Three things Mike Rizzo has to be thankful for (plus roof thoughts)

It was really interesting reading everyone’s thoughts on the Nationals’ reported desire to put a roof over Nationals Park, and while it sure doesn’t seem like anything that will be happening anytime soon, it led to a solid discussion.

If we can manage to ignore the $300 million figure that’s been tossed around (and it’s tough to do that, especially when that amount would come from public funding), I’ll say I can see aspects of the argument from both sides. Adding the roof would protect against rain delays and postponements due to weather and likely lead to larger attendance numbers in April and September. On the flip side, I feel like baseball was meant to be played outdoors, and believe that players needing to deal with the conditions comes with the territory.

How’s that for covering all the bases?

Yesterday, I wrote about three things that new manager Matt Williams has to be thankful for, with Thanksgiving closing in on us. Today, I’ve done the same for Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.

Here are a few things Rizzo should give thanks for at this time of year:

1. He’s got a lot of tough decisions ahead

How can having a host of tough decisions on your plate be a good thing? Well, when you’re a general manager, it often means that you have a contending team, for starters. Rizzo doesn’t have a rebuilding organization anymore, not now that he’s helped steer the Nats to the right side of the .500 mark for two seasons in a row, with a National League East title in there, as well.

But now that the Nats are a contender, Rizzo needs to not only keep them there but also get them to the next level. Does that mean packaging a handful of minor leaguers and emptying the farm system of a few of its top prospects to land a big-name starter? How much should be invested to improve a bench that struggled mightily in 2013? Does it mean spending somewhere around $100 million to sign Ian Desmond to a long-term deal? What about Jordan Zimmermann, and further down the road, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper?

The Nats are set up in a nice spot right now, given their recent success and the talent currently on this club. But whether the Nats take that next step likely hinges on the way Rizzo attacks his next couple of months and years on the job. I’m sure that’s just how Rizzo likes it.

2. A flexible budget

In 2011, the Nationals had an opening day payroll of $68.3 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. In 2012, that jumped to $92.5 million. Last season, the Nats’ payroll again took a huge leap, and topped $118.2 million.

Think about that for a second. In two calendar years, the Nats saw their payroll increase by nearly $50 million. As the Lerner family has invested more money in the on-field product, the on-field product has gotten better.

This upcoming season, the Nationals’ payroll is certain to increase yet again, and we can already make that claim without even knowing what moves Rizzo will make the rest of this winter. Because of salary arbitration and contractual raises to players like Jayson Werth and Gio Gonzalez, the Nats’ payroll will eclipse its 2013 mark, and while it’s unclear whether Rizzo has any hard-line limit for what he can spend the rest of the offseason, it’s clear that the Lerners have largely allowed their general manager and president of baseball operations the freedom to spend where he sees fit.

3. The complete trust of ownership

That last sentence I wrote above about the Lerners allowing Rizzo to spend where he sees fit ties into my final point on what Rizzo has to be thankful for - that he clearly has the complete trust of Nats ownership.

These have 100 percent become Mike Rizzo’s Nationals, something that’s been reinforced not only by Rizzo’s mid-summer promotion to general manager and president of baseball operations, but also when it came. The Nats had a 52-56 record at the time of the promotion, but the team’s massively disappointing 2013 season not only didn’t cause the Lerners to think about new leadership in the front office, but they also went ahead with a long-term extension instead.

This organization now has Rizzo’s fingerprints all over it, so to speak. The six recent front office promotions were all handed out to guys who have worked under Rizzo for years. The Nats’ new manager is a guy that Rizzo had ties to from earlier in his career. The 2014 coaching staff will include only one new face with whom Rizzo is unfamiliar, and everyone else has been in the organization for at least a few years.

The Lerners have gone all-in with Rizzo. There’s no doubt about that.

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