The first couple of weeks of the offseason are usually for player evaluations from the season. (If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Mark Zuckerman’s player reviews from the past month.)
Evaluating coaches and front office personnel is harder to do. There are fewer numerical values we can attribute directly to the general manager and manager to determine how much success they had.
After the first full season of the Nationals’ rebuild, it might not be worth the time and effort evaluating Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez as they try to revamp the organization from the ground up. Also, this past season wasn’t as important in what they accomplished as next season will be, especially considering they finished with the worst record in the majors.
Both Rizzo and Martinez had the options in their respective contracts selected for next year. Rizzo will return for his 14th season as the Nats GM, 10th as president of baseball operations. Martinez will return for his sixth season as the manager, the longest tenured skipper in Nats history (not including Frank Robinson’s time in Montreal).
Their futures with the organization beyond 2023 is to be determined. The questions surrounding the Nationals’ ownership situation, of course, will have a major impact on those decisions.
But until that’s sorted out, what can Rizzo and Martinez do next year to make their cases that they should stick around for the long haul?
Let’s discuss Rizzo today and take a look at Martinez tomorrow.
Rizzo has had his fingerprints all over this team for more than a decade. And his past accomplishments speak for themselves: Four National League East titles, an NL Wild Card win, an NL pennant and a World Series championship. He has a .501 regular season winning percentage since being named general manager in 2009. He’s also 19-17 (.528) over five postseasons.
That may be enough to give Rizzo the benefit of the doubt in retaining him beyond 2023. But there is still a lot he has to accomplish in Year 2 of this rebuild to show he’s the right man to head this project.
Of course, Rizzo’s first order of business is upgrading the major league roster this offseason. He’s not going to be as aggressive as he has in the past. But after a 55-107 record, the Nats cannot enter next season with the same group.
Again, moves will be limited. But Rizzo should be looking to add veterans at all positions. Expect him to hand out a lot of minor league deals with invitations to major league spring training this winter, a practice that worked out really well this past spring.
Ideally, some of these veterans will become trade pieces at next year’s deadline.
The past two trade deadlines have been vital – and the catalysts – in this rebuild. Rizzo acquired 19 players in exchange for 11 veterans over the past two summers. Adding to that group next summer will be just as important.
Rizzo probably won’t be able to offer players of Juan Soto’s and Josh Bell’s caliber next year. But any prospect is worth taking a chance on for the small price of a veteran on a short-term contract.
Then there are the prospects Rizzo has already acquired. How do they continue to develop in the Nationals organization? And how and when do they start contributing to the major league squad?
Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, Jarlin Susana, Elijah Green, Brady House and Jackson Rutledge were all handpicked by Rizzo. Some of them are first-round draft picks. Others were selected to be part of the Soto-Bell trade package. All of them need to show certain signs of progress in 2023.
More prospects will join them in next year’s MLB Draft, in which the Nats are likely to hold a top-three pick. Wherever they pick, the top selection has to be a hit. With varying degrees of success in the first round under Rizzo’s guide, the Nats cannot afford to miss when drafting high in consecutive years.
Rizzo has said multiple times over the years that he doesn’t care about things like prospect and farm system rankings. But for those of us who do and use them to evaluate how the organization is progressing through the rebuild, it will be interesting to see where the Nats stand by the end of next season.
Currently, the Nats have four prospects in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list: Hassell (22), Wood (28), Green (34) and Cavalli (55). As a farm system, they’re right in the middle at No. 15, which is a huge improvement from being ranked last as recently as preseason 2021.
If they can add more top prospects and propel the farm into the top 10, that surely will be a good sign this process is working.
The long-time GM’s track record speaks for itself. But he still has work to do to show his decision to rebuild the organization was the right one and that he’s still the right man to lead it.
“We’re in a process. And the process is tried and true,” Rizzo told reporters in New York on the last day of the regular season. “We’ve done it before. Not a lot of teams can say that. And the process is moving forward, and it’s ongoing and I think it’s a productive process.”