Nats not daunted by Phils signing Lee
Players focused on task of improving their own performances
WASHINGTON -- General manager Mike Rizzo indicated during the competition to land Cliff Lee that it was a long shot for the Nationals, as the club was not willing to give the free-agent left-hander a seven-year contract.
By Sunday, the Nationals were out of the Lee sweepstakes. No reason was given as to why Lee decided not to go to Washington.
But a day later, Lee agreed to a five-year, $120-million deal with the Phillies. It will be his second stint with the club. He played for Philadelphia in 2009 before being traded to the Mariners after the season. Some members of the Nationals had mixed feelings about Philadelphia's most recent acquisition.
"I don't think pitching was the reason they didn't go to the World Series last year," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "They had a good pitching staff."
On paper, Philadelphia now has a awesome rotation, which includes, in addition to Lee, 2010 National League Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. In order to beat them, Desmond believes the Nationals will have to play good, fundamental baseball.
"We have to do the fundamental things right -- fielding the ball, run the bases better, we have to hit the cutoff man and we have to throw strikes," Desmond said. "All the fundamental things we didn't do last year, we have to get better at during Spring Training. We have to go into the season with the right foot forward."
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said he was not surprised about Lee going back to the Phillies. Zimmerman pointed out that Philadelphia has a chance to go to the World Series every year.
"Obviously, he enjoyed Philadelphia, and the Phillies have a good team," Zimmerman said. "Any time you have a good team that has a chance to win the World Series every year, you attract top free-agent guys.
"I think it says something about him as well. He is getting less money, but the situation was best for him and his family. That says something about the type of guy that he is."
Manager Jim Riggleman was caught by surprise, because he thought Lee was going to either the Yankees or Rangers, the teams most often mentioned by the media.
"There was so much talk of the Rangers and Yankees, but you never know what will be the determining factor," Riggleman said. "[I don't know if] Cliff Lee and his family really liked Philadelphia, or they liked the National League. You don't know what's behind it."
The Nationals will face the Phillies' tough rotation 18 times in 2011. Asked if there is an urgency for the Nationals to get starting pitching, Riggleman said, "There is always an urgency. However, you have to do what's best for the organization. It's not like you get a pitcher, and all of a sudden, you catch up with the Phillies' pitching staff right away. It's a process.
"If you add a pitcher, great. ... Most playoff teams have really good starting pitching. As we move toward that, it's not all going to happen in 2011. You could add but so much pitching, and a lot of it is off the board. If Mike [Rizzo] adds a starting pitcher, that's great. If he doesn't, we'll just add some other parts to try to catch up."
With Lee out of the picture, look for the Nationals to try to acquire a pitcher such as Rays right-hander Matt Garza. Washington would love to have Kansas City's right-handed ace, Zack Greinke, but the Royals feel the Nats aren't a good trade match. Kansas City wants starting pitching, a right-handed-hitting outfielder and an infielder. Most opposing teams ask for Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann when in trade talks with the Nats.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.