Who do you draft or sign as a free agent? How much do you pay? Why would you risk a 19-year-old in your lineup every day? Why don’t you want Adam Dunn, at any price, or Prince Fielder for a market price? Whatever the majority thinks, the Nats tend to disagree.
When the Nats were considering Johnson for manager, they passed around a story that described Davey as iconoclastic, outspoken and a manager who loved to run a club that, at times, felt like a studious pirate ship. The Nats, none more than Rizzo, thought that made Davey ideal.
Everywhere you look, the Nats bend the norms. They signed amateur free agents Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin for record prices, sometimes shattering previous marks by 50 percent or more. Lerner gave the “go” and Rizzo executed.
When MLB changed those rules, the Nats still blew up the new slot system this year by drafting “unsignable” Lucas Giolito — the teenager with the 100-mph fastball. They convinced him he’d be happy as a Nat and, come hell or high water, they’d treat his already sore elbow with as much respect and restraint as they had Zimmermann and Strasburg. He signed.
Few thought Jayson Werth was worth $126 million, especially when much of the money was to bring attitude, swagger and professionalism. Now the Nats have swagger, Natitude and professionalism.
Everybody, including me, thought they should sign Dunn and Josh Willingham to multiyear contract extensions in 2010. Both are having big years, but Rizzo wanted better defense along with his offense. He got it.
Everybody, including me, said they should sign free agent Mark Buerhle and, if they failed, deal for a well-known veteran starter like Zack Greinke. Instead, they traded four prospects for lesser-known, joyful Gio Gonzalez, who has been exactly the vibrant personality that the Nats needed to enliven their gifted but dry-to-droll rotation.
When Manager Jim Riggleman pulled a midseason stickup for a contract extension, Rizzo let him quit. He talked Johnson back into the driver’s seat and took heat for his insensitivity toward the hometown Riggleman. Yes, 14 months ago, Rizzo was called a short-fuse bumbler.
At least once since he became GM, Rizzo was so peeved at ownership for ignoring his advice that, according to a reliable source, he said, “If you don’t do this, I’ll make you fire me.” Told the Lerner family loved the job he was doing, Rizzo responded that the owners had misunderstood his words. He said he would make them fire him; and they would have to pay his whole contract, because he wouldn’t quit. The deal got done the next day.
In the current Strasburg angst, the key point is missed. The Nats take stands, based on what they believe.
There are many ways to run a successful sports franchise. All of them work, if done with consistency and conviction. None work without it.
All of the Nats’ decisions won’t be correct. But every call they make is now based on one standard — what they think is best for the Nats. Not on how it “plays.”
The Nats haven’t even finished their first winning season. But they have one key ingredient of franchises that build wisely, behave consistently and foster loyalty: bedrock stubborn conviction, mixed with a dollop of disdain.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.