Nationals Put Mike Rizzo in Charge of Nationals' Daily Operations

Mike Rizzo, shown last year, will retain his title of assistant general manager but will fill the duties of Jim Bowden, who resigned as GM on Sunday, President Stan Kasten said.
Mike Rizzo, shown last year, will retain his title of assistant general manager but will fill the duties of Jim Bowden, who resigned as GM on Sunday, President Stan Kasten said. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

VIERA, Fla., March 4 -- For Mike Rizzo, plenty changed on Wednesday. His job expanded. His chances of one day becoming a permanent general manager strengthened. His responsibility for the Washington Nationals' major league operation -- with control over trades, signings, day-to-day dealings with the manager -- became complete when, in the morning, the team sent an e-mail to the 29 other clubs saying, in essence, If you want to talk, talk to Mike.

Convinced that the Nationals needed "a little bit of calming, rather than more change," President Stan Kasten decided on Wednesday to name Rizzo as acting general manager and delay picking a permanent replacement.

Though Rizzo will now have "primary responsibility for all matters relating to the major league team," Kasten said, his official job title will not change. He is still the assistant general manager; Kasten said he dislikes interim titles. Kasten also said that "we're going to let the GM title and position remain vacant and operate the way we have been," adding that it could be weeks, if not months, until a permanent replacement for Jim Bowden, who resigned on Sunday, is hired.

"It's been a hectic couple weeks for us," Kasten said, "but we've put a lot of turmoil behind us, and things have been operating so smoothly and comfortably that that's exactly how we're going to continue for the foreseeable future."

Following Bowden's resignation, Kasten immediately put himself in charge of the team's general manager duties. That dual role lasted only a few days. But even with Rizzo shouldering these new responsibilities, Kasten promised "to spend a lot more time and be a lot closer to the operation in the coming weeks and months."

"You may think my expanded involvement here is a plus or a minus, but I think that's a new element that I hope is a positive contribution," Kasten said.

Rizzo joined the Nationals in July 2006, departing Arizona, where he spent seven seasons as the Diamondbacks' scouting director. Even then, Rizzo was upfront with Kasten about his ambitions. He wanted to one day become a general manager. The Diamondbacks had bypassed him when their job came open in 2005.

In the coming weeks, Rizzo will showcase what he can do. The Nationals' outfield depth leaves them with rich trade possibilities. The team's preparations for the June draft, in which Washington has the first and 10th overall picks, gives Rizzo the chance to coordinate the scouting efforts and map out the team's wish list.

Rizzo will have familiar help, though. Dana Brown will remain as the team's scouting director. Bob Boone will remain as an assistant general manager, primarily in charge of the minor league system.

"My goal has always been to be a major league general manager, and as Stan said we have a good feel for each other right now, and I think we have a good group put together with the Nationals," Rizzo said.

Unlike in previous years, when he sometimes appeared in Viera only for several days at a time, Kasten has been a central figure at Washington's spring training facility during the last two weeks. The turmoil necessitated his presence. First, Washington found out that one of its top Dominican prospects was 23, not 19. The Gonzalez scandal prompted Kasten to fire two team employees, José Rijo and José Baez, both involved in the prospect's signing. Bowden, with his resignation, became the final casualty of a chaotic spring.

Since then, Kasten has assembled a list of potential general manager candidates.

"Let me assure you, the list of people who have already offered their availability is lengthy and impressive," he said.

But now, the search is on hold. Kasten learned on Wednesday morning that his mother, Sylvia, passed away after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease.

"I'll be leaving today, but just in the nick of time, because we have everything in place to run as smoothly as it has been," Kasten said.

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