A Look Back At Mike Rizzo’s Biggest Hits And Misses

General manager Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals watches the game in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 14, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. The game was a continuation of a suspended game from August 9, 2020. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
General manager Mike Rizzo of the Washington Nationals watches the game in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 14, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. The game was a continuation of a suspended game from August 9, 2020. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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The front office finally re-signed GM and Team President Mike Rizzo to a three-year deal. His contract was set to end after the season ended.

Mike Rizzo has been with the Nats since 2007 and has slowly risen up the ranks from Assistant GM to team President. Since taking over as the teams GM in 2009, Rizzo has taken Washington from cellar dweller to World Series champions. At the same time, he has proven he is one of the best GM’s in the league. Saturday, the front office re-signed the most important free agent in Nationals history. Yes, even more, important than Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper. With Rizzo back for the next few years, now is the perfect time to take a look back at some of his biggest hits and misses.

The Max Scherzer Mega Deal

Let’s start with the biggest move under Mike Rizzo’s tenure. Back in 2006, Rizzo was still the Scouting Director of the Arizona Diamondbacks and he played a major role in the team drafting Max Scherzer. Fast forward to 2015 and Rizzo was now the President of Baseball Operations for the Nationals. Despite having a top pitching staff, Rizzo went out and signed Max Scherzer to a $215 million dollar contract with deferrals.  At the time the deal was panned, but Rizzo trusted his gut and with the Nats, Scherzer went from an ace to a future Hall of Famer. In his six years with the club, Scherzer is 82-40, with a 2.78 ERA, and 1,426 strikeouts. Since 2015, he has gone on to win two NL Cy Young awards and a World Series title. That’s just the beggining. With Washington, Scherzer threw two no-hitters, a 20 strikeout game, been named to five All-Star teams, and was named to the 2019 All MLB First team.

Scherzer has helped the Nats clinch two NL East titles and a Wild Card berth. He teamed up with Stephen Strasburg to lead the Nationals to their first-ever World Series title. After five years, Scherzer has proven that he might actually be underpaid and has definitely lived up to his contract and more. Scherzer has become the best free-agent signing in franchise history and is arguably the best free-agent signing in D.C. sports history.

Signing Patrick Corbin

After the 2018 season, the face of the franchise Bryce Harper reached free agency. While multiple teams waited for him to make his decision, the Nationals decided to strike. Despite already having Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the rotation, the Nats landed the biggest starting pitcher on the open market, Patrick Corbin. At the time, he was coming off of a career year with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 33 starts, Corbin went 11-7, with a 3.15 ERA, and 246 strikeouts. His 2.47 FIP and 5.9 fWAR backed up his tremendous season. Washington rewarded Corbin with a six-year deal worth $140 million. Corbin acclimated well to D.C. and proved his 2018 season wasn’t a fluke. In 33 starts in 2019, Corbin went 14-7, with a 3.25 ERA, and 238 strikeouts. His control issues, seen by his 3.1 BB/9 (up from 2.5 in 2018) led to him taking a step back when it came to his  FIP (3.49) and fWAR (4.8). Despite this, he went on to win the Warren Spahn Award, which is handed out to the best lefty pitcher in the league.

In the playoffs, Corbin played a pivotal role in Washington winning their first-ever World Series title. He appeared in eight games, three of them starts and went 2-3, with a 5.79 ERA, and 36 strikeouts. While his ERA may seem alarming, Corbin stepped up when it mattered. In both game five of the NLDS and game seven of the World Series, Corbin came out of the bullpen and shut down both the Dodgers and Astros respectively. In-game five against the Dodgers, Corbin threw 1.1 perfect innings and struck out three. Corbin entered in the eighth inning with the scored tied and kept the Dodgers in check. In-game seven of the World Series, Corbin entered in the sixth inning with his team down 2-0. Corbin dominated the Astros, throwing three shutout innings and only allowed two hits while striking out three.

On the biggest stage, Corbin proved that Mike Rizzo made the right decision.

A Three-Way Trade Lands Trea Turner

On December 19, 2014, Mike Rizzo took part in a trade that would change the foundation for the Nationals. Washington, Tampa, and San Diego were all involved in a complicated three-team trade, which saw Washington send Steven Souza Jr. and Travis Ott to Tampa, Tampa send Wil Myers to the Padres, and the Padres send Joe Ross and a player to be named later (Trea Turner) to Washington. They also sent Jake Bauers, Burch Smith, and Rene Rivera to Tampa.

Trea Turner was the player to be named later but was a former first-round pick and already a highly-touted prospect. He made his MLB debut at the end of the 2015 season to mixed results. In 27 games, he hit a measly .225 with a wRC+ of 72. Despite his poor performance, the team still had high hopes for the prospect. In 2016, Turner was called up in July and took over as the starting centerfielder. This time, Turner took full advantage of the opportunity and went on to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In 73 games, he hit .342, with 13 homers, and 40 RBIs. He showed his blazing speed by swiping 33 bags in 39 attempts. At the start of the 2017 season, Turner switched back to his natural position of shortstop and has been the starter since. In his six years with the team, he is hitting .297, with 72 homers, and 239 RBIs, while stealing 164 bases in 198 attempts.

Since Turner joined the starting lineup, Washington has clinched two NL East titles and won the World Series as the wildcard in 2019. This season, Turner is having a career year and is tied with the New York Yankees D.J. LeMahieu for the batting title. The speedster is the engine that drives the Nationals offense.

Joe Ross also panned out for the Nats and has been a productive fifth starter. Most of the other players involved in the trade have either not panned out or have become bench players. The Padres Wil Myers has been the most productive player behind Turner. In six seasons with the Padres, he is hitting, .251, with 102 homers, 314 RBIs, and an OPS of .784. He is in the midst of a career year, hitting .283, with nine homers and a wRC+ of 144.

Mike Rizzo was able to fleece the Padres and Rays and Washington got the best player that switched teams out of it. Another huge win for Rizzo.

Trading For Jonathan Papelbon

While Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nats was full of top-end signings and impressive trades, he also had his fair share of misses. The most notable one was trading for Jonathan Papelbon in the middle of the 2015 season. The Nationals sent pitching prospect Nick Pivetta to the Phillies in return.

At the time, Papelbon was 34 at the time and more of a name than an elite closer. Papelbon’s 2015 season was disastrous, to say the least. On September 23, he intentionally threw a pitch at Manny Machado’s head and was suspended three games because of it. But, that was just the beginning. Four days later, Papelbon infamously grabbed the face of the franchise and teammate Bryce Harper by the throat in the middle of the dugout. He then pushed the youngster with both hands and in return was suspended by the team, an additional four games.

Surprisingly, Papelbon kept his job and started the 2016 season as the teams closer. He eventually went on the 10-day IL  and in return, the team traded for closer Mark Melancon. After being replaced, Papelbon eventually asked for his release on August 13 and the Nats complied.  In 59 games with the Nats, he went 4-6, with a 3.84 ERA, and 47 strikeouts, while recording 26 saves in 31 chances.

Nick Pivetta has turned out to be a back of the rotation starter that has never lived up to his potential. In 92 games, he has gone 19-30, with a 5.50 ERA, and 421 strikeouts. However, Papelbon was a lockerroom cancer with Washington and was involved in one of the darkest days in team history.

Trading Three Pitching Prospects For Adam Eaton

Mike Rizzo is the mastermind behind the most controversial trade in Nationals history. On December 7, 2016, Rizzo sent Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning, and Reynaldo Lopez to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton. At the time Giolito and Lopez were the number three and 38 ranked prospects in baseball. This was a huge package for a less established player.

Eaton only played in 23 games in his first season with the Nats, before he tore his ACL and meniscus running down to first. He also sprained his ankle on the same play and this caused him to miss the rest of the season. Eaton’s injuries hampered him during the 2018 season and he failed to get back to form. It wasn’t until the 2019 season that Eaton finally looked like his old self. He teamed up with Trea Turner to abuse opposing pitchings from the top of the lineup. Fully healthy, Eaton went on to hit .279, with 15 homers, and 49 RBI’s.

Similar to many of his teammates, 2019 was the first time Eaton had played in the postseason. Eaton went hitless in the Wildcard game and was barley effective in both the NLDS and NLCS. However, the World Series is where Eaton’s bat came alive. In seven games, he hit .320, with two homers, six RBIs, and an OPS of .993. Both of Eaton’s homers were instrumental in the team overcoming the Astros. His first came in game two and was a two-run shot that put the Nats up 8-2. The second occurred in game six and it was off of Justin Verlander. The Nats were down 2-1 in the fifth and were down 3-2 in the series. Eaton took Verlander deep and tied the game at two. His blast helped swing the momentum towards the Nats, who at the time were being shut down by the Astros ace.

Lucas Giolito has turned into an ace with the White Sox and went on to throw a No-Hitter this season. Dane Dunning has flashed top of the rotation potential, while Lopez has struggled at the highest level. While the Nationals could surely use Giolito and Dunning in their rotation, the team might not have won the World Series without Eaton. While Eaton’s play has deteriorated fast in 2020, he was instrumental in 2019. Love or hate this trade, the Nats got a championship out of it.

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