Outfielder Bryce Harper, the 25-year-old phenom with Rookie of the Year and MVP trophies already on his shelf, could sign the largest contract in MLB history next year if he enters free agency and leaves Washington.
But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo could be a more significant loss if he puts D.C. in his rearview mirror.
It’s safe to say another team would be World Series champions today if the Houston Astros hadn’t hired Jeff Luhnow in Dec. 2011. The team was coming off a 106-loss season. They proceed to lose 107 games in 2012 and 111 in 2013.
Before the 2010 season began, Baseball America ranked Houston’s minor league system as the game’s worst. By 2014 – when Sports Illustrated ran a cover story predicting the Astros would win the 2017 World Series – Houston had one of baseball’s deepest farm systems.
Luhnow built it and he used the resources – either on the field or in trades – to fulfill SI’s prophecy.
Rizzo’s handiwork with the Nats has been equally impressive, minus the ring. Consequently, several franchises would love a chance to bring him aboard.
They might get a shot.
He has one year left on his contract, just like Harper. While there’s a greater chance that Rizzo will sign a new deal before hitting the market, you’d understand if he wanted to test the waters. He could flip the script and leave ownership dangling for a change.
The Nats made Rizzo wait until the 2016 season was underway before picking up his two-year option. There was no pay raise for winning two NL East flags in three years. Since then, there have been reports of ownership interference on deals, most recently, overruling when he wanted to bring back manager Dusty Baker.
Now the Lerners are tempting baseball fate by demanding a World Series title and making that the standard for decision-making. They even got new manager Dave Martinez to buy into the madness.
“After talking to the Lerner family and Mike (Rizzo), I think we have something in common and that is the desire and passion to bring a world championship to Washington,” Martinez said Thursday at his introductory news conference. “We’re going to get it done.”
It won’t be easy. Ask the Dodgers. The Astros aren’t going anywhere. Ditto for the Cubs and Indians. Another half-dozen teams could contend for the title next season.
The World Series is a goal, not a guarantee. Martinez would’ve been wise to note the distinction. He’ll have a chance to win a title in 2018, maybe Harper’s last in a Nats uniform.
But if 2018 is Rizzo’s final season in town, Washington will have a bigger problem.