Nationals GM Mike Rizzo laughed off rumors that super-agent Scott Boras had any influence over his organization’s decision to move on from Dusty Baker as manager.
“It really doesn’t make me crazy because it’s laughable,” Rizzo told The Sports Junkies Wednesday. “Anybody who knows me from Day 1 knows it’s laughable that some outside force is going to affect what decisions I make.”
The Nationals introduced new manager Dave Martinez to the public last week, 13 days after the club announced it would not be extending Baker’s expiring contract.
106.7 The Fan contributor Thom Loverro first suggested Boras might have influenced the decision, implying that perhaps Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg — both Boras clients — kicked the conversation into high gear.
Baker publicly outed Strasburg as being too sick to take the ball ahead of Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Cubs, a game Strasburg would eventually pitch, after a 24-hour media circus which led to questioning of the pitcher’s mental toughness. Rizzo vehemently defended Strasburg’s character at the time.
Harper, who publicly defended Matt Williams as the 2015 season soured, was non-committal, after the the Nats were ousted from this year’s postseason, on whether Baker should return as manager.
It’s worth noting Boras himself has denied these rumors, telling Jon Heyman two weeks ago it would not be in his own interest: “I want nothing to do with the managerial process.”
“I do care what players think and I do care what the world thinks about us,” Rizzo explained Wednesday. “We want to be a professional organization and seen in that light, but it can’t affect my decisions.”
Rizzo then launched into a thoughtful analysis of the Nationals’ achievements over the long term, as a way of explaining sometimes difficult decisions must be made to preserve organizational success.
“I make decisions for the long-term benefit of the Washington Nationals franchise,” he said. “And I think we’ve done it as good or better than any franchise in all of baseball over the last six or seven seasons, and it’s no accident.”
“You know, people compare us to the Cardinals, and the Dodgers, and the Yankees, and the Cubs — who have been around 110 years, 120 years,” he said. “We’ve been around for 12. We’ve put ourselves in a great position after 12 short seasons of existence, and I couldn’t be prouder of the organization that we’ve built here.”
“We’ve talked about the most wins and all of that stuff. That’s a big part of it,” he said. “And getting to the next level is a big part of it, and winning for the District is a big part of it, and I get all that.
“But the pride I take is to see how this team has evolved, the minor league department that we have that feeds the big leagues, and the process we’ve developed here. I keep going back to it: You read about the Washington Nationals on the sports page, and I think that’s so important in today’s age, that we’ve got good character guys that love the city, and conduct themselves and make us proud of the name on the front of the jersey more so than the name on the back of the jersey, and I’m very proud of that.”
“You know, there’s wins and losses. Hey, it’s a performance business. I get it,” he said. “Guys get fired and hired because you win games and win championships, and that’s what this thing is all about. I’ve been doing it for 35 years.”
“But I’m proud of the team that we’ve assembled,” he added. “I’m proud of the organization, and the franchise that it’s become. We’re the envy — believe it or not, from the outside looking in — we’re the envy of a lot of baseball teams and a lot of baseball owners, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team that we have. Not satisfied, but very proud.”
The Nationals last week announced that a mutual option for Adam Lind in 2018 had been declined. The 34-year-old slashed .303/.362/.513 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI in 116 games for Washington, primarily off the bench.
“It was a mutual option and both sides declined it,” Rizzo said. Lind’s option was reportedly valued at $5 million.
“But you could sign him to a lesser deal if you wanted,” Bickel said, “if he shopped himself and maybe didn’t find the market he thought.”
“Sure, you could sign him to any deal — a lesser deal, a bigger deal, whatever,” Rizzo said. “That was just a mutual option that is almost always declined by both sides, and that’s how it was in this one.
“Adam was a huge part of our bench this year and had a terrific year for himself, and a guy that, coming off a struggling season in Seattle, really came through and really put a great value on his performance this year. We were proud to have him with the organization, and we’re in discussions with him and a lot of other people.”
Asked if the Nationals will pursue any starting pitchers in free agency, Rizzo said, “Guys, this early in free agency… you know, you never have enough starting pitching. You’ve heard me say that many, many times.”
“We’ve got four extremely good starting pitchers on the roster now, in Max, and Stras, and Gio and Tanner,” he said. “We’ve got some good young arms that really pitched well for us last year, in A.J. Cole — his last six starts were great. Erick Fedde, he’s going to be healthy and have his second year with us next year. And then we go to the minor leagues and we’ve got depth there.”
“We’re going seven or eight deep, which is what you need in the big leagues,” he added. “But you never have enough starting pitching, and if opportunities arise that we see as a value, we’ll jump on it aggressively like we always do.”
Rizzo says the Nationals will be active in the bullpen market this offseason. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, two relievers acquired before the trade deadline, are both under contract for 2018. Another, Brandon Kintzler, is a free agent. Oliver Perez is also a free agent. Shawn Kelley has one year remaining on his three-year deal.
“Fortunately this year, we’ve got some solidified, qualified starters at the back end of games with Sean and Ryan Madson,” Rizzo said. “And then, left-handed relievers, we really like our stable of lefties with Solis, and Grace, and Enny Romero and that group of guys, so we feel good about that.”
“The bullpen is something that we’re gonna really keep our eye on, and do our due diligence on and see if we can bolster that beyond what it is already,” he said. “Early on in this offseason, it’s hard to see what direction we’re gonna go in, but we have a plan put in place.”
“We’re just in the beginning portion of going over 2017, our autopsy for ’17,” he said. “See what went right, what went wrong, what depth we have in the minors and where we’re going.
“We’re gonna put a battle plan together and meet with ownership, and let them know what we’re gonna do and try and make this team better than it already is, and it’s pretty damn good right now.”
If you were asked, would you endorse Dusty Baker for a managerial position in another organization. — Chris in Arlington
“Dusty’s a qualified Major League manager, a Hall of Famer and a guy that can handle a staff, a clubhouse and a ball club, so it’d be unequivocally yes,” Rizzo said. “He’s capable. If he’s fired up and energetic, and feeling good and healthy, then there’s no problem with him managing another team somewhere else.”
“You didn’t think that was an issue here,” Bickel said. “Did you?”
“No. No,” Rizzo said. “He was fired up all season.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Okay,” Bickel said. “When you said that, it made me wonder.”