Mike Rizzo is in another walk year on his current contract, is he worried?

Embed from Getty Images of Mike Rizzo

No, Mike Rizzo is not worried at all about his future with the Washington Nationals. During his tenure, he has negotiated six different contracts for himself averaging nearly 2.5 years per deal. He has joked that when he was a scout he always worked on one year deals which is the life of a scout. They keep you motivated and hungry when you are performing on your paycheck that isn’t guaranteed for a day over a year from the time you signed the last deal. Rizzo is a Chicagoan by birth, and a Washingtonian by adoption. Rizzo came to Washington, D.C. fourteen years ago in 2006 as the Lerner’s first hire when they bought the team from Major League baseball. Since then, he became a homeowner in 2017 after renting for more than ten years in the District, and he married a Washingtonian, Jodi, in November. He has real roots in this city and could find himself one day permanently enshrined by a bronze statue at Nationals Park just like Walter Johnson who won D.C. the only other World Series. 

“I love it here. I’m happy here. The [Lerner family] gave me my first opportunity to be a general manager when few, if any, would have,” Rizzo said. “So I’m indebted to them, and I work extremely hard for them.”

Some of Rizzo’s deals have included team options. But this last deal Rizzo only wanted a two-year deal without an option which would have given the team a chance to extend him for 2021. Now he is a World Series champion G.M., and the envy of that boy’s club. Fifty years ago, few could name the G.M. of their hometown team. Now the good general managers are focal points — good and bad — mostly bad, to be honest. Every year there are 29 general managers who did not win the World Series and many of them draw the ire from a disappointed fanbase . In some towns, the owners take the blame and in others it is the G.M. and manager. The players usually get a pass. Rizzo has been so popular he has had a weekly regular radio show on 106.7 The Fan for years, and he is often asked to autograph items at fan events.

Three years ago at the team’s Winterfest, it was a common question asked to Rizzo about his future as he was coming up on the final year of that contract. Dozens of times during Spring Training, the media would ask him about his future. You can tell he is uncomfortable talking about himself. He clearly has a job if he wants it. The negotiations are only a negotiation because Rizzo wants an increase on his paycheck. A seventh contract for Rizzo is only different because now he has a World Series ring.

According to reports, Rizzo’s last deal paid him over $4 million a year, but G.M. contracts are not public information just like manager Dave Martinez‘s deal so we can only rely on what has leaked. Suffice it to say, Rizzo is paid well, but unlike his players who are usually trying to maximize their incomes, Rizzo just wants to get paid fairly. Sure, “fairly” is a subjective number.

Rizzo was born in 1960 and will celebrate his 60th birthday at this year’s Winter Meetings. How many more years can he keep up this frenetic pace? If his dad is any indication, Phil turned 90 in November and still pulls a paycheck as a scout for the Nationals. In Rizzo’s next contract, he will be old enough to start drawing Social Security.

“This is the organization I built from scratch. I feel it’s my home. I would feel very comfortable being here long-term,” Rizzo said before Opening Day of the 2017 season. “But we have a contract. I’ve never brought it up. If one day they approach me, we’ll discuss it, and I’d be happy to stay.”

Shortly after Mike Rizzo made that quote he received a new two-year deal before first pitch of Opening Day. That contract will run through the end of this 2020 season, and the same for manager Davey Martinez except for a source has told us Martinez has a fourth year team option.

Both Martinez and Rizzo were under fire after the team’s 19-31 start this year, and there were calls from the media and fanbase to fire both. Martinez was blamed for usage of the bullpen, and Rizzo was blamed for building a bullpen with failing relievers like Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough who were the back-end setup men supporting closer Sean Doolittle. Now we transition from the calls of “fire them” to pleas of “extend them” and so goes the 180° turns in sports and life.

Now teams will be trying to replicate what the Nationals produced this year with a veteran group of starting aces, but that is too expensive for most teams as the Nats will have over $100 million of payroll this yearn wrapped up for Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick CorbinAnibal Sanchez and their fifth starter.

“We’ve been highly scrutinized on how we do our business, but we do our business pretty well. I’ve seen ‘dysfunction’ and stuff like that. We are not dysfunctional,” Rizzo said a few years ago. “When you have the track record we have, the communication I have with the owners — Ted [Lerner] and I specifically, me and them — I think it works for us.”

Works for them indeed. When you win a World Series, scrutiny is replaced by praise. Now teams will study how the Nats got to where they did. Some will say luck, but you don’t win twelve postseason games and 93 during the regular season on all luck. There is a lot of hard work, and blood, sweat, and tears. There is a commitment from ownership to spend and spend big. Forbes Magazine tells a big part of the picture. the Nats pour their money into their payroll while the Phillies, Braves, and Mets are pouring much of their revenue into profits. According to Forbes, all of those teams have higher revenues than the Nats yet they have lower payrolls than the Nats.

Maybe Rizzo knows he has a good deal, and the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Most general managers have to beg for money to spend on free agents. Mike Rizzo has been spending lots of Lerner money since 2009 when the team set a record on a signing bonus for Strasburg and then the next year on Bryce Harper. From 2017 to 2019, the Nationals only trailed the Boston Red Sox on total team payroll.

“I’m giving [the owner] a barometer for championship calibration,” super agent Scott Boras said. “This is not running a business — this is where [an owner] is going to have to take some risk. To win a championship, you’re going to have to go over budget, you’re going to have to take a risk, you’re going to have to sign a player and give him the extra year because the competition is there to do it. That’s why when they talked about TED LERNER — Ted Lerner went out and signed Max Scherzer and gave him a record contract, record years, and he was annihilated for it! They told him that was a mistake. That was an overpay! Those types of owners that do that and base it on a reasoned thought. But really it’s the will. It’s like a player who has a will to perform, to win, to do things.”

Many teams like the Braves will stay away from Boras clients like they are coated in kryptonite. That allows the Braves to negotiate long-term deals that can stabilize their team. Rizzo said last year that Juan Soto wouldn’t take a $180 million deal. He is probably right unless it was a 5-year deal.

The Nationals success has worked for many reasons, and a key is that continuity in sticking with the key personnel who built this team, and one continued voice from Mike Rizzo who has been there since Ryan Zimmerman‘s rookie season. Rizzo is now a bona fide star among general managers. Keeping him seems like an easy decision, but like Rizzo says about negotiating for players, “It takes two to tango.” Don’t worry about Rizzo’s contract, the Lerners want him back, and he wants to be back. They just have to do the dance they have done so many times before. Maybe this time they can do a long-term deal so we don’t have to have this same discussion in two years.

 

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