When the Lerner family became the first owners of the Nationals other than Major League Baseball in 2006, their first hire was to make Mike Rizzo the Assistant General Manger under General Manager Jim Bowden. They made this hire on the first day of their tenure as owners. So it made sense for Rizzo to fill the GM role, first on an interim basis and then full time, when Bowden resigned in 2009.
On Thursday evening, Rizzo was promoted by the Lerner family once again. This time, his title will be President of Baseball Operations and General Manager. He'll be the first and only president of the team to work in the baseball operations division since Stan Kasten, who is now part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rizzo also signed a "long-term" extension, though the terms of the deal are not yet clear.
Despite a rough 2013 season, the Nationals are where they are today, with a contending team for years to come, in large part due to Mike Rizzo's scouting acumen and shrewd signings. Since his promotion to GM in 2009, he's been responsible for bringing Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Denard Span, and many others into the organization. Of course, drafting Harper and Strasburg was more due to terrible seasons on the field than scouting work off the field, but many of the other trades and signings have proven to be beneficial to the Nats in the past, present, and future.
Surely many fans in NatsTown will be confused, and perhaps frustrated, by this move after a season that has fallen so far short of expectations. But rather than focusing on this one year, which I still believe is an anomaly of a young team underperforming while under extraordinary pressure, look at what Rizzo has done to put the team in a great situation for years to come.
The Nats are the third-youngest team by average age in baseball, and they have the vast majority of their roster under team control through the 2016 season. The Werth signing, which many derided at the time, has proven to be extremely valuable for both on-field and off-field contributions. Morse was traded in a coup, sending only Ryan Langerhans to Seattle for him. And Gio Gonzalez, who was a Cy Young finalist last season, was acquired for four minor leaguers, and the Nationals have already gotten one player back from that deal in AJ Cole. There are many more of these stories.
Mike Rizzo is a scout by trade, and it runs in the family. His dad, Phil, was a scout, too. He's almost always going to go for the high risk, high reward signings, and it's what helps put his teams in a position to win long-term. Just look at his recent draft picks for examples of that: Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, and Lucas Giolito, among others. All three are players with some history of recent injury, but who also have monumental upside. Today, the Lerners announced to everyone that they're going to stand behind that philosophy.
Rizzo put together a great roster to compete this season and for seasons to come, and while this year hasn't been perfect, he made the moves that looked to put the team in the best position to win. He simply can't make the plays for the guys on the field. He can only make the right moves off the field, which he's done time and time again. Rizzo deserves this promotion and contract extension, and I look forward to seeing what he's able to build in DC for the remainder of his contract.