Although it was surprising Riggleman would resign before midseason — especially with the ballclub playing uncharacteristically well recently — the truth is Riggleman wasn’t in the franchise’s long-term plans. He had about as much chance of receiving a multiyear deal from the Nationals as outfielder Jayson Werth does of proving he deserves his ridiculous contract.
- Jason Reid
Jim Riggleman’s departure from Nats was inevitable, just sooner than expected
Riggleman was merely a stopgap solution. He was nothing more than a placeholder for whomever General Manager Mike Rizzo eventually picks to lead the team sometime after this season, which the Nationals apparently were willing to write off to some degree the minute Stephen Strasburg’s pitching elbow gave out. That’s the only logical conclusion to draw from Rizzo’s offseason decision to bring back Riggleman despite his lack of confidence in him.
Struggling professional franchises don’t publicly acknowledge they have little chance to contend. A club’s first objective is to be relevant in its market, and waving a white flag isn’t conducive to increasing attendance.
The buzz around Strasburg last season stirred unprecedented local and national interest in the Nationals. With Strasburg likely sidelined for the entire 2011 season after Tommy John surgery, the lights dimmed.
Losing Strasburg wasn’t just a massive blow to the starting rotation. His absence presented a multilayered, multimillion dollar problem that in some form affects every aspect of the Nationals’ operation.
Rizzo knew that when he was assessing the team during the winter. He understood Strasburg is much more than a talented young pitcher who possesses overpowering stuff and great command.
If Strasburg’s right elbow holds up, he could be the most important player in Rizzo’s strategy to close the gap between Washington and Philadelphia in the National League East. Good players can be replaced through free agency and trades. The centerpiece of an organization’s hope for sustained success cannot.
That doesn’t mean the Nationals privately gave up before the season. Rizzo made moves in an attempt to improve the team immediately and in the future.
Obviously, the games are still played despite Strasburg’s absence, and professionals are paid to perform regardless of who’s missing from the lineup. Anyone with a clue, however, realizes the Nationals were really looking beyond this season.
Determining the team’s potential was much higher with Strasburg than without him, Rizzo was content to leave Riggleman in place and see how things developed. No need to make a change, Rizzo seemingly surmised, because the Nationals were waiting for Strasburg to rehab and prospects to mature.
Besides, managers have limited influence over the outcome of games. Talent, as always, is the biggest factor in performance.
It was easier for Rizzo to stick with Riggleman a little longer, based on the team’s 2010 improvement, and wait to hire the guy he wanted when the team was more fully in place. General managers only get so many chances to hire managers.