It took a few more weeks than initially hoped, but the Nationals and Mike Rizzo have finally agreed to a new deal that will keep the longtime general manager in charge of baseball operations into the next stage of the franchise’s rebuild.
The Nats formally announced a multi-year extension with Rizzo this morning, three weeks after they announced a comparable contract with manager Davey Martinez.
Though Rizzo’s deal wasn’t done at the time, he and the club had been in negotiations and believed they were on track to finalizing terms, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Those negotiations wound up taking longer than anticipated, with Martinez's two-year contract finalized first, a rarity in the sport.
"I was always confident it was going to happen," Rizzo said in a video conference with reporters. "It was just something that we never got around to getting the final deal done. As far as the timeline goes, I thought it was important to get Davey done, because the chemistry in the clubhouse, and a lame-duck manager with three months, is not the way you want to go through this thing. ... That had to be done, and I'm glad I got that done, sooner rather than later. I was always confident about my deal."
Rizzo, 62, will be back in his familiar role in 2024, but several other prominent and longtime confidants of his will not. Johnny DiPuglia, who led the team’s international scouting operation since 2009, resigned earlier this month. Kris Kline, who has run the team’s amateur scouting operation since 2009, has been re-assigned to a role as a special assistant to Rizzo who will focus more on professional scouting, a source familiar with the decision confirmed.
A host of other scouts both domestically and internationally were let go earlier this month as well, suggesting the Nationals’ scouting department will be undergoing significant changes this winter, just as their player development department did two years ago.
"We took a deep dive into how we could be more effective in all of our departments," Rizzo said. "We've had a little bit of an organizational restructuring. Some people are going to be re-assigned. Some people are going to be replaced. Some people are going to have a little different job descriptions. But suffice it to say, our objective is to strike a balance in our scouting, player development and front office system. We've made huge investments in manpower and brainpower and technology over the last couple of years. We want to utilize that to the best of our ability and really take that to the next level."
The one constant, then, will be Rizzo, who is wrapping up his 18th season with the organization, his 15th as GM. This is the fifth extension he has signed with the Nats since his original contract in August 2009, when he officially took over as permanent GM some five months after he replaced Jim Bowden on an interim basis.
Terms of this deal weren't made public, but all but one of Rizzo’s previous contracts guaranteed two years (the other one guaranteed three), three of them including club options for future years, all of which were picked up by ownership. His most recent deal, signed late in the 2020 season, made him one of the highest-paid GMs in baseball.
With the White Sox’s firing of longtime team president Kenny Williams last month, Rizzo is now the third-longest tenured head of baseball operations in the major leagues. Only the Yankees’ Brian Cashman (hired in 1998) and the Cardinals’ John Mozeliak (hired in 2007) predate Rizzo, who unlike many of his counterparts has remained in charge of the Nationals’ day-to-day operations throughout, never promoting an assistant to assume the GM role while he shifted to bigger-picture matters.
"I'm honored and flattered to have this extension," he said. "It's an honor that the Lerner family has entrusted me for so many years with the keys to the franchise. I hope I've been a good caretaker for them thus far, and hopefully continue to bring respect and prominence to the Washington, D.C., area and to the Nationals."
Nobody has had a greater impact on the Nationals’ on-field product in club history than Rizzo, who took over a franchise in disarray following Bowden’s resignation amid a scandal involving a Dominican prospect who falsified his name and age to receive a large signing bonus.
With a lengthy scouting background, Rizzo oversaw the drafting of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in three consecutive years from 2009-11, though the club has not yet hit comparable paydirt with its first-round picks in the ensuing years. He signed Jayson Werth to the first nine-figure contract in team history ($126 million), then blew that deal away with his $210 million deal for Max Scherzer four years later.
Strasburg’s $245 million extension, signed barely a month after the right-hander was named World Series MVP, turned out to be a colossal mistake, with Strasburg now making plans to retire after injuries limited him to only eight starts since signing the deal.
Rizzo has also seen several star players depart during recent years after turning down long-term offers from the Nationals, with Harper and Rendon both leaving as free agents and Scherzer, Juan Soto and Trea Turner traded away before their contracts expired so the team could at least get prospects in return.
Rizzo’s trade record has been exceptional, with Turner, Wilson Ramos, Tyler Clippard, Michael Morse, Denard Span, Adam Eaton, Sean Burnett, Howie Kendrick, Gio Gonzalez, Yan Gomes, Tanner Roark, Sean Doolittle, Joe Ross, Tanner Rainey, Doug Fister, Daniel Hudson and Mark Melancon all becoming contributors on postseason teams over the years, with few prominent players dealt away for any of them.
Eight current big leaguers (MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, Lane Thomas, Riley Adams, Mason Thompson, Drew Millas) and three rated prospects (James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Jarlin Susana) all were acquired in trade deadline deals in 2021 and 2022.
"It's never fun to rebuild," Rizzo said. "No general manager or field manager loves the word 'rebuild,' because rebuild usually means you're losing a lot of games for a significant amount of years. This will be my second rebuild, so we've gone through our share of losing. But it's all worth it for that eight- to 10-year run of excellence and competitiveness, playing competitive games at the end of the season. All the strife and struggles you go through can't even be measured to the glory that you have when the 27th out of Game 7 of the World Series goes into the guy's mitt.
"That's why it was so important to me to be here, to see this through, and hopefully see another succession to be a really competitive team in a really competitive division, and to win another ring for the Nationals fan base."
Rizzo’s newest contract extension comes amid uncertainty about who will own the franchise long-term. The Lerner family, which purchased the Nationals from Major League Baseball in May 2006 and made Rizzo its first front-office hire, publicly expressed its intention to explore a sale in April 2022.
No such sale has taken place in the ensuing 17 months, during which time family patriarch Ted Lerner died at 97. Mark Lerner, who has been the Nats’ managing principal owner since his father handed over control of the organization in 2018, has not offered any public statements since about the family’s intentions, but there has been little evidence a sale is coming anytime in the near future.
"Mike and I have talked and worked with each other almost daily for 17 years. Together with my family and the entire Nationals staff, we've always shared the same dream: to make the Washington Nationals a team that our fans could love and be proud of," Lerner said in a statement announcing today's news. "We have all worked collectively to build what was essentially an expansion team with no major league depth into a contender, and then into a World Series champion. We've experienced some tough losing seasons, and we've hung championship banners, and we've done it all together.
"We are once again hard at work to build a championship contender in D.C. We now believe we have the beginnings of a roster filled with promising young players and exciting prospects at nearly every position. While we once talked about winning World Series rings for our baseball-loving fathers, Mike's family and ours now look forward to winning even more rings for our children and grandchildren — and, of course, for every other Nationals-loving fan and family everywhere. We are excited about our future."
Asked if he sought any assurances from ownership about its intentions, Rizzo insisted he's "never seen the Lerner family and ownership more involved" than they've been the last couple of years.
"Believe me, when reports come out that they've got one foot in and one foot out, that's not the people I'm dealing with on a daily basis," he said. "These guys are into it. They're into every step of this rebuild. They're looking forward to coming out the other end, to start winning some games, and to start being a contender in this league and to start putting up some championship banners again. I see no evidence whatsoever of this (family) — in particular Mark Lerner — being half-in and half-out. They're all-in. They want to win. And I have no thought process of them wanting to get rid of the team and sell it."