The next two years will test Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo. With added limitations, how will he do?
When his days are done in baseball, Mike Rizzo’s legacy as general manager of the Washington Nationals is secure.
Behind his stewardship, the team went from one definitive playoff appearance in franchise history to three National League East champions three times in five years. For the first time, the Nationals have constructed a dynastic team desperate to advance.
Those victory laps can wait. If this season proves to fall short of expectations, Rizzo in 2017 will not be cherished but dismissed.
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In a deep profile of Rizzo by Chelsea Janes in Friday’s Washington Post, she sets the story with the idea he has two years left to get something out of the current window. All offseason, we hear this is it. It is go time and we are well past the stage of “happy to be here” come October.
Over the last few years, Rizzo and the Nationals have mixed trades and free agency to build on excellent drafts to craft a championship-caliber team. With another haunting October in the rear-view mirror, there was pressure to bridge that gap.
Whether it was through trades, keeping free agents in the fold or signing new ones to DC, expectations by fans and team alike were high. Something about the best-laid plans of mice and men.
By now, we all know what failed to happen. With questions without obvious answers, we roll into Spring Training with a solid team with issues.
Perhaps the one question hardest to figure out is with Rizzo. Not with his performance, mind you, but with flexibility. Is there enough prospects or payroll left in the system for him to grab a needed closer or to cover an injury?
Pressure is nothing new. Neither are expectations. As the Nats struggled two years ago, players sulked, fought and Matt Williams paid the price. The chase to replace Williams turned into a disaster when first choice Bud Black turned down the job.
Hard to believe now Dusty Baker fell into the Nationals lap. Last year went all right. It did not end well, but no one thinks in five years a playoff season is bad.
For Rizzo, again, the problem now is repeating. The Lerner family has spent money to build and maintain the team, $153 million last year and a similar number for this Opening Day. Yet, we seem to be at a budget ceiling now.
Greg Holland and Sergio Romo, long thought of as potential closers, signed elsewhere. Matt Wieters’ price drops by the day, but Washington chose Derek Norris to replace the popular Wilson Ramos. Whether the payroll is frozen or not, too many players went elsewhere for much less to think something is not going on.
A decade from now when we reflect on the first great era of Washington Nationals baseball, Rizzo will get the accolades he deserves.
As he deals with reality from above and intense pressure from fans—and keep a gaggle of future free agents home, including Bryce Harper—how he handles the next nine months will say how soon that ovation is.