As uncertainty trails the Washington Nationals — about the ownership situation, the upcoming trade deadline, Juan Soto’s contract negotiations — one part of the future was solidified Saturday afternoon: Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez will remain in their positions into 2023.
“I tried not to think about this much, to be honest with you,” Rizzo said. “We’re at work. I just assumed this was going to be the answer.”
“I know we’ve had a tough go, but I’m seeing some really good things,” Martinez said at the beginning of his pregame news conference. “Our young players are performing a lot better. … We had a plan coming into this year, so I think we’re in a good spot and I think we’re going to get better fairly quickly. I’m really excited about it. … I get to see this through another year, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Together, their marquee achievement is leading the Nationals to a World Series title in 2019. But in the three seasons since, the Nationals are just 120-182, a departure from competing for division titles for the better part of a decade. The slide included trading Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and six others last July. It also includes Washington’s current last-place standing, 20 games behind the New York Mets at 29-51.
So as the July 15 deadline approached, two complicating factors were recent results and the potential change in ownership. Ultimately, though, the Lerner family chose to retain their most public-facing employees. Around 1:15 p.m. Saturday, Alan Gottlieb, the chief operating officer for Lerner Sports, walked out of a conference room in the Nationals’ clubhouse with Rizzo and Martinez, who each carried a piece of paper. Moments later, handshakes and back slaps could be heard from Martinez’s office.
Gottlieb declined to answer questions about the decision to exercise the options. During his news conference, Martinez acknowledged players asked about his status, showing the unknowns were on their minds.
“It does bring some continuity not only to this organization but to the players as well, which is nice,” Martinez said. “And also to the coaching staff, training staff. … It’s nice to know that we’re going to be together and that we’re going to continue to work the way we do.”
With his coaches, did he want to provide the peace of mind in knowing their boss has another season?
“For me, it was important when we hired the coaches that they all got a two-year deal,” said Martinez, who brought on hitting coach Darnell Coles, first base coach Eric Young Jr., third base coach Gary DiSarcina and bullpen coach Ricky Bones this past fall. “So they’re all going to be around here as well.”
For Martinez, the immediate charge is to manage a roster that probably will get weaker in early August, when a handful of key veterans are expected to be dealt for more prospects. For Rizzo, the next month holds the amateur draft, the trade deadline and ongoing discussions with Soto, who said Friday he is open to a long-term extension. And while this draft and deadline are critical steps of the rebuild — especially because the Nationals have the fifth overall pick, their highest since 2010 — Soto remains a huge part of the process.
If he signs a long-term deal, Washington has a superstar it can build around. If it fails to sign him, Soto could test free agency after the 2024 season, which may be when the Nationals are ready to turn the corner again. Of course, the numbers have to line up for the team and player, who in this case is represented by agent Scott Boras. The club has made multiple efforts above the 13 years and $350 million it offered last fall, according to multiple people familiar with the negotiations. Those people added that no recent offers have included payment deferrals, a notable shift in the Lerner family’s typical negotiating style.
But what mattered most Saturday was the assurance for Martinez, Rizzo and those working around them — even if many uncertainties persist.
“The reboot is going extremely well,” said Rizzo, who has always opted for “reboot” instead of “rebuild.” “You can see a blossoming young major league core that’s developing right in front of our eyes. Our minor league system has never been better as far as talent and performance on the field. So we’re right where we want to be to challenge for championships in the very near future.”