VIERA, Fla. - If there was going to be any chance Nationals manager Jim Riggleman got through the early part of the 2011 season without questions about his contract, it went away as soon as the manager met with reporters.
The first question Riggleman took in his introductory press conference last Wednesday was whether he considers 2011 to be a "must-win" season for him. And there's good reason for the uncertainty; Riggleman is entering the last guaranteed year of his contract, with the Nationals holding an option for 2012 and facing few financial repercussions for making a move if the team gets off to a slow start this year.
But on Sunday, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo put those questions to rest, at least for now. Asked in a one-on-one interview with MASNsports.com if he thought this year was a must-win for the Nationals and Riggleman, Rizzo backed his manager.
"Position players haven't reported yet, and we're talking about the manager's situation," Rizzo said. "I made Jim the interim manager. I gave him the full-time job. I've got great confidence in Jim Riggleman."
Riggleman was hired as the Nationals' bench coach before the 2009 season, and became the interim manager in the second half of that season when the team fired Manny Acta. He went 33-42 that year, and followed it up with a 69-93 mark in 2010. That was 10 games better than the Nationals fared in both 2008 and 2009, but questions about Riggleman's future swirled in light of his short contract. The Nationals could have bought him out for $100,000 had they decided to change managers after last season.
Even if the Nationals pick up Riggleman's 2012 option, he would enter next season with the same lack of security he has this season. Only a long-term deal would change that, and the Nationals would likely have to play well for those discussions to start.
When he was asked about whether he feels any pressure this year, though, Riggleman suggested he wouldn't view this season that way.
"I think we look it more like the the day at hand, the day at hand. Let's have a good day, let's play good baseball, let's try to win the game. I really haven't thought of it in terms of anything particular on me or anybody else. ... It's a good thing to have a feeling of must-win. I hope our players feel that way, and our staff, we all feel like we must win. We're not really thinking in terms of the consequences of if you don't. But I think it's a good approach to take, and let's go win."
I'll have more from my interview with Rizzo tomorrow.