was going to be a deal that we liked out there."
That deal came together this week, with the Mariners strongly interested in re-acquiring Morse, the Athletics interested in acquiring Seattle catcher John Jaso and the Nationals very interested in re-acquiring Oakland pitching prospect A.J. Cole plus two other minor leaguers.
In the end, Cole was the key to the entire three-team trade getting finalized. Rizzo hated giving up the power right-hander to the A's as part of last winter's Gio Gonzalez deal and jumped at the opportunity to bring the 21-year-old back to the Nationals' farm system.
"He was the toughest part, for me, for the package for Gio," Rizzo said. "Strange things happen in baseball. We didn't identify A.J. as a guy we wanted to have back. In this particular situation, this was the key component of a trade that we could make. We were fortunate to involve Oakland. They needed a player from Seattle that Seattle was willing to give up for him. And we demanded that the deal had to have A.J. Cole in it, or there wasn't going to be a deal."
A fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft -- the Nationals gave him a $2 million signing bonus, a record for a player taken in that round -- Cole struggled early last season with the Athletics' high-Class A affiliate in Stockton. He opened the year 0-7 with a 7.82 ERA and was subsequently demoted to low-Class A Burlington, where he rebounded and went 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 19 starts.
Rizzo chalked up Cole's rocky stint in Stockton as yet another example of a quality pitcher suffering in the notorious California League, where hot temperatures and high winds often leading to bloated offensive numbers and scary-looking pitching performances.
"Believe me, I have a lot of experience with that California League, and the California League has made a mockery of a lot of good starting pitchers," Rizzo said. "His stuff was fine. His delivery wandered a little bit throughout the season. He righted the ship when they sent him to the Midwest League and dominated that league as a 20-year-old.
"We feel that he's on course. His developmental curve is on track. We're going to get him with our pitching people and straighten out his delivery. I think that this guy will be a quick mover for us from this point forward."
Rizzo also spoke highly of Blake Treinen, the second pitcher acquired in the trade. A 24-year-old right-hander from little-known South Dakota State, Treinen likewise was the victim of the California League last season. He went 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 24 games (15 starts) but his strikeout-to-walk ratio was an impressive 4-to-1.
The Nationals plan to use Treinen as a starter for now, though there's a chance he'll wind up as a reliever down the road.
"He's a power pitcher with power stuff from a very small, non-baseball school," Rizzo said. "So we feel he's going to be a late bloomer. And like a lot of those guys from the northern part of the country, he didn't play many games in college and really just since he started his professional career has he played with any consistency."
The Nationals will receive one more player in the trade, still to be determined. Rizzo said there's a list of "a couple" of players he'll be allowed to choose from, "and we set that up for a specific reason." That could mean one of the players the Nationals want is dealing with an injury and they want to make sure he open the season healthy before officially acquiring him.
Rizzo called Morse Wednesday night to inform him about the trade and said the two shared a nice, if bittersweet, moment over the phone.
"Mike's an easy guy to like," Rizzo said. "He was moving on to the next chapter of his career. He told me he appreciated everything we've done for him. I told him we appreciate everything he's done for us, 'Go out, have a good year and make a lot of money.'"