Rizzo promoted, signed to contract extension

The Nationals have announced tonight that they’ve signed Mike Rizzo to a long-term contract extension and promoted Rizzo to the position of president of baseball operations and general manager.

“Upon purchasing the Nationals, Mike Rizzo was our first hire and he has performed brilliantly,” owner Theodore N. Lerner said in a statement. “We started with an idea about how baseball teams should be built and he translated it into a reality far faster than many could have imagined.

“He knows the game, the players, and is a true professional. Under his direct leadership, the Nationals have become one of the most exciting and respected young teams in baseball.”

Rizzo was appointed general manager in 2009 after serving as assistant GM since 2006 under then-GM Jim Bowden, who resigned in March of 2009. He was named Executive of the Year by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Under Rizzo’s direction, the Nats won 98 games last season, posting the best record in baseball and earning their first National League East title in team history.

“I am truly proud to be a part of the Washington Nationals and excited to be able to continue what we’ve started here,” Rizzo said. “The task of building this club from nearly expansion level - at both the minor and major league level - has been challenging, but the Lerner family has been nothing but supportive.

“We’ve made significant progress toward our goal of competing for a World Series Championship, and I intend to do everything in my power to one day hand that trophy to Mr. Lerner at Nationals Park. We’ve still got work to do, but I am pleased that ownership trusts me to get it done.”

Rizzo’s previous deal had been a three-year pact with the Nats with two team options tacked on to the end of the contract. Earlier this season, the Nats exercised their option for the 2014 season, and another option was in place for 2015.

This deal, the length of which is not yet known, not only provides Rizzo long-term stability but also expands his role.

This is the first time that the Nationals have had a team president since when Stan Kasten held the title.

After this season, Rizzo will need to oversee a search for a new manager, with Davey Johnson announcing he’ll be stepping down from that role after the 2013 campaign. Rizzo has been tight-lipped about his preference when it comes to managerial candidates so far, but that will certainly be his biggest task this offseason.

The Nationals’ record under Rizzo’s direction improved every year from 2009-2012, but this season the Nats have dropped off dramatically. Deals that brought Denard Span and Dan Haren to D.C. have not worked out as Rizzo had hoped, and the Nats are currently four games under .500 two-thirds of the way through the season.

Rizzo will also always be tied to the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after the Nats’ ace had reached his innings limit last season, Strasburg’s first full year following Tommy John surgery. The Nationals announced a season prior that Strasburg would be shut down once he got around the 160-inning mark (which is nothing new for the organization when it comes to pitchers coming off Tommy John), but the decision to take Strasburg out of the rotation when the Nats were in a playoff push was one that became a hot topic across the sports world.

But despite the controversy last year and the frustration this year, there’s no doubt the Nats have come a long way in the last five years. With Rizzo’s new contract, he’s set to be around D.C. much longer.

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