Is it time for Mike Rizzo to give up the GM hat?

Photo by Andrew Lang for TalkNats

Many of the top baseball teams have taken their long-term and successful general managers and elevated them to the President of Baseball Operations positions, allowing them to hire a general manager under them. Theo Epstein did that with the Cubs, Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers, Farhad Zahidi with the Giants, and John Mozeliak with the Cardinals, and on and on. 

For the Washington Nationals, Mike Rizzo holds a dual title of General Manager and President of Baseball Operations. The question is whether it is the right time to bring in a general manager under Rizzo like many of the other teams have done.

Keep in mind that the Nats once had Stan Kasten in the President’s role and when he departed, the Nats eventually gave both titles to Rizzo who took the Nats from cellar dwellers to the pinnacle of baseball with the World Series championship in 2019.

“We’re going to attack it and first of all we’re going to do an autopsy of the organization after the season,” Rizzo said yesterday. “We’ll have a conversation with ownership to see where our parameters are.”

But like the farmer producing bumper crops for years, sometimes there are issues behind the scenes like a blight that turns the green fields to barren land quickly. That is what happened to the Nats farm system that at the beginning of 2021 was a barren farm. Once the pride of the team early in the last decade, it stopped producing the bumper crops.

The Nats player development system was clearly the main problem. Add in analytics, scouting, and drafting as the other three elements of why the farm was not producing. Instead of bringing in successful and proven executives from the outside, it was a shuffling of titles that moved people into new positions like placing De Jon Watson into the Director of Player Development. The team took Mark Scialabba who held that position for years, and just moved him to another position in Rizzo’s front office with the title of Assistant General Manager, Player Personnel. The only notable people who seemed to leave the organization were those who refused to be COVID vaccinated. The rest, just got new cushy jobs with a new title.

The team traded six top players in 2021 which included Trea Turner and Max Scherzer and that brought in an infusion of young talent. Due to the poor finishes to the Nats seasons, three years running, they also were able to draft in the top-half of the draft in 2021 and 2022, and will again in 2023.

“After this trade deadline, it accelerated our process a little bit,” Rizzo said. “The blueprint to win in a timely fashion is in place, and we’re excited about it. … I think the most significant step that we made this season was at the trade deadline getting the players that we had to get in return for Juan Soto. I thought it was a courageous move by ownership to allow us to do a Soto deal.”

The team jumped from the worst (30th) rated farm to a top-half farm recently after Rizzo traded Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres for an unprecedented haul of prospects and young players.

“We’re in a process,” Rizzo said yesterday. “The process is tried and true, and we’ve done it before. Not a lot of teams can say that. The process is moving forward and ongoing. I think it’s a productive process.”

That quote seems to be a lot of words that say nothing. What is the process to improve the core of this team? Rizzo talked about the need to look into free agency and making trades to improve. The team did that in 2012 when they brought in Edwin Jackson in free agency and traded for Gio Gonzalez in a blockbuster trade to lead the team to their first NL East title. It just seems too early to trade from the farm to improve.

The issue remains that the farm still has few sustained successes. Yes, it takes time and patience. Then there is the issue of trying to develop players like Josiah Gray on the MLB roster instead of in the minor leagues. Will this work?

“Starting pitching has to be better than it is now,” Rizzo said. “I see [Corbin] as a starter for us next year.”

Yesterday, manager Dave Martinez doubled-down on his coaching staff, saying they will all return next season.

“We’re looking at some of the core components of what our next title team will look like, and I think the results are encouraging,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo specifically mentioned Luis Garcia, CJ Abrams, and Keibert Ruiz but their team-control clocks are ticking. Rizzo says he can only control what he can control.

“It’s a learning experience for me. … It’s always frustrating to lose. It’s never good. It wasn’t fun in ’09, ’10, or ’11 for me. It’s not fun now. What keeps me going is what I see on the horizon. Putting our plan in place and sticking to it. It’s the most important part of what we’re doing right now. We have to believe in the blueprint and stick to the plan. Having the support above us to do that has been huge. …  Business as usual like any year,” Rizzo said.

By the way, today marks 60-days to the start of the Winter Meetings.

 

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