After the Lerner family bought the Nationals in 2006, its first hire was Mike Rizzo, who is now the general manager and president of baseball operations. It was Rizzo who built the Nationals into a championship-caliber team through trades, free agency and draft picks. In honor of Presidents Day, MLB.com is catching up with a high-ranking official from each club.
MLB.com: As you enter the exhibition season, what do you like about the Nationals compared to last Spring Training?
Rizzo: I think we have much more depth than we had last year. The starting rotation can go eight, nine deep [with] guys we could count on if something were to happen -- injury-wise or lack of performance. I think our bench is stronger. Those two pop out to me going into Spring Training.
MLB.com: In retrospect, what was the biggest mistake you made last year?
Rizzo: In retrospect, you could always do things differently, but we liked the team we put on the field last year. We got out of the blocks a little too slow. The Braves played extremely well. I give the Braves much credit for pulling away from us. We blame ourselves for playing poorly. The combination of the Braves playing really well -- especially early in the season -- and us coming out of the gate slower and guys not performing until later in the season were the reasons we fell far behind.
Rizzo: Those are two guys we identified early on in the process. You make deals that make sense for you -- not only for this year, but for the long term. We certainly liked both trades. I think they will make an impact for us this year. But it's a two-way street. I think both of those trades that you mentioned, both teams got what they desired. We felt the same way. We definitely got what we needed.
MLB.com: Entering the exhibition season, what intrigues you the most about the team?
Rizzo: I want to see how ready the guys are, see how the bodies have changed through either maturation or through hard work in the offseason. I'm excited to see the guys and see where they are at physically. I want to see some of the young players that will be in camp for the first time. That is always an enjoyment for me. Being a scout and player-development guy, it's always fun to watch the young kids. I'm looking forward to seeing Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor, A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen perform on the big stage. I want to see how they handle themselves.
MLB.com: The way you talk, you seem proud of the way the young players have come along.
Rizzo: I'm extremely proud of our scouts, our player-development guys and our coaches. They are our unsung heroes. They are in the background. Nobody knows their names. It's not a sexy position, but it's the most important part of any franchise. We have been together for quite a few years now. We do a lot of our staffing from within. There is such good morale, good energy and a good feel between the staffs -- and I think that goes a long way.
MLB.com: What has impressed you about Matt Williams so far? He has been busy since he arrived to Spring Training on Feb. 8.
Rizzo: He can't sit still, I know that. He is a preparer, he is a motivator, he is a leader. He has a good demeanor about him. From what I've seen in the last week, I like the way he interacts with his big league staff and with the Minor League staff. The players feel very comfortable around him. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing going on. They seemed to be having fun and enjoying themselves. The guys want to come to the ballpark, they want to work. We are going to get our work in. We are going to work extremely hard, pound the fundamentals and be ready when the bell rings.
MLB.com: You are not only the general manager, you are also president of baseball operations. How is life different?
Rizzo: There are a few more meetings, a little more responsibilities. But, as a whole, it's baseball all the time. We had an extremely busy offseason, probably the busiest I've ever had. We had 10 arbitration cases that Bryan Minniti and our arbitration group were probing. They did a masterful job this year with arbitration. We had 10 cases. It was second most in baseball. They kept the morale of the players at a high.
There are hours and hours of work. To classify it as an offseason is kind of a misnomer. It's an offseason for the players and there are no games. It's certainly not an offseason for the front office.
MLB.com: Besides being a general manager and scout, which is your love, what does a president of baseball operations do?
Rizzo: I think he has to be the leader of the organization. A big part of it is communicating to the board members and ownership group, keep them informed on everything that is going on in the organization.
MLB.com: I know you always wanted to be a general manager, but did you ever think you would become president of baseball operations?
Rizzo: It's an honor for me. I feel that the trust the Lerners put in me is unbelievable. I feel great about it. It's something I never expected to have. I have to embrace it, run with it. I'll do the best job I have to do to make this thing a first-class, championship-caliber organization.
MLB.com: Davey Johnson loved to make predictions. Would you care to make a prediction about the 2014 Nationals?
Rizzo: My prediction is, we are going to be a well-prepared, well-motivated, well-trained ballclub. It's not going to go just 25 deep, but 40 deep. We are looking to play not 162 games, but 182 games. That's our goal. We want to play meaningful games in October -- and I think we have the talent level to do it, the character to do it. The players are a year more mature and a year more battle tested. I think we are going to see better results on the field. We are going to see a team that Washington D.C. is going to be proud of.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He can also be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less