Thoughts on the Nats locking up their general manager through the 2020 season
About six hours before the Nationals’ home opener against the Mets on Thursday afternoon came excellent news: they had agreed on a two-year contract extension with Mike Rizzo, who, interestingly (at least to me), was referred in the team press release as “President of Baseball Operations and General Manager” when for years he had been referred to as “General Manager and President of Baseball Operations.” I always thought that it was odd that the GM title came before the president title. Maybe the Nats now agree, or maybe his actual title has been adjusted.
Whatever the case, what had become an increasingly uncomfortable situation has been settled, and a long and unnecessary saga has been avoided. A few thoughts:
1. Yes, it would have been nice for Rizzo to have gotten more than just two years – But this is how the Lerners do business with non-players. Whether you don’t mind it or you hate it, this is the reality. And, to me, if Rizzo is fine with re-signing for just two years, then we should be fine with that too. It’s worth noting that Rizzo’s and Dave Martinez’s contracts now both expire at the end of the 2020 season, so, if for whatever reason the Lerners want to make a clean break from the status quo at that time, they’ll be able to do that.
2. Rizzo’s salary is now comparable to the salaries of the elite general managers in Major League Baseball – He reportedly will be making $4 million per year under this extension. Rizzo reportedly 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. Epstein and Cashman have won a combined eight World Series titles, so Rizzo making less than those guys is fine. But Epstein making $10 million per year and Cashman making $5 million per year versus Rizzo being set to make $4 million is far more palatable than Epstein making four times and Cashman making two times what Rizzo is making this season. Some order has been established.
3. Rizzo ultimately played this whole situation quite well – You can’t call this an overwhelming win for Rizzo, because he only got a two-year extension. But you definitely call this a win a) because he got a nice raise and b) because he got the Lerners to do what they never do: extend a non-player at essentially the beginning of a season. As I said throughout this process, Rizzo had a leverage that previous non-players who had been the victims of hardball tactics by the Lerners (Jim Riggleman, Bud Black, Dusty Baker) didn’t have. Rizzo is a top-five GM in the majors. The comp that I had been using was WWF legend Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who was famous for his subtle-but-effective promos and actions. That was Rizzo. He spoke on the record with USA Today MLB insider Bob Nightengale for a piece this past January that revealed all kinds of details about the Rizzo contract saga. We had a piece from Nats insider Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post in March about how Rizzo still not having a contract extension was a major topic of conversation at Nats spring training. We had players like Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman having publicly lobbied for Rizzo. He never had to go off big time or lose his cool publicly. Rizzo just played the game, the #ChaChaCha you might say, and ultimately pulled off something that really no one else had.
4. This Rizzo extension can only help the Nats in their quest to re-sign Bryce Harper – Bryce has spoken highly of Rizzo, but that’s really not the point, because a player can speak highly of someone publicly but not really like that person. The larger point here is that trying to re-sign Bryce while at the same time searching for a new GM would have been a mess. Rizzo has drafted, developed and negotiated with Bryce. Rizzo, of course, has done about a million contracts with Bryce’s agent, the Lerners’ favorite non-biological son, Scott Boras. I don’t know that this Rizzo extension substantially increases the likelihood of the Nats re-signing Bryce, but this extension definitely doesn’t hurt.
5. Perhaps no GM in the majors has a record of trades as impressive as Rizzo’s – I call him The Ninja, because he works other GMs in ninja-like fashion in pulling off these deals that turn out to be steals. Ryan Langerhans to Seattle for Michael Morse in June 2009. Matt Capps to Minnesota for two minor leaguers, including Wilson Ramos, in July 2010. Cristian Guzman to Texas for two minor leaguers, including Tanner Roark, in July 2010. A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez in Dec. 2011. Alex Meyer to Minnesota for Denard Span in Nov. 2012. The three-team trade with San Diego and Tampa Bay in Dec. 2014 that saw the Nats give up Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott and get back Joe Ross and (eventually) Trea Turner. You get the idea.
Now, not every deal has been a home run. Sending Jerry Blevins to the Mets for Matt den Dekker in March 2015 was bad (and supposedly was done because Blevins had won his arbitration case against the Nats). Dealing a three-player package that included Robbie Ray to Detroit for Doug Fister in Dec. 2013 was bad, as Fister was good in 2014 but then awful in 2015, and Ray has developed into an elite strikeout pitcher (though with Arizona, not the Tigers). It’s hard now to love shipping a package that included Felipe Rivero to Pittsburgh for Mark Melancon in July 2016 given how good Rivero was for the Pirates last season, though Melancon was good during his two-plus months with the Nats. The jury is still out on giving up three pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the White Sox for Adam Eaton in Dec. 2016.
But, overall, no person has been more responsible for the rise of the Nats to one of the best franchises in the majors than Rizzo. It’s nice that he’s sticking around.