The Nationals held the worlds first press conference to introduce a back up catcher today, as the club officially unveiled Ivan Rodriguez to the Washington public. Rodriguez was brought in by GM Mike Rizzo to serve as a role model and back-up catcher to the young and talented Jesus Flores.
It appeared at the press conference, however, that Rodriguez had other ideas:
"Well, I'm ready to play every day. We discussed that. I'm a player that can still play every day, and I will play every day and basically do my best for the club. I know it's hard for me to play 162 games; that's impossible for a catcher. But as long as I'm healthy, feeling great physically, I'll be in the field playing."
Rodriguez has had an illustrious career in which he has won an MVP, been an all-star 14 times, and never once served as a true back-up, and at the age of 38, he doesn't seem to want to start now.
"Again, I said that I'm ready to play. Look forward to spring training and do my job and play the game. I'm a guy that I take care of myself very well; I'm keeping myself in good shape. And I'm gonna be in spring training in February ready. Those decisions are not in my control. My control is just to go to spring training in good shape and be ready mentally and physically to play on an everyday basis."
In what was a slightly awkward press conference, Rizzo did his best to save face and make best of the situation:
"Would you expect anything different? He's a 14-time all-star. He's a very prideful guy. And he thinks his skills are at their finest, and he might be right, you never know. Like I said at the beginning, he's going to be a significant contributor to the ballclub. Now if that means 70 or 80 games or 70, 80, 90, 100 games, those are questions that will be answered throughout the course of the season. The best problem I could have all season is, 'Who of these two hot catchers are we going to play on an everyday basis?'"
To be fair, should Rodriguez earn himself the starting spot it ought to be given to him. Even at the ripe age of 38, Rodriguez can provide so much on the field that the Nationals desperately need. The catcher is the general on the field, the leader, and he sets the tone for the defense. Defense, of course, was one of the teams worst assets last season. It was an attribute that was often ignored by the previous administration (Bowden), and since the Rizzo era it has been addressed again and again. Take Nyjer Morgan for instance. Aside from the fact that he hit an incredible .351 with 24 steals in his 51 games with the Nationals, the club improved exponentially with his great defense in the middle of the field. The difference was noticeable, as the clubs record dramatically improved after the trade, and errors and runs allowed all went down. Rodriguez can provide the same kind of effect by anchoring the team as their back-stop. He could also be a quick fix to the stolen base against problem the team suffered last year, as opponents ran rampant against the Nationals in 2009.
Furthermore, at 25, if Flores isn't ready to take the helm as the everyday starting catcher, then when will he? Flores put up a disappointing .256/.296/.402 in 2008 following what was a promising rookie season. He answered with a strong .301/.371/.505 in 2009, but was only on the field, healthy, for 93 at bats. While he still has prospect status to many this will be his year to put-up or shut-up in Washington, as the Nationals have the supremely talented Derrick Norris rising through the ranks, as well as Bryce Harper waiting in the wings to be drafted.
In far less exciting, but rather interesting news, the Nationals first overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Stephen Strasburg, donated $141,000 to San Diego State baseball. Strasburg, the former San Diego State ace, signed with the Nationals for a record $15.1 million over four years. It's good to see the kid give back.
The money will go to re-surfacing the field at Tony Gwynn Stadium.