By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 1:03 AM
The Washington Nationals signed General Manager Mike Rizzo to a contract extension through 2015 and promoted him by adding to his title executive vice president of baseball operations, giving Rizzo more influence over the franchise's baseball operations than any one man has possessed since baseball returned to Washington.
With the extension and promotion of Rizzo, the ownership group headed by the Lerner family placed the team solely in Rizzo's hands. No longer operating under former team president Stan Kasten's oversight, Rizzo will continue to shape the Nationals' player development system and on-field product with even more autonomy than he previously had.
"It's a huge opportunity and it's a huge responsibility," Rizzo said Tuesday afternoon. "I'm going to embrace it. For a guy who loves baseball and has loved it his whole life, this is a dream opportunity for me, to kind of hone in on a franchise and build it the way I see fit. I'm very humbled by it. I'm very honored by it."
Rizzo will work and communicate directly with ownership while undertaking the baseball-related duties Kasten left behind. Previously, Kasten had served as something of a liaison between the baseball operations staff headed by Rizzo and ownership.
"That bridge to the ownership will be gone," Rizzo said. "There really hasn't been a shortage of my stamp on the organization. I do believe that, with the new responsibility, the new title and, really, the new job description, it will be my baby and my fingerprints will be all over the organization even more so than they are already."
The announcement completes Rizzo's journey from area scout to unquestioned leader of a franchise. Rizzo came to the Nationals in 2006 as their director of scouting. In 2009, he replaced Jim Bowden as general manager on an interim basis, salvaging a team in disarray following the scandal in the Dominican Republic that cost Bowden his job.
At that point, Kasten shepherded Rizzo through his first experience leading an entire staff.
He grew more comfortable and, shortly after he successfully negotiated a record deal for No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg, Rizzo shed his interim tag midway through the 2009 season.
Before Kasten publicly announced his departure late this season, the Lerners and Rizzo had already begun discussing a possible extension. They wanted to finish the contract soon in order for a "seamless transition," Rizzo said.
"Mike Rizzo is unquestionably one of the best baseball minds in the game," Nationals owner Ted Lerner said in a statement. "He has a unique ability to see player talent for what it is, what it can be, and how it fits into building a winning team. Mike has been one of the architects of the rebuilding of the entire Nationals player system, from scouting, to player development, to big league signings."
Despite the added responsibility, Rizzo does not foresee significantly altering the way the Nationals operate. He emphasized stability as a factor in the Lerners signing him. Rizzo also cited the front office staff he assembled as his best accomplishment during his time with the Nationals. While Rizzo said he would be open to adding any "all-star" executives to his staff, he sees it mostly remaining intact.
"I don't see any major, major changes that are going to occur," Rizzo said. "We feel good about what we've got [in the front office]. You look back at all the successful organizations in baseball, and they have continuity and consistency throughout the organization. They have a constant theme and philosophy that goes from the highest levels to the lowest levels in the organization. I think that's what we have here."
That staff will have to learn to operate without Kasten, whose expertise and energy touched every facet of the Nationals. With Rizzo's added responsibilities, the Nationals' front office will also take on a greater workload. The Nationals have a position that was vacated by Director of Baseball Operations Jay Sartori, who left to become an assistant general manager with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I will have to learn to delegate a little bit better," Rizzo said. "It's one of the things that I need to work on. But I think the days'll be just as long, they'll be just as filled, and I think that the people that we have currently in the front office will all have to contribute a little bit more, and I think everybody here in the office is prepared to do so and is up to the challenge."