Clock Already Ticking on Riggleman’s Tenure?

2008211715With the young season only two days old and only one of 162 games played, speculation abounds on the future of Nationals’ manager Jim Riggleman. Despite the fact that he is entering his first full season as the official manager of the team – rather than merely serving on an interim basis – the structure of Riggleman’s contract suggests that the team may be looking to head in another direction in the near future. While the terms of the contract say that the Riggleman will manage the Nationals through the 2011 season (with a team option for 2012) the contract also contains a clause allowing the Nationals to buy out the remaining years with a $100,000 payment at the end of the year. Riggleman, slated to make $600,000 this year, would thus be paid a total of $700,000, a relatively modest sum for a major league manager.

Analysis:

The Nationals have myriad reasons to consider this option. First of all, Riggleman has not exactly had a decorated managerial career. Though often thrust into less than ideal situations (having taken over the 1992 Padres, 2008 Mariners, and the 2009 Nationals in mid-season), Riggleman has a career record of 555-695, good for a .444 winning percentage. Secondly, and closely related to the first point, is the future projection of this team and franchise. If the Nationals think that the team will be ready to compete sooner rather than later, it is only logical to bring in an elite manager to give them the best leadership available.

On the other hand, there is ample rationale for retaining Riggleman. While it is nice to look on the bright side of things, the Nationals do not appear to be a contender in the immediate future. The organization is excited

- and for good reason – about young players like Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmerman, John Lannan, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, and Derek Norris, and stands only to improve with the first pick in next year’s draft; however, this group needs time to mature, develop, and coalesce as a unit. It seems likely that this team’s ascent may be two to three years down the road, not next year.

In addition, Riggleman is extremely committed to the Nationals’ organization and the Washington area as a whole. A native of Rockville, Maryland, Riggleman was raised a Senators fan and played collegiately at local Frostburg State University. With his managerial status in question at the end of the 2009 season, Riggleman ignored his agent’s recommendations to pursue opportunities with other ball clubs in hopes of remaining with the Nationals, stating that he  “want[ed] 2010 to be with the Nats or [he would]  sit out.” In a league of managerial mercenaries and minimal organizational loyalty, Riggleman’s commitment and dedication are to be applauded and recognized for their worth.

Based on the information at hand, it seems that the Nationals will cut Riggleman loose at the end of the season, but it is a decision that I disagree with. While it would be relatively cheap from an industry perspective to terminate his contract at the conclusion of the 2010 season, to me that action would suggest that the team feels ready to contend immediately. As much as I would like to see the Nationals winning division titles and pennants as soon as possible, realistically it seems more likely that that day is a few years from now. If that is the case, why not keep a manager who is both devoted to the success and well-being of the organization and is cost-effective?

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