Photo by Ed Sheahin for The Sports Capitol

Mike Rizzo, Nationals agree to contract extension


Mike Rizzo had argued he was open and willing to be approached. But, he wasn’t going to reach out to the Lerner family to negotiate an extension as he entered the final year of his contract. Rizzo was convinced of two things: His value was made clear by years of winning and that he should be compensated accordingly. So, he was going to let the process play out.

Thursday, the Nationals announced a multi-year extension for Rizzo at 7 a.m. The move came just hours before their home opener during another expectation-laden season. It also arrived at what is an early junction by the organization’s standards. It let Rizzo twist right until the end — as it continually does with managers — before providing him an extension in 2016. This time, they beat the timeline by about six months. Rizzo’s contract was set to expire Oct. 31.

“I thought it was important for the team not to have this as a distraction,” Rizzo said. “And I thought going forward it was becoming [one]. I heard some players being more vocal about it. I’m glad it’s behind us now and there’s some continuity and consistency.”

This is Rizzo’s 12th season with the organization. He has spent nine years as the general manager, five as the president of baseball operations. He is the lone conduit between the rarely heard from Lerner family and the baseball operation they lord over. Even when he advocates for a specific move, like retaining Dusty Baker as the manager, he is charged with delivering the opposite news should the Lerners decide a preference for different outcome. He is also busy working the baseball side of the Nationals’ world, trying to keep a farm system stocked while attempting to yank the organization past the first round of the playoffs.

Rizzo, 57, retains a portion of the gruffness that comes from being a baseball lifer. He worked his way through scouting ranks to a decision-making position to the boss. He now oversees an organization that has won the National League East Division in four of the last six seasons. The Nationals have averaged 93 wins during that time.

“It’s good. It’s good for our organization he’s going to be here,” said Max Scherzer, who was originally scouted by Rizzo in Arizona. “We knew this had to get done. So… obviously, we’re happy. This has been … I don’t know what else to say. This is a common-sense move that had to get done.”

The length of the deal is notable because it’s considerably shorter than those for other upper-tier general managers. Chicago’s Theo Epstein, New York’s Brian Cashman and Los Angeles’ Andrew Friedman signed five-year contracts.

“When you’re talking negotiating and what’s important to you, there are several factors that are important to you,” Rizzo said. “My negotiating skills are much better when I’m negotiating for a trade or free agents than I was for myself. You don’t usually by a house when you’re negotiating a contract. I made no bones about where I wanted to be and wanted to do. I came to a deal that I’m very happy with and satisfied with. The years are important to me, but the deal is right where I wanted it to be. I think everything else takes care of itself in the long run. Like I told the player, if we win, we all eat better. That’s kind of our motto.”

New manager Davey Martinez met separately with Rizzo and the Lerners during the hiring process. Here is how he contrasted the visits:

“They’re different in a lot of ways,” Martinez told The Sports Capitol. “Mike is one of a lasting breed of good baseball men and it was good to have conversations with him about baseball, and players and scouts. …. With the Lerners, it was more about family. I really believe they consider the whole Nationals as family and I love that about them. I had dinner with them and they walk in and they give me a hug, how you doing, good to see you. I felt like I was part of a family now.”

The new contract brings Rizzo back into the baseball family he helped construct. He has been in charge for most of the rise of the Nationals’ franchise. During that time, Rizzo turned top picks into cornerstones, helped deliver a pitcher who has won consecutive Cy Young Awards, and made several savvy trades.

“This is, I think, is more important to the employees that we have,” Rizzo said. “Scouts and player development and our front office and our players to know I’m going to be around, they’ll be consistency. More so than me worrying about. I never doubted that we would be in this position. But, it’s good to have it behind us so everyone can take a deep breath and knowing that there’s continuity going forward.”

He is also charged with delivering this year’s overriding message: Winning the division is not enough, an idea that has come from his teams doing it so often. That, too, has come down from the Lerner family. They expect to move beyond that point. They apparently believe Rizzo is the man to get them there.

Todd Dybas is the managing editor and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He has spent 17 years in the sports editorial industry, working as a writer and layout editor, winning multiple awards in both positions. He has been an NFL beat writer, has worked as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for seven years, and is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association.

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