“My plan is and my preference is to not pick up the option and to go well beyond that,” Rizzo said Sunday morning. “That’s the plan going forward, to see if we can get something done negotiating a longer-term deal with him.”
So now that’s out in the open. On top of being general manager, Rizzo is also the Nationals’ president of baseball operations. And while that gives him a large say in, well, everything, Martinez’s future ultimately rests in ownership’s hands. The Lerner family will sign off on years and annual salary for Martinez, just as they did with Rizzo. They could take the easy route by exercising the $1.2 million option for Martinez to manage next season, then assess him again thereafter. But where Rizzo stands is crystal clear.
The GM has done nothing but back Martinez since 2018, Martinez’s first year in the dugout. The Nationals underachieved that season. There were faint calls for Martinez’s job by the end of it. Yet it was nothing compared with what came the following spring, when Washington sunk to 19-31 on May 23, 2019. That day will long stand as the jumping off point for a World Series run. The next morning is when Martinez and Rizzo’s relationship strengthened.
Rizzo sat in Martinez’s office and offered unflagging support. He wanted some changes — mandatory batting practice, for one — but felt Martinez should stay. That’s where ownership fell, too, and the pair soon teamed to bring Washington its first MLB title in 95 years. Their contracts hung over the offseason and much of this summer. But now, with Rizzo’s handled, Martinez’s is next on the agenda.
On Saturday, hours after he spoke with Rizzo about his extension, Martinez predicted that the Lerners would “do the right thing.” He did not specify what that was. He could have meant picking up the option for 2020, ending any mild skepticism that a down season could put him on the hot seat this winter. Or maybe Martinez was hinting at a long-term deal, the possibility then raised by Rizzo in a Zoom call with reporters.
“Mine should be coming around the corner here soon,” Martinez said Saturday. He then expanded Sunday when asked specifically about Rizzo pressing for a fresh contract: “He did mention something to me last night. I told him, ‘Obviously I love it here.’ I love working with Riz; being a part of this organization means a lot to me and my family. So, yeah ... if we could get something done, that’d be awesome. I want to be here. I think we have a bright future here.”
Once Rizzo plainly stated his intentions, the clock started for ownership. Those with knowledge of the Nationals’ plans said they will quickly pivot to Martinez’s future. That could just take a bit longer if, as Rizzo wishes, the Lerners negotiate a multiyear deal with Martinez and his agent.
When asked Aug. 9 about Martinez’s option, Rizzo was vague in saying: “Davey is deserving of one. He’s earned it. He’s a great representative of the Washington Nationals.” And now we know what “one” meant.
“I think when you’re discussing a new contract, it’s different than just picking up an option,” Rizzo said of whether his big-picture plans could slow talks with Martinez. “The option was under the old contract. My preference is to just disregard that and sign a new contract with him.”