By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 20, 2009
After six months of acquisitions and signings, almost all of them well-received, Mike Rizzo has finally obtained the one thing he has been trying all along to get -- job security. The Washington Nationals, according to a source familiar with the situation, plan to announce Rizzo as their permanent general manager on Thursday, easing a major source of uncertainty within the organization and rewarding the 48-year-old with the job he has long auditioned for.
Rizzo, who had served as acting general manager since March when Jim Bowden resigned, has frequently acknowledged his desire to become Washington's full-time general manager. As of last week, however, he remained one of three candidates for the job, along with Arizona Diamondbacks vice president Jerry Dipoto and Boston Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer.
Events of the last week -- most notably Rizzo's negotiations with No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg -- changed everything, and ultimately convinced Nationals President Stan Kasten that the best candidate to run his team was the guy who has been running it all season.
Even before the Strasburg signing, Rizzo had compiled a track record that convinced many in the industry of his evaluating talent. Inheriting a misshapen roster from Bowden, Rizzo rebuilt Washington's bullpen with a series of low-budget minor league signings, and later, acquired center fielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett in a June 30 four-player trade with Pittsburgh.
Then came the final test.
In the days before the deadline to sign Strasburg, Rizzo spoke every day, sometimes for hours, with agent Scott Boras. During those dealings, Rizzo was given full authority. In the final minutes before the Monday midnight deadline, with the highest-stakes contract in franchise history on the line, Rizzo was alone in his office, door closed, speaking with Boras. Kasten and the members of the Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, waited in a nearby conference room.
Recalled Rizzo: "I was in my office with the door closed and Scott had just given me his final, final offer. And I said, 'We cannot do that. Here is my final offer. This is as good as I'm ever going to do, and I can't do any more.' It was literally two minutes before the deadline. And he said, 'Okay, if you can re-work the signing bonus schedule of payments we've got a deal.' So we got a deal. I said congratulations. He said congratulations. We pressed a button and got it into the [MLB computer] system."
When Rizzo hung up the phone with Boras, he had negotiated a landmark four-year, $15.1 million contract, landing the highest-paid No. 1 pick in the history of the amateur draft. And when Rizzo and Kasten emerged just after midnight Tuesday morning to speak with members of the media about the Strasburg signing, Kasten purposefully took a back seat in the conference room, giving Rizzo the spotlight. The team paraded Rizzo through a series of television and radio interviews.
Only briefly on Tuesday morning did Rizzo pause. In the morning, after a week with minimal sleep, Rizzo voluntarily turned off his cellphone for "the first time in, like, six years."
With Rizzo attracting so much appreciation, several national media reports on Tuesday -- the first coming from Yahoo Sports -- created a surreal scene at Nationals Park. The Yahoo Sports report, which cited unnamed sources, claimed that Dipoto was on the verge of accepting the general manager job in Washington.
In the immediate aftermath of that report, Kasten refused to comment on the reports, but his actions raised doubt about the veracity of the Dipoto scenario. Wednesday afternoon, Kasten and Rizzo appeared on the field together during batting practice, both looking relaxed. Moreover, Kasten and Rizzo were both scheduled to appear at a Q&A session with fans on Friday, following Strasburg's introductory news conference.
Rizzo declined to comment on the general manager's job on Wednesday afternoon, and Kasten merely said, "Nothing has changed since I addressed the general manager situation the last time, which was March 1."
Interim manager Jim Riggleman, speaking generally about the way Rizzo has improved the 25-man roster, said: "Since spring training, it's been under his watch. I think he's been very patient with the roster in terms of our position players, but has not hesitated to make moves when we were failing as a pitching staff. I think it's a great combination. He's shown both patience and aggressiveness."
Rizzo came to the Nationals in July 2006 after several years with Arizona. Rizzo, given the assistant general manager title, guided the team's subsequent drafts. Even when Bowden resigned and Rizzo was pegged as acting general manager, his official title did not change -- and nobody was added to the front office.