Nationals’ GM Rizzo Earned His 5-year Contract Extension
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News out of Washington today: it’s not about the President or the upcoming elections, or even about the Redskins’ incredibly spacey zone defense. The news is that the Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has been extended by the team for five years.
It’s a well deserved extension.
Since Rizzo took over on an interim basis, the Nationals have operated as an elite baseball organization. Sure, it has helped to have three first round picks in that span, including two first overall picks thanks to having the leagues worst record in 2008 and 2009. But for struggling organizations, it’s sometimes difficult to find the money necessary to sign prospects at the top of the draft. For the Nationals, there was no middle ground. They landed right in perfect position to land two of the most highly touted prospects of all-time: San Diego Pitcher Stephen Strasburg and High School/Vegas area Catcher/Outfielder Bryce Harper. Negotiations with both went right up to the deadline, but the Nationals scrounged up the cash to offer these players more than any in the history of the MLB first year player draft.
The kicker is that when the dust had settled and both had signed, the Nats had overpaid neither. Stephen Strasburg pitched three months in the major leagues, and helped earn a significant chunk of his MLB contract as a first year player. Harper is a riskier proposition and I thought the Nationals would have been justified in passing on him and going with high schoolers Manny Machado or Jamison Tallion with the first overall pick. However, once they took him, Rizzo made a pretty difficult decision that made a lot of sense: they essentially said that he was taken for his bat, not his positional ability to play catcher. The Nats moved Harper to the outfield and will progress him through the minors based on how he is hitting. It’s the intelligent play here in Harper’s development. Drew Storen, the Nats other first round pick in 2009, is also a contributor on the 25-man roster already out of a strong bullpen.
It’s also difficult to take a team in position of the Nationals and be active immediately in terms of making trades, but Rizzo has been at least as active as the average GM in baseball, usually finding a way to trade pieces they do not need for potentially useful pieces. Specifically in 2010, the Nats had been quiet on the trade market but found takers for Matt Capps and Christian Guzman in the Twins and Rangers respectively. Capps was a 1 year pickup on a team that had a strong, much younger bullpen behind him. Guzman was, well, Christian Guzman. Rizzo had nothing to do with his extension, and was fortunate to find a taker for him.
Even though pieces he’s traded for in the past, such as Nyjer Morgan, now look like useless assets, Rizzo’s largest contribution to the big league roster is his ability to get other teams to trade for roster fillers on a team that finished last place in the NL East now three consecutive years. They’ve almost entirely rebuilt their catching and outfielder situation though the trade market, adding Nyjer Morgan and Mike Morse, and finding a role for Josh Willingham. Wilson Ramos, the catcher acquired from the Twins for Capps, will be in the running to start for them next year.
The Nats have developed their shortstop, Ian Desmond, but need to put a left side of the infield around him and 3B Ryan Zimmerman. The biggest issue with the Nats lineup right now is that 1B Adam Dunn, who they like, is an impending free agent. The team does not have a second baseman right now either.
Starting pitching is going to be a problem next year, one that keeps the Nats from truly competing in the NL East just yet. Rizzo’s team is still a year away. However, based on his leadership, and now on this extension, the Washington Nationals appear truly likely to get there, someday.