Most Nationals fans know about the contract extension with President of Baseball operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo that was recently announced. Rizzo's contract was due to expire after the 2023 season, but instead of potentially having to find a new home, Rizzo will remain in the Nation's Capital.
The extension itself is pretty standard, with nothing too fancy about it. I'm not here to analyze the contract itself or anything of that sorts, but rather give my initial reactions and thoughts to the fact that Rizzo will remain as the GM of the Washington Nationals for the near future.
WARNING: This may not be the most positive and glamorous review of Mike Rizzo, so do not take it personally if you don't agree with everything I have to say about him. Side disclaimer: while Rizzo isn't my favorite, I personally believe he is less of a problem than Davey Martinez and the coaching staff, including Darnell Coles and Jim Hickey.
Back in 2019, when the Nationals were world champions, I was a rather big supporter of Mike Rizzo and how he ran the team. Since then, my opinions on him have changed by a good margin. While I do not agree with a number of moves made by Rizzo over the last few years, I can't help but only put partial blame on him. With the Lerners seemingly checked out, it feels like Rizzo is working with quite a tight budget. I can understand that aspect and how there isn't much he can do about that, but even with a tighter budget, moves can be made that push this team forward but that is something Rizzo has seemingly struggled with.
It's no secret that this team has struggled since the miraculous 2019 season, accumulating a league worst 211-320 record since 2020. In that same 2020-2023 timeline, Rizzo has only made two free agent signings that truly worked out: Kyle Schwarber and Jeimer Candelario. Schwarber, who was Barry Bonds for a couple weeks in June of 2021, netted RHP Aldo Ramirez from the Red Sox at the 2021 deadline. Ramirez hasn't pitched since 2021 and is currently on the 60 day IL for the Nationals SIngle-A affiliate, so the Nats haven't been able to see much of him. Candelario was obviously recently dealt to the Cubs for two prospects, DJ Herz and Kevin Made. How they turn out will only be found out as time goes on. Regardless, the point is that only two of the handful of free agent signings that Rizzo has made since 2020 have panned out for the organization.
On top of the aforementioned free agent signings, Mike Rizzo and Co. have been part of some infamous trade deadline blockbusters in recent years. In 2021, he sent Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for RHP Josiah Gray, C Keibert Ruiz, OF Donovan Casey, and RHP Gerardo Carrillo. Gray, who was a first time all star this season, and Ruiz have both had up and down starts to their Nationals careers. While they have flashed the skillsets that could make them core pieces to the Nationals' future, they have yet to be consistent enough to solidfy themselves as future pieces. Carrillo is currently with the Nationals Double-A affiliate, but is injured and will miss the rest of the season. Donovan Casey has seemingly become an experiment within the Nationals organization, as he recently made his first professional appearance on the mound.
While the Nationals got what they could from the Dodgers farm system, there were other options potentially available that could've been safer bets for Rizzo. An arm like Dustin May or Bobby Miller rather than Gray is one example. Instead, Rizzo lessened the value in prospect return by having the Dodgers eat one year of Max Scherzer's deferred salary, which is not the best move for a rebuilding team.
The Nationals found themselves in another blockbuster deal one year later, receiving 1B Luke Voit, LHP MacKenzie Gore, SS CJ Abrams, OF Robert Hassell III, OF James Wood, and RHP Jarlin Susana from the aggressive San Diego Padres in exchange for fan favorites OF Juan Soto and 1B Josh Bell. This one was a tough pill to swallow. Soto is a generational talent that would've been loved in DC for his entire career, but the likelihood of an extension wasn't looking high, and for that I respect Rizzo's decision to capitalize and receive a plethora of talent for his services. Most of the pieces in that deal will hopefully lead the Nationals to a line of successful years in the near future, but we'll see how they each develop.
That brings us to the next issue - the Nationals have struggled with developing talent in-house. The players they drafted that turned into All Stars with the organization have been generational players that don't need a ton of seasoning, like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Other top talents like Victor Robles, Jackson Rutledge, and more have struggled with the organization despite top prospect status. With that being said, hopefully something gives and the development team improves with the mass amount of talent that currently sits within the Nationals farm system. Combine that with the lack of successful free agent signings with a supposedly tight budget from ownership, the future could be daunting with him in charge.
Mike Rizzo has obviously had his fair share of success with the Nationals, being with the organization throughout the years of success from 2012-2019. Once again, it's that since 2019 aspect of his tenure that is frightening. Yes the prospects the Nationals now have are extremely exciting with high ceilings, but it is yet to been seen if the Nats can unlock all those prospects to tap into their max potential. I hope Mike Rizzo proves me wrong and this new wave of young talent acquired by him turns into a new wave of success. But until that success actually comes and Rizzo proves himself, I personally have a lesser opinion of him and his capabilities to run this rebuild to the end and reignite the Washington Nationals.