"It'll be my baby."  Mike Rizzo, named Washington Nationals V.P. of Baseball Operations.

Mike Rizzo during spring training 2010. (C. Nichols/Nats News Network)
The Washington Nationals today announced that Mike Rizzo has been promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager and signed a new five-year contract. Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner made the announcement.

“Mike Rizzo is unquestionably one of the best baseball minds in the game,” said Lerner. “He has a unique ability to see player talent for what it is, what it can be, and how it fits into building a team. Mike has been one of the architects of the rebuilding of the entire Nationals player system, from scouting, to player development, to big league signings. We believe the talent foundation we are establishing on and off the field will make the Nationals one of baseball’s most exciting teams over the next several seasons.”

This is a clear indication that going forward, with the resignation of former team President Stan Kasten,  Mike Rizzo will be the bottom line voice of baseball operations in Washington for the foreseeable future.  It will be interesting to watch the dynamic between Rizzo, a no-nonsense old school baseball mind, and the Lerner family, still acclimating themselves to ownership of a sports franchise.

For his part, Rizzo was thankful to the Lerner family, but made it clear that the baseball decisions would be coming from him.

"I'd like to thank the Lerner family and the Washington Nationals organization for giving me this opportunity.  It's a huge opportunity and a huge responsibility and I'm going to embrace it.

"For a guy that loves baseball and grew up in it his whole life, this is a dream opportunity for me."

The biggest difference, Rizzo said, will be in communication with the ownership group.  Referencing Stan Kasten's resignation, he said, "That bridge to the ownership will be gone.  I'll be in charge fully of baseball operations.  I'll have direct communication with the ownership group and be responsible for all baseball operations decisions." 

"It'll be my baby.  My fingerprints will be all over the organization moreso than they are already."

Mike Rizzo enjoys firefighter tribute at Nats Park. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
There were plenty of rumors upon Kasten's departure that there were disagreements between Kasten and his ownership partners on how much money to spend and where to spend it most effectively with regards to payroll, and Rizzo's efforts in this area will go a long way to determine how this team will be constructed. 

It's no secret that Rizzo's primary strength is in scouting and development, areas the Nats have significantly bolstered in the past few years, bringing in Roy Clark (V.P. of Player Personnel) and Kris Kline (Scouting Director) among many others.  Rizzo has overseen the last two Amateur Drafts, and the Nats have been the biggest spenders at each, bringing into the fold Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to record contracts, and 25 of their top 26 picks in the 2010 draft, including over-slot signings of A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray.

Rizzo's record in Major League scouting and acquisitions have had decidedly different results though.

His two biggest trades thus far (four player trade with Pittsburgh in 2009 and this year's deadline deal, sending All-Star closer Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos) are still open for debate, while 2009's free agent class brought disappointing results, with Capps being the only really solid contributor on the field.

Mike Rizzo fields questions at 2010 Nats Fan Fest.  (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Rizzo's first order of duty is deciding whether or not to bring Adam Dunn back next season.  The hulking first baseman hit 38 homers last season, but wants a four-year contract of more than $60 million, and it's to be seen if the Nats are willing to go that high. 

It's expected that Dunn will command that type of contract on the open market, especially from A.L. teams that would have Dunn DH on a regular basis, negating Dunn's deficiency in the field.  Dunn has long contended that he wants to play in the field, and has professed to love playing in D.C., but to date the two sides are still far apart in terms of length and money in a potential contract.

Rizzo has five days after the World Series to exclusively negotiate with Dunn, then the slugger will hit the open market.

Rizzo has also said obtaining a "No. 1-type" starter as a priority this off-season.  The only pitcher to fit that bill available as a free agent is Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers, and his performance in the post-season thus far has only served to make his price tag to go up. 

There may be staff leaders available in the trade market, such as Zach Greinke of the Kansas City Royals or Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays, but with the Nats just now enjoying the fruits of successful drafting, it remains to be seen if Rizzo could put together an attractive enough package to acquire a front-line starter via trade.

7 comments

  1. Anonymous // October 19, 2010 at 4:37 PM  

    "2009's free agent class brought disappointing results, with Capps being the only really solid contributor on the field."

    What aspect of Pudge's performance was less than solid? He ended up playing more games than he was initially slotted for, with no drop-off in his HoF-level defense and offensive numbers better than anything he's had since his days with the Tigers. Even if the worst happens and he ends up not contributing at all in 2011, that would still mean Rizzo got his 2010 production for a mere $6M. No downside to that at all. You would have preferred instead the likes of Brian Schneider?

  2. Dave Nichols // October 19, 2010 at 4:55 PM  

    @Anon: Pudge's .266 average happens to be his second worst season for average in his career.

    and while Pudge did manage to hit .266, his atrocious .294 OBP and lack of any power whatsoever contributed heavily to the lack of production at the bottom of the Nats order.

    as for his HOF-level defense, he threw out a mere 34% of attempted steals, one of his lowest season totals in that stat as well.

    the fact that Pudge got more at bats than slated for is a minus, not a plus as you state. he quite simply was one of the worst hitters in the major leagues with as many at bats as he accumulated.

  3. bdrube // October 19, 2010 at 6:36 PM  

    Count me as another one who does not think Pudge was a bad signing. Flores missing another whole season pretty much left the Nats up a creek without a paddle. Pudge at least allowed us to bridge the gap to where we now have Ramos, a recovering Flores and Derek Norris in the pipeline without having to suffer another year of Nieves/some other stiff.

    So what if Rizzo had to overpay to get Pudge to come here. After all, it's only Uncle Teddy's money. :)

  4. Anonymous // October 19, 2010 at 8:42 PM  

    "the fact that Pudge got more at bats than slated for is a minus, not a plus as you state. he quite simply was one of the worst hitters in the major leagues with as many at bats as he accumulated."

    Still an upgrade over the Wil Nieves/Josh Bard tandem of 2009, no? And again, if you're so quick to condemn Rizzo for signing Pudge, what were the better possible alternatives? Admittedly, Pudge's numbers were not great - for him, or for anybody else for that matter - but they were better than many people expected they would be when Rizzo signed him. Signing Pudge was not a home run, to be sure, but it was at least a base hit. You're casting it as a strikeout.

  5. Anonymous // October 19, 2010 at 8:53 PM  

    Also, look at it this way. You call a good half season from Capps a positive contribution on the field. Why then isn't a good couple of months from Pudge a positive contribution on the field? He was en fuego at the plate in April and May.

  6. Anonymous // October 19, 2010 at 9:29 PM  

    Not to mention that Rizzo also picked up Batista, Peralta and Slaten who made positive contributions in the bullpen, more than enough to compensate for the negatives of Bruney and Tyler Walker. And Livan Hernandez was basically a free agent pickup as well.

  7. Dave Nichols // October 20, 2010 at 11:56 AM  

    Anon, you're entitled to your opinion, and I appreciate your comments here, so let me answer some.

    first, IMO, Peralta, Batista and Slaten did have credible seasons, but let's not make more of them that what they are: fungible relievers that Rizzo got lucky on. he had no idea that Peralta would pitch better than he ever did at the MLB level. Slaten was just ok, and Batista did what he does -- gave the team garbage innings.

    as for Pudge, and after this i'll drop it: His average peaked on April 23 at .449/.472/.592. after that date, in 365 plate appearances he hit .243/.270/.315. that is considerably below replacement value even for a catcher. those are pitchers' hitting numbers.

    he was not "en fuego in April and May" as you claim. he was hot for 13 games in April, and was the worst hitter in baseball when playing time is factored in from that point forward.

    Nieves is a .227/.273/.297 career hitter, not much different that what Pudge did after Apr 23. Josh Bard is a career .256/.323/.387 hitter. i'm certainly not advocating that the Nats should have gone with a Nieves/Bard combo in 2010, and I'm not going to contemplate what else could have been available.

    but I am comfortable in stating that Pudge's year at the plate was in no way "solid", "an upgrade", or "better than many people expected" as you state. he was terrible.

    this is my opinion.