As trade deadline looms, Mike Rizzo faces week that could further alter Washington Nationals

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the wall inside his office, Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo can see the future. Or at least several versions of what it might be. Hanging there is a dry-erase board etched with four baseball diamonds, a player's name at each position. Each diamond is drawn under a different heading: 2013. 2012. 2011. One Month From Now.

"You have to really have a long-term plan," Rizzo said. "You have to map out where you're going to be. I've got lineups and holes that I need to fill. That's kind of how I prepare."

Those lineups could be shaped this week more than any other in Rizzo's 18-month tenure running the Nationals. At his first trade deadline as full-fledged GM, operating with a gaggle of new scouts and front office members, Rizzo will have a chance to alter the immediate and long-term future of the franchise.

Already, Rizzo has reshaped the Nationals' international department, overhauled the roster, drafted and signed Stephen Strasburg and assembled a new front-office team. With another potentially momentous week ahead, Rizzo has solidified his standing.

"Mike has definitely met or exceeded my expectations," team president Stan Kasten said. "He is a dyed-in-the-wool, old-time scout who has worked very hard to step into the 21st century. I think he's a pretty good mix of old school and new school. He's been growing every day in capabilities, but everyone does as they get experience."

Rizzo feels the same now as he did last year at the end of July. "I took, pretty much, ownership of it last year," Rizzo said. "I never really thought about it." Last year's only major move came about a month before the deadline, when Rizzo acquired Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The most important decision Rizzo makes this time, of course, will be what to do with Adam Dunn. He has become one of the most sought-after prizes of the trade deadline, and Rizzo's stated preference remains signing Dunn to a contract extension. There are clear signs, though, that Rizzo wants to know what he could fetch for Dunn in a trade.

Over the all-star break, one Nationals employee said, representatives for Dunn approached Rizzo with a request. Dunn's side wanted to strike a contract extension, and soon, and they wanted a deadline set to hasten talks. Rizzo responded without ambivalence. The negotiation would be on the team's terms. No deadlines. If Dunn's side tried to set one, Rizzo told Dunn's agent, then the Nationals would trade him.

And so Rizzo is readying to decide on Dunn and several other potential deals. This week, the scouting staff Rizzo assembled this offseason will convene in Washington and prepare for the trade deadline. Each professional scout is responsible for six or seven teams, including all of the minor league affiliates.

The scouts will break down the teams, major and minor league, that they've seen. A few scouts have mentioned in passing they are not sure what Rizzo will do or is thinking; this week, Rizzo said, he will inform them of his plans so they can hone their focus.

Every Nationals scout and new front-office employee, in order to make educated evaluations, has spent time this year learning their own minor league system. As one scout explained this spring, "It's that old line where the GM asks you, 'Is he better than what we've got?' And you're thinking, 'I don't know what we've got.' "

Still young in his tenure, Rizzo has established himself in baseball circles. His decades as a scout and scouting director made him a well-known and well-regarded fixture inside the game. His time as general manager -- when "you're kind of the CEO of the franchise," Rizzo said -- hasn't changed that. Rizzo, by most accounts, has improved relations between the Nationals and the rest of the league since the resignation of Jim Bowden.

"I think people like him," said agent Matt Sosnick, who represents Nationals Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. "And regardless of where people's loyalties are, it's much easier and much more satisfying to work with someone you believe is a good, honest guy.

"He gets fired up about stuff. He's an intense guy, but intense in a different way than Jim is intense. At the end of the day, he has control over his emotions. He's bright. It seems like there's a rhyme and reason to what he's doing. That kind of predictably makes it a lot easier doing business with the team."

Said Kasten: "In the world of baseball and how it operates and the people who are successful in it, I think Mike has a high respectability. That's really helped us as a franchise in terms of reputation, credibility, finally having a measure of respect that maybe we hadn't had before. He has been able to put together something that has really changed the perception inside baseball."

In the coming days, he could make a more localized change. Rizzo has the power to make the walls of his office could look very, very different by this time next week.

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