Grading the 2010 Nationals: The GM and manager

We’re wrapping up our grades of the 2010 Nationals this morning with a couple final items, for general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman.

Depending on how you judge the season, you could say either man did a fine job or a poor one; they helped the Nationals improve 10 games over 2009’s record (though it would have been tough not to improve on 59 wins), but they weren’t able to push the Nationals closer to .500 after a 20-15 start.

And there are plenty of points of view in a philosophical debate about how much a record can be influenced by anyone other than players.

Nonetheless, it’s our job to weigh in on these things, so that’s what we’ll do. Here are the grades for Rizzo and Riggleman:

Mike Rizzo
Grade: B Rizzo’s first full year as GM was nowhere near as eventful as his stint as the acting GM in 2009, during which he had to take over for resigned GM Jim Bowden, repair the team’s woeful bullpen and sign Stephen Strasburg. But Rizzo still had plenty to do in 2010, and most of what he did, he did well. He did an impressive job finishing his overhaul of the bullpen, signing Matt Capps and flipping him for Wilson Ramos when the closer became an All-Star. He went down to the wire with Scott Boras again, signing first-round pick Bryce Harper, and spending a boatload of cash on three pitchers at the deadline to sign draft picks. He also plucked Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten and Miguel Batista for next to nothing, and the signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez worked out better than most had expected. But there were some warts, too: Jason Marquis’ two-year, $15 million contract looks like an albatross after the right-hander’s awful season. Adam Kennedy didn’t turn out as planned, and the trade for Brian Bruney bombed. In the end, Rizzo’s year could ultimately be judged on his decision not to trade Adam Dunn; if the Nationals let the first baseman walk in free agency and he ends up as a Type B free agent, they could wind up with next to nothing for him when they had trade offers lined up in July. But in the short-term, most of Rizzo’s pick-ups helped improve the team.

Jim Riggleman
Grade: C There’s little doubting Riggleman is a well-schooled baseball man who can think his way through a game as well as most in the business. And early in the year, he seemed to be pushing all the right buttons, making double switches and changes in his defensive alignment that worked out beautifully to help the Nationals preserve late leads. But at times, Riggleman’s deference to veteran players got him in trouble; he has said his biggest regret from the 2010 season was riding Cristian Guzman too long and not giving Adam Kennedy enough playing time. His tendency to pull big bats for defensive replacements in the sixth or seventh innings also hurt the Nationals a few times, when a one-run lead became a deficit and the team needed to rally. And despite his emphasis on fundamentals, the Nationals tied for the NL lead in errors after leading the league in that category the last two years. Some of the inefficiencies came from Riggleman not having a roster ideally suited to his pitching-and-defense philosophy, but 2011 will be a big year for the manager, who has an option, but not a guaranteed contract, for 2012. He called the Nationals’ effort into question a couple times, but the team never quit on him. Still, if he can’t coax cleaner, more disciplined baseball out of the team in 2011, he could be on the hot seat.

Let me know what you think of Rizzo’s and Riggleman’s performances.