The Nationals have overperformed expectations this year. They could lose their remaining 36 games and they would still finish with a better record than last season, although there is little indication of the team slowing down after another gutsy win last night in the opener against the Yankees. All of this makes total sense that the Nationals would identify manager Davey Martinez as a guy they want to have stick around, and they answered the question many had been asking on whether or not Martinez would be extended.
The PR trail had been blazing over the past couple of weeks, with national reporters such as Jon Morosi and Bob Nightengale, among others, tweeting support for both Martinez and Mike Rizzo. While hilarious to see unfold in real time, they all had a point. Martinez took a team with expectations of 56 wins and has team on pace for more than 70. Mike Rizzo has drastically rebuilt the farm system in just a couple years to a top 5 unit in baseball. There are major flaws in both, but there is also no denying their recent successes.
So as Rosenthal mentioned, Martinez was extended for two years and Rizzo was soon to follow. All but done, right?
Shortly after the news broke, Jesse Dougherty published a story that got many fans thinking. While supporting the idea that it was a merit-based extension, Doughtery also said that it would project stability to prospective buyers of the franchise. In reality, it was likely a bit of both reasons, but still interesting nonetheless, especially for those that are not Martinez's biggest supporters.
Nevertheless, Martinez was extended and Rizzo was soon to follow, right?
The Chicago White Sox fire president Kenny Williams and GM Rick Hahn.
Why is this relevant, you ask? Barry Svrluga put together the puzzle pieces for us.
As Svrluga implied, this is all conjecture. But it is incredibly compelling conjecture, and I am glad I decided to let the dust settle a bit before writing this article.
Mike Rizzo has been with the Nationals since 2006 and took over as General Manager in 2009. He turned the organization around thanks to the help of players like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and signing arguably the best Free Agent deal in MLB history in Max Scherzer. And as we all now, it finally came together in a magical 2019 season.
Now, Rizzo has rebuilt a farm system that is seemingly comprised of the next great Nationals team and is still on an expiring contract, even after 17 years with the organization and a recent World Series title. With the team likely to have new owner's in the next year or two, and the rebuild hoping to be completed in the same timeframe, could Rizzo elect to leave the franchise in a good spot and head to a new chapter?
Again, this is all conjecture and Rizzo could very well sign his extension by the time this article is published. But here are his recent comments on the Martinez extension and his own status:
This doesn't necessarily sound like a guy who is on the cusp of re-upping with the franchise. He wanted to take care of the farm and he did. He wanted to get Davey an extension and he did. And he wanted to win a World Series and he did. This isn't a question of his desire, he clearly wants to keep going, but what more does he want to accomplish in Washington specifically?
To me, it seems like Rizzo realizes he's in control of his own destiny and can start fresh. General Manager of a professional sports franchise is not exactly the most stable job but Mike Rizzo has defied all odds. He could go the Theo Epstein route and decide to leave his World Series winning franchise to head to the windy city and turn-around their long history of underachieving.
Again, this is all conjecture and there is no indication that the Lerners do not want to retain Mike Rizzo or that he wants to leave or is set on leaving. But he definitely wants security, and it does not seem as though the Lerners are handing out anything more than two year deals. Not sure that will get it done. And if it doesn't, I'm sure there would be at least 8 to 10 teams willing to give Rizzo the deal he commands as a "free agent."
For the Nationals, however, it might be a good opportunity for a fresh start as well. Rizzo is old school, and that worked for a time but the game is evolving. Rizzo has never been strong in his drafting and player development, the only real stain on his resume. But for a young team relying on drafting and player development, especially with the ownership situation in flux, it is a big stain.
The Nationals could thank Mike Rizzo for all of his years of service and success and they both might find it in their best interest to go their separate ways. The Nationals could have the opportunity to go younger or at least newer with their GM and philosophy. David Stearns of the Brewers, for example, would be an absolutely home run hire for the organization after nearly getting the Mets' General Manager gig. In reality, most candidates from a newer-thinking team such as the Dodgers, Astros, Rays, etc. would be a great direction for the franchise with such talent in its minor league system.
If it really is about "projecting stability to potential buyers" for the Lerners and the Nationals, then I think Rizzo will return. Even if its not, he could be back. But if its about looking at what the franchise needs and what needs to be prioritized (player development), then that is not exactly Rizzo's strength (Trades, Free Agent signings when owners actually spend).
To me, extending Martinez made sense, despite my issues with his bullpen management and lineup construction. But Martinez is a steady hand and the team plays hard for him. I sincerely hope he realizes both Jim Hickey and Darnell Coles are not good fits for the team, but I doubt a change is made as they are friends with Davey Martinez and I have never taken Martinez as a guy capable of making the tough decisions until a breaking point is truly reached.
Extending Rizzo, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. I think he's at his best when he's able to operate freely in the trade and free agent markets, which it does not seem like he has been able to do here and likely won't be able to until the ownership situation is resolved. His deficiencies in player development and drafting are great, to put it lightly. If Rizzo does decide to move on, I don't think it would be the worst thing in the world for the Nationals.