A phone rings in Mike Rizzo’s hotel room, 3:00AM July 29, 2016.
Rizzo rubs his eyes and reaches for the cell phone on his nightstand.
“Hello, Mike Rizzo here, who the heck is this?”
Hey, Mike, this is Mike…from the future. Don’t hang up! I don’t have long, so please pardon my brevity. The year is 2020 and I’ve broken into the office of Supreme Emperor Trump to use this device. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to reach out to you.
You know those 2016 DirecTV Bon Jovi commercials where he sung about the power to turn back time? Well, Donald loved those and he spent half of our national defense budget trying to build a time machine. This phone is the closest thing they’ve come up with so far.
Things aren’t great in D.C. right now. We just lost Bryce Harper to the Yankees and people are burning their “Make Baseball Fun Again” apparel in the streets.
I’ve spent a lot of time these past few months thinking about where it all went wrong for the Nationals. I thought about going back to 2012 and telling you not to shut down Strasburg, but we weren’t going to win it all that year, even if you pitched him in the playoffs — he wasn’t ready and neither was the rest of the team. People are always going to question you for that decision, even though it was the right one — let it go.
Calling you in 2013 would have also been a waste — both you and the players spent half the season in a playoff hangover and no roster move would have pushed that team over the top.
I’ve replayed 2014 in our head for the last six years. I think this is the year we finally realized that our boss’ midseason frugality would always hamstring us. I wish we would have stood up for ourselves that July and told the Lerners that money spent in the summer can be more valuable than money spent in the winter. Asdrubal Cabrera? He was the missing championship piece? That was strike one.
I could have called you in 2015 and urged you not to take the Mets lightly. Perhaps I could have saved us from the 18-month embarrassment that was the Papelbon Era. We lost the arms race that year and our sterling reputation as a GM took a second strike. “We’ll get ‘em next year,” you said.
As always, you went into the 2016 season thinking about the big picture. A healthy farm system, a strong core of young players, and just enough experience to convince yourself that this year was going to be different. You thought you had enough, but you were wrong.
Looking back now, it is clear that 2016 was the beginning of the end for us and we sat still and watched it happen like a called third strike. While the Cubs went out and signed Aroldis Chapman, we waited until the last minute before adding the Asdrubal Cabrera of relievers. We repeated our mistakes to protect our precious future — a future that means nothing without a championship.
If you remember one thing from this call, please remember these words, IT CAN’T ALWAYS BE ABOUT NEXT YEAR, MIKE! You have to believe me. Things might feel okay right now, but I assure you that they are not. Eventually time catches up with you, the window championship window closes, and you never make your mark.
If my math is correct, you have three days until the 2016 trade deadline. Three days to turn the fate of this franchise around. I don’t care what it takes — top prospects, veterans, no one should be off-limits — you must solidify your bullpen. I know you think a patchwork solution of converting starters to relievers might work, I know you think that Koda Glover might be ready by fall— you’re wrong. You don’t have the ammo to compete in October.
If you don’t change your ways in 2016, you never will. Each fall you’ll continue to feel helpless, sitting in the stands, watching a team that you built run out of gas when it matters most. You’ll once again say, “We’ll get ‘em next year,” but here’s how next year will go.
After another disappointing NLDS exit, the 2017 Nats stumble out of the gate and miss the playoffs — as they do biennially.
Hosting the 2018 All-Star game will serve as a welcome distraction from rumors about your job security and Bryce Harper’s potential exodus. The Nats go into the All-Star break as the best team in baseball, Harper puts on a clinic in the Home Run Derby, and everything is perfect in the world for one weekend. I don’t want to get too dark here, Mike, but that’s the last highlight of your time in Washington. The 2018 season ends with more playoff disappointment as your quickly aging aces fail down the stretch. Things only get worse from there.
You find a way to keep Harper under contract through 2019, but after another disappointing season in D.C., and the allure of a resurgent Bronx team, the temptation is just too great and….well, the face of your franchise walks out the door in his prime and the axe falls on you shortly thereafter. Your fates were married from the start.
Will adding a closer in 2016 solve all of this team’s problems and assure us of a World Series? Will it keep Harper in D.C. forever? I can’t guarantee any of that, but what I can assure you is that doing nothing will keep you on the darkest timeline.
I urge you, for once in your tenure, roll the dice and make this a better team in July than it was in April.
Oh s$&%, I hear Immortan Trump and the war boys coming…I gotta run. *click*
Present-day Rizzo rolls over and says to himself, “Well…that’s the last time I take Ambien after a cross-country flight.”
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