ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On Thursday, Mike Rizzo hopped aboard a 20-minute flight out of West Palm Beach, Fla., to represent the Washington Nationals at the Governor’s Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field.
He is entering his 12th season with the organization, his ninth as general manager, and his fifth full campaign as president of baseball operations. He is synonymous with Nationals baseball, the architect of the franchise’s emergence as a perennial contender. And he might not be around next year to represent the team again.
Rizzo is slated to become a free agent. His contract will expire Oct. 31, just as the most important offseason in Nationals history, the one when Bryce Harper hits free agency, begins. In November, principal team owner Ted Lerner said he “would hope” a contract extension could be worked out, but they hadn’t “reached that stage yet.” On Thursday, Rizzo said the sides have discussed his situation, and he is optimistic he’ll remain in his position beyond 2018.
“I’ve had a couple conversations with ownership about my contract,” Rizzo said at spring training media day. “I’ve been here for 12 years. With the trust that we’ve developed over the years, I feel confident that we should get something done.”
The Lerners exercised Rizzo’s two-year contract option during the 2016 season. He made $2.5 million in 2017 and will make that again in 2018. His track record suggests he’s due for a raise in today’s market for successful front office leaders.
Among his peers, Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein reportedly makes more than $8 million annually, and Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is in the middle of a five-year deal reportedly worth $35 million. Epstein and Friedman have enjoyed more postseason success, but their contracts remain useful benchmarks in negotiations for an executive whose team has appeared in four of the past six postseasons.
Last season, contract uncertainty surrounded former manager Dusty Baker. But this is different. If the sides don’t agree to an extension before Halloween, the Nationals risk entering a crucial offseason in disarray. Keeping Rizzo, who has a strong relationship with Harper, would ensure stability. It could help convince Harper to stay and, if not, it could help the club pivot to a future without its star right fielder.
For now, there’s no guarantee this isn’t Rizzo’s final season in Washington, but there’s confidence that he’ll be representing the Nationals again next year.
“Nothing’s happened,” Rizzo said. “But I feel that the trust and rapport that we’ve built together, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t get done.”
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