WASHINGTON — Twelve years ago, Mike Rizzo was the Lerner family’s first hire as a member of the Washington Nationals’ front office. Back then, he was a lowly assistant manager.
But over the intervening years, he has earned a promotion to interim general manager and then senior vice president and general manager in 2009. After the 2010 season, he was promoted to executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager.
In 2013, he was promoted to president of baseball operations. In 2016, the end of his contract was extended through option years to expire at the end of the 2018 season. That’s how we got to his contract year in D.C., but where do he and the team go from here?
Rizzo has said all the right things, last week addressing the topic of conversation once again with the media.
“I’ve had a couple conversations with ownership about my contract,” Rizzo said. “I’ve been here for 12 years. With the trust that we’ve developed over the years, I feel confident that we should get something done.”
That’s nice, but what else is he supposed to say?
Rizzo has overseen one of the strongest periods of personnel acquisition and development in recent league memory. Part of that was the circumstances of drafting top talent when the team was bad. Part of that was helped by working for an ownership group with deep pockets.
But even “can’t miss” prospects can and do miss. Just ask the Orioles, Pirates, Padres or Reds. That the Nationals have not challenged for a World Series is more a matter of bad luck, according to former MLB general manager Dan O’Dowd.
“I just feel like they’ve been snakebit a little bit,” O’Dowd told Byron Kerr of MASN Sports. “But Mike Rizzo, for me, has done as good a job as any GM. I think he’s one of the better GMs in the game.
“He deserves to be paid like one of the better GMs in the game. He deserves to have a long-term contract extension. He deserves an opportunity to be there even if they don’t have Bryce Harper because I think Mike will fill it out.”
Speaking of Harper: the Nats gambled in letting manager Dusty Baker leave going into Harper’s contract season. The recent history is there for the Lerners to let accomplished leadership leave. However, would they let their chief negotiator walk ahead of the most important offseason in franchise history?
That remains to be seen.