The Washington Nationals have left themselves with plenty of loose ends to tie together by the end of the calendar year.
Along with Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez, Mike Rizzo, too, could hit free agency after the 2018 season. Atypical to his standard operating procedure, the Nationals GM and President of Baseball Operations spoke rather candidly, and specifically, to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY about his personal contract with the organization.
The money quote from Rizzo: “When you look at what we accomplished, it’s really unsung and underappreciated. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished here. I like it here. I love the city. I love the team I put together. I like being a GM in the NL East. And I want to stay here. I just think I deserve to be treated like some of the best GMs in the game are, too.”
Buried in Nightengale’s story are Rizzo’s contract details, numbers the GM doesn’t speak about publicly, and therefore haven’t previously been made public. Rizzo is on the final year of a five-year, $10 million deal, and is earning $2.5 million in 2018.
That’s low, not only considering what his contemporaries — “some of the best GMs in the game” — are making (in the range of $7-$8 million per year), but that Rizzo is something of a one-stop-shop. The best franchises in baseball — the ones that win consistently — have more advanced front office structures than Washington, one that typically employs a General Manager, President of Baseball Operations and a President to oversee it all.
Paying Rizzo $8 million a year would be a steal. What he’s being paid now is closer to free labor.
How does John Feinstein, a frequent critic of Rizzo in the past, see it all playing out?
“He’ll be the GM. I can’t imagine him not being the GM,” Feinstein told The Sports Junkies Friday morning. “For the most part, they let him do what he wants. They let him bring in a Boras player or two every year so he can keep Scott happy.”
“See, I don’t buy that narrative,” Eric Bickel said. “But I know you do.”
“Well, you don’t have to buy it. I’m not selling. I’m just telling you,” Feinstein said. “Just look at the roster. I think he’ll be there because, if there was some team that was dying to go out and steal Mike Rizzo from the Nationals, I think he or someone else would have leaked it by now.”
If Rizzo were to actually become a free agent, Feinstein is fairly certain he’d get a job elsewhere.
“He’d get a job. But the Nationals are gonna make him an offer to stay,” he said. “There’s no question about that, as they should. Then it’ll be up to him. Okay. They came up with the offer. I’m happy. Maybe I do, or maybe I don’t have an instant alternative.
“You know, it’s not like Kirk Cousins, where the minute he declares for free agency, there’s gonna be five teams — at least — trying to negotiate with him. We don’t know that for sure with Rizzo. I would think he’d get a job because of his track record, but you never know. Baseball’s a funny world.”
“Remember, Rizzo’s kind of a throwback as a general manager, in that he’s a real scout. And nowadays, teams aren’t hiring real scouts; they’re hiring analytics guys,” he said. “He’s kind of a — I don’t want to say dying breed — but if you look at who’s getting hired now, it’s 34-year-olds with Harvard degrees.”
The difficulty in quantifying Rizzo’s greatness, Feinstein says, is the same in establishing any player or manager’s track record.
“I think he’s a very good general manager. and postseason is such a dicey thing,” he said. “It’s very hard to judge players, or managers or general managers on their postseason performance, although, Rizzo has judged his managers on postseason performance. He’s fired three managers based on their postseason failings.”
“But not always because of Rizzo, though,” John-Paul Flaim interjected. “It seems like it’s more the people above him.”
“My understanding is he fought for Dusty,” Bickel said. “Right?”
“Well, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what went on in the room,” Feinstein said. “I don’t think any of us does. But the fact is, the three managers were fired for postseason performance and, again, I think that’s a little dicey to do for anybody.”
Feinstein shared an anecdote from Mike Mussina, when the Yankees were struggling to get over the hump in the early 2000’s.
“I said, ‘What’s the deal? Why are you guys good enough to win 90, 95, 100 games every year, but you seem to fall short in October?'” Feinstein recalled. “And he said, ‘You have to understand it’s a different sport.’
“And this is true in all sports to some degree, but particularly in baseball, because the Yankees had a team that was built to beat up on fourth and fifth starters, on weaker teams, on teams that, when you got past their first two starters, had guys with ERAs of 5.00 pitching. But when you get to postseason, you’re dealing with the teams that have the good third [pitcher].”
“First of all, you only need three starters, and they’re all good, and they have solid relief and they have a solid lineup,” he said. “So it’s a completely different game. And the Nationals have obviously encountered that and failed. But Rizzo obviously deserves a new contract. That shouldn’t even be up for debate, but this is the Lerners’ style.”
The Lerners’ approach to managing the Nationals’ front office reminded Feinstein of how the late Ben Bradlee — former executive editor of The Washington Post — used to run his newsroom.
“Ben Bradlee believed in keeping everybody a little bit uncomfortable, whether it was his editors or reporters,” he said. “He wanted everybody just to feel a little bit on edge because he thought they performed better that way. And I think the Lerners, to some degree, take that same approach.”