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Offseason #ChinMusic: Ninja Mike Rizzo strikes again, but is he soon to be gone?

Galdi gives his thoughts on and analysis of the Nationals, Orioles and MLB in the offseason (Jan. 13-Jan. 19)

 

 

1. The Nats on Thursday (Jan. 18) officially announced agreement to re-sign Howie Kendrick to a two-year deal.  It’s worth $7 million.  Like the Nats’ signing of Matt Adams and re-signing of Brandon Kintzler, I love this move.

The Nats acquired Kendrick via trade with Philadelphia this past July 28.  He had a 113 OPS+ over 178 plate appearances in 52 games with the Nats, posting a .343 on-base percentage and .494 slugging percentage with them.  And he played four different positions for the Nats: left field, second base, right field and first base.

One of the killer aspects of the Nats’ five-game NLDS loss to the Cubs last October was how little Dusty Baker used Kendrick.  He had three plate appearances the entire series (same for Adam Lind, who had two doubles in the series).  Here you had a Nats offense that was really bad for most of the series, and yet Kendrick and Lind were basically rumors.

Kendrick is going into his age-34 season.  But his bat still very much plays, and his positional versatility is valuable.  He is not and should not be an every-day player, but that’s not what the Nats are asking him to be.  And for two years and $7 million, you really can’t be the price.  Ninja Mike Rizzo has struck again.

And now consider the principal players on the Nats’ bench this season.

You have Kendrick as a backup corner outfielder and backup second baseman and his 119 OPS+ overall last season with the Nats and Phillies.

You have Adams, who can play first base and left field and had a 117 OPS+ last season with Atlanta and St. Louis.

You have Wilmer Difo, who finished third among all shortstops in the majors last season with 14 Defensive Runs Saved at the position despite playing it for just 473 1/3 innings.  He also played second base, third base and all three outfield positions last season.

And you have backup outfielder Brian Goodwin, who slugged .498 in posting a 105 OPS+ in 278 plate appearances last season.

Show me a better top-four off a bench in the majors than Kendrick, Adams, Difo and Goodwin?

 

Mike Rizzo, general manager of the Washington Nationals, talks with reporters at the annual baseball general managers’ meetings, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

 

2. Speaking of Ninja Mike Rizzo, how about the piece by USA Today MLB insider Bob Nightengale that came out on Thursday (Jan. 18)?  We got some juicy stuff regarding Rizzo and his situation with the Nats.  Among the nuggets:

  • Nightengale lays out the situation pretty candidly: “Rizzo has been the mastermind of the Nationals’ organization while operating under rather peculiar circumstances. It’s an ownership that obliterates managers, putting them in a rinse and spin cycle, employing their seventh in 13 years after firing Dusty Baker despite Rizzo’s objections and hiring Dave Martinez.  No manager has lasted more than two full seasons since Frank Robinson, who inherited the job while the team was located in Montreal.  It’s an ownership that has the coziest relationship with powerful agent Scott Boras, with 40% of their roster Boras Rizzo was told they didn’t have the money for a closer last winter after Kenley Jansen resisted their overtures, only to suddenly have enough to sign catcher Matt Wieters in spring training, who happens to be a Boras client.”
  • The Lerners haven’t had a single conversation yet with Rizzo about his contract, which expires on Oct. 31. The piece does include the following statement from Nats vice chairman and principal owner Mark Lerner: “Mike has been an integral member of our organization for the last decade and we feel fortunate to have him leading our baseball operations.  He and his staff have worked diligently to build our organization into one of Major League Baseball’s perennially elite clubs.  Mike’s contract will be addressed in the normal course of business as we have done in the past.”
  • Rizzo is earning $2.5 million in the final year of a five-year, $10 million contract – the last two years simply being club options. For comparison’s sake, Theo Epstein received a five-year, $50 million contract a year ago from the Cubs. Brian Cashman got a five-year, $25 million contract with equity from the Yankees this offseason.  Yes, Epstein and Cashman have won a combined eight World Series titles.  But is Epstein four times the executive that Rizzo is?  Is Cashman twice the executive that Rizzo is?  Heck no.
  • Rizzo made some pretty defiant comments to Nightengale: “When you look at what we accomplished, it’s really unsung and underappreciated. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished here.  I like it here.  I love the city.  I love the team I put together.  I like being a GM in the NL East.  And I want to stay here.  I just think I deserve to be treated like some of the best GMs in the game are, too.  I know we haven’t won the World Series, but I get tired of hearing how we can’t win the big one, or we can’t get out of the first round.  We haven’t had that many chances.  We were without baseball for 35 years here, and we cranked it up pretty good.  We’re pretty damn good at what we do.’’
  • And we get this statistical gem from Nightengale regarding Rizzo’s many great trades for the Nats: players in Rizzo’s trades have generated 73.4 Wins Above Replacement compared to a 48.0 WAR by those who departed.

It is very noteworthy that Rizzo, in a piece dated on Jan. 18, went public with his unhappiness with his contract situation and revealed intimate details of that contract.  This is a preemptive strike from the GM if there has ever been one, not unlike Dusty Baker opening up about his unhappiness with his contract situation last February (and we know how that turned out).

Additionally, as you may recall, it was Nightengale who eviscerated the Lerners after the firing of Dusty last October.  Among the reasons was the Rizzo didn’t want Dusty fired.  I think it’s pretty clear now who have Nightengale that information.

This is some dirty, tactical pool being played by Rizzo.  He knows exactly what he is doing.  He is positioning himself as the good guy – the babyface – and is daring the Lerners in a game of chicken.  And Rizzo knows that if they don’t acquiesce, he can just go elsewhere.

You know how I feel about Rizzo.  I believe him to be a top-five general manager in MLB.  And I believe that re-signing him should be the single most important contractual goal over the next year – yes, more important than re-signing Bryce Harper.  The most important person for a major-league club these days is the GM – GMs have become rock stars in many ways.  The Nats have an elite one in Rizzo.  The fact they’ve had Rizzo is why they wouldn’t be doomed if they did lose Harper after this coming season.  Think about that.

The Lerners love to play little financial games with people, and that’s their right.  But it’s one thing to do this with a Jim Riggleman or even Dusty.  The Lerners better be very careful doing this with Rizzo, because he would have another GM job in a heartbeat were he to leave.  And maybe, just maybe, he’s tired of managing upward and tired of the games.

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