General manager Mike Rizzo has been a busy man, trying his best to improve the Nationals, who have a 42-56 record entering Sunday's action against the Brewers.
MLB.com caught up with Rizzo recently at Miller Park to talk about the team and his plans before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.
MLB.com: Several weeks ago, you said starting pitching was your biggest need before the Trade Deadline. Do you still feel that way? Why?
Mike Rizzo: Yes. You can never have enough good quality starting pitching. We are always looking for good controllable starting pitching because that's what drives any Major League ballclub. You must have good young starters, that gives you a chance to win every fifth day. If you can go back-to-back and get three or four of those guys, that's how you build a long-lasting franchise.
MLB.com: Outsiders would say your pitching staff has done a good job. What would you say about that?
Rizzo: I would say they have done a good job. If you look at it in hindsight: Your Nos. 1 and 2 starters from Opening Day aren't with the club for a long time. Our No. 1 acquisition -- Jason Marquis -- hasn't been with us for most of the season. So I think the rotation has done a good job. We expect our starting pitching to be better in the second half of the season, but you can never stop looking to acquire better starting pitching at all times.
MLB.com: Your bullpen has done a great job.
Rizzo: The bullpen was a point of emphasis during the winter. We couldn't have asked for more from Matt Capps. The emergence of Tyler Clippard and the development of Drew Storen have been great. I don't want to leave out Sean Burnett, who pitched terrifically for us last year. He started off a little slow this year, but he is now at the point where he is a guy that we could really count on. He is going to be a big factor for us.
MLB.com: Outsiders would say your biggest need is offense and defense.
Rizzo: Defensively, we definitely need to improve. It was an emphasis in the winter. We did address it to the point where Pudge Rodriguez has really upgraded us defensively and Nyjer Morgan has been great in the outfield. I think we are going to improve in the second half because you have Roger Bernadina, who's going to get better and better in right field. I think Ian Desmond is going to get more comfortable at shortstop and we will improve that way. But we definitely need to get better defensively.
Offensively, we have that good middle of the lineup. They have done well for us. I see Morgan getting back to his form from last year. I see us getting natural improvement from that.
MLB.com: There have been reports that the Nationals are trying to trade Capps, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. Are you looking to trade those players?
Rizzo: No. We are not looking to trade Capps, Willingham or Dunn. We don't make calls. We get a lot of calls, because all three of them are terrific players. The question should be, would we trade them if there was an opportunity to improve and impact the ballclub? I would have to say yes. I've explained it to all three players individually, so they know what's going on. They understand that is the business of this game.
MLB.com: You have said many times that you would want a lot in return for those guys. Is that still the case?
Rizzo: Exactly. We control Capps and Willingham through 2011 and they are terrific young players. There is a reason everyone is asking for those three players: They are good players. For me to part with them, I have to have a replacement in mind and have to get something in return that impacts us not only in '10, but into the future.
MLB.com: Willingham often talks about how you always tell the truth. What does it mean to the players?
Rizzo: I think it means a lot to the players. I think I have a credibility with the players. I shoot straight with them, and I think they appreciate it. I think players deal with knowing the truth much better than dealing with what they want to hear and not following up on it.
MLB.com: Are you trying to sign Dunn to an extension?
Rizzo: We are in communication with his representatives. That is as much as I'm going to say about it. We have been in communication since Spring Training. If there is a deal to be done, we can get it done. That's as far as I'm going to go into it.
MLB.com: What about Willie Harris? He has a history of winning. Is there interest in someone acquiring him?
Rizzo: We have had a few phone calls about him. Willie is an important part of our ballclub. I like having him around. He is a great guy in the clubhouse and he is a good left-handed bat off the bench. He is a valuable guy. Again, if the right deal comes about, we would certainly think about moving him, but we don't need to move him.