The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mike Rizzo under contract for one more guaranteed year, two club options

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

General Manager Mike Rizzo has been the Nationals’ top decision-maker during the franchise’s sharp rise from doormat to World Series contender. In the coming years, sooner than previously known, the Nationals may have to make a decision on his future.

After the 2010 season, the Nationals signed Rizzo to a five-year contract extension. But they did not make public the exact nature of the deal.  According to people familiar with the details of Rizzo’s contract, only the first three years are guaranteed and the final two years – 2014 and 2015 – are option years that can be exercised by the team. And so Rizzo, a leading contender for executive of the year, has only one more guaranteed year remaining on his contract.

Rizzo declined comment about his contractual matters.

In his three years on the job, and in the three years he spent as an assistant GM before that, Rizzo has given Nationals ownership ample motivation to secure him. He inherited a 103-loss mess and overhauled the Nationals’ farm system, retooled the front office and constructed a team that has won 95 games with six remaining.

The Nationals’ success may eventually give Rizzo leverage to seek a new deal with the Nationals. Executives and field managers often sign initial contracts that give the team favorable terms. But now, after the Nationals’ ascension under Rizzo, the dynamic could change.

If the Nationals simply plan to pick up his options as opposed to signing him to a longer-term contract, they could run the risk of other teams trying to pry Rizzo away. As an example, the Chicago Cubs, Rizzo’s hometown team, had initial interest in Rizzo before they hired Theo Epstein last winter.

At the moment, the remaining years on Rizzo’s contract do not appear to be an urgent matter for the Nationals. But by this time next year, barring changes to the deal, Rizzo will have no more guaranteed years on his contract.  It is not a big issue now, but it could be down the road if Nationals ownership doesn’t act first.