Those guys are always available in the clubhouse, win or lose. They say what’s on their minds with names attached. They shoulder responsibility instead of offering hints about what others could be doing better, and that’s what Eckstein did Thursday when the muzzle was finally removed.
“I’m going to blame myself,” Eckstein told reporters before a trip-opening 6-1 victory over Arizona. “That’s the way I’ve always been. I don’t point fingers.”
Rizzo had good, although wildly misguided, intentions in trying to protect Eckstein, a high-ranking baseball official told me the other day. Rizzo believes in Eckstein and thinks he has a bright future. Rizzo figured it would be best for Manager Jim Riggleman and the players to absorb the heat while the Nats’ on-base percentage hovers around .300, instead of everything being focused on Eckstein.
This isn’t New York. It’s not Chicago or Los Angeles, either. This just isn’t the type of media market in which Eckstein would face a daily volley of difficult questions about his role in the offense’s failure.
Rizzo’s actions put Eckstein under the microscope. Rizzo’s shortsightedness in forcing an issue with reporters stirred much more scrutiny than Eckstein would have otherwise received.
As poorly as the Nationals have played for most of the season’s first half, Rizzo shouldn’t concern himself with trying to shield professionals from imagined enemies. He should focus on helping to bolster the offense, possibly with trades if the current warm streak continues.
At best, the Nationals are the third team in a mostly burgundy-and-gold sports market. Presumably, the Lerners would like to grow their baseball business and one day challenge the NFL’s Redskins for the top spot — or at least move ahead of the NHL’s Capitals. For that to happen, Rizzo must develop a better grasp of the big picture.
Werth is a solid, albeit not spectacular, player who probably will help the Nationals for several seasons, and Rizzo isn’t the first inexperienced general manager to be overmatched negotiating with agent Scott Boras. The hitting has improved the past few days, and even gold-standard GMs such as Boston’s Theo Epstein and the Yankees’ Brian Cashman make roster mistakes.
With a guaranteed five-year contract, Rizzo has time to find his way, and someone in a new job deserves some patience. He also needs to demonstrate some progress.