Rodriguez joins Nationals, says he wants to win

BY foxsports • December 13, 2009

Ivan Rodriguez insisted Friday he wants to be an everyday player. He also insisted - kept saying so, over and over - that what he cares about most is winning.

Both of those stances make the catcher's decision to sign a $6 million, two-year deal with the Washington Nationals a fascinating one.

This is, after all, a club that figures it has a star-in-the-making at catcher in Jesus Flores, even if the kid is coming off shoulder surgery. And this is also a club that led the major leagues in losses in 2008 and 2009, accumulating more than 100 each year.

``He's a very prideful guy. And he thinks his skills are at their finest. He might be right. You never know. ... He's going to be a significant contributor to the ballclub,'' Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. ``Now if that means 70-80 games, or if that means 70-80-90-100 games, those are questions that will be answered throughout the course of the season. The best problem that I'll have all season is: Who of these two hot catchers are we going to play on a daily basis?''

Flores was injured in May, when he was hit by a foul ball, returned for three at-bats in early September, then had surgery to repair a torn labrum. He hit .301 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 93 at-bats, and Rizzo said Flores is expected to be ready for spring training.

Flores is 25 and has played in 198 games in the majors.

Rodriguez is 38 and has caught a record 2,288 games, earning 14 All-Star selections, 13 Gold Gloves and the 1999 AL MVP award along the way. He also has a .299 career batting average, with 2,711 hits, 305 homers and 1,264 RBIs, and has thrown out 42 percent of would-be basestealers.

All of which is why Rizzo opened Friday's news conference at Nationals Park by calling the player known as Pudge ``certainly the greatest catcher in our generation - and quite possibly the greatest catcher in the history of baseball.''

And why Rodriguez said: ``I'm ready to play every day. We discussed that. I'm a player that I still can play every day and I will play every day and, basically, the thing is just, you know, to do my best for the club. I know that it's hard for me to play 162 games. That's impossible for a catcher. But as long as I'm healthy, and I'm feeling great physically, I'll be in the field playing.''

He split last season between Houston and Texas, hitting a combined .249 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in a total of 121 games. Rizzo indicated he thought that was too high a total.

And while the Nationals are looking for better on-field production from Rodriguez, they also want him to mentor Flores, guide what could be an inexperienced pitching staff and provide leadership in the clubhouse.

Rodriguez has done this sort of thing before: join a losing team with an eye to steering it in the right direction.

After helping the Florida Marlins win the 2003 World Series, he signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Tigers, who were coming off a 119-loss season.

How did other players react to that move?

``They say, 'What are you doing? Why are you signing here? Why don't you go to a winning team?' I say, 'Detroit is a major league ballclub. You cannot take anything for granted,''' Rodriguez recalled. ``I just said, 'Hey, I'm going to make this team better and get them to the playoffs.' And that's what we did. Two years later, in 2006, we were in Game 1 of the World Series. Nobody was thinking that was going to happen.''

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