The Nationals made it official yesterday, announcing a new multi-year contract extension for general manager Mike Rizzo. His previous contract was set to expire Oct. 31. Under Rizzo's guidance, the Nats won the 2019 World Series and earned National League East titles in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Rizzo said it is exciting to be able to have the assurance of at least three more years on the job, and news of the extension came as a relief as he continues to work to get the Nats back into the postseason race.
"It feels good," Rizzo said during today's Zoom pregame video session with reporters. "It relaxes you a little bit. Most importantly, it relaxes the people around me and below me. I think that's the most important thing. People run into a little bit of anxiety as it got closer to the end of the season.
"Now we can take care of our business and take care of what we have to do toward the end of the season and the offseason. It came together, like most of these deals do, fairly quickly once the process began. It didn't take very long once we engaged in the process."
Rizzo said serious talks about the extension began about a week and a half ago before the Nats went on their long road trip and accelerated over the last couple of days. And when Rizzo speaks about taking care of those around him, the top priority now is getting a new contract and extension for manager Davey Martinez. The skipper has a club option left on his deal for 2021.
"That's priority No. 1, to get Davey taken care of," Rizzo said. "My plan is, and my preference is, to not pick up the option and to go well beyond that. That's the plan going forward, to see if we can get something done, negotiating a longer-term deal with him that goes beyond just picking up the option."
So Rizzo believes in order to get a long term deal for Martinez set, it will take some time to complete the talks. And now that his extension is in place, the focus turns squarely on getting Martinez a new contract extension.
"Yeah, I think when you're discussing a new contract, it's different than just picking up an option," Rizzo said. "The option was under the old contract. My preference is to just disregard that and sign a new contract with him."
Rizzo also spoke about how much he loves the job, how he relishes the work from sunrise to sunset and beyond each day, and what it takes to field a team that now only competes but excels in the big leagues against the best teams. He said the main reason he can stand up and say this organization is successful is due in large part to the front office and the baseball people around him that make it all work.
"The day-to-day grind and the marathon that is a normal season is what it's all about for me," Rizzo said. "It's my favorite part of this job, the daily interaction, the daily decision-making and problem-solving that you have to do as a general manager. It's my favorite part of this job. And it goes down to having the people below you that you trust to do their job.
"All the accolades filter up, but it's the guys below me that really are a foundation of our success here. And I couldn't be prouder of those guys and girls who work for me. The way they do their job allows me to do this daily grind and focus on baseball. To me, that's what I was meant to do. And I look forward to doing it until I can't do it anymore."
So when this new contract extension expires, Rizzo will be well into his 60s. The GM says that doesn't faze him at all. His late father, Phil Rizzo, was a baseball lifer. So is he.
"My dad worked until he was 90, 'til the day he died," Rizzo said. "I'm here for the long haul, as long as it feels good to me and I'm having fun doing it and I'm enjoying the competition and the interaction with the players. I'd love to do this thing for the rest of my life."
Envisioning what the Nats will look like next season and beyond, Rizzo is laying the groundwork for a team that will employ an influx of young talent in order to stay competitive.
"We are going to be entering into a new kind of process with the organization," Rizzo said. "As you could see, the roster is going to get younger. We've got some good young prospects that we've had to see by the fact of the shortened season and the injuries. But we are really excited about seeing the players that we have coming up. We are getting a good glimpse of Carter Kieboom and Luis GarcÃa. We've seen Seth Romero and couple of young pitchers and a couple of our young bullpen guys kind of coming into form.
"We're excited for the challenge to stay competitive and stay at the top and the prospects of winning another championship. That's what this thing is all about. It's what it's always been for me is to win World Series and win rings and that's going to continue. We are always going to have that focus of being a championship organization by performance on the field, but also with the people we bring in the clubhouse and in the community. We pride ourselves on that part of it and that's not going to change."
Currently the club is battling to stay above water with 22 games remaining in the 2020 regular season. But the Nats have won two in a row against their biggest rival and have a shot today to win the four-game series against the first-place Atlanta Braves. It would be their first series win since Aug. 16.
"This is such a crazy season, nobody knows what to expect. You know we're trying to win today's game and we'll feel better about ourselves when we're back home. But in this season, you go out and have yourself a really good week or a week and a half and you're right back in the thick of it. We've got to get a few guys healthy and play better baseball. There's no question about that, that's a fact. But we feel that we've got a run in us and we're going to take our chances, man.
"We've got a puncher's chance and we put ourselves in a position again that we've got to do something extraordinary to get in the bubble. But we certainly haven't given up any kind of hopes that we can do it because we've been hot before, we've gotten on streaks before and I think once we get in I think there's going to be teams nervous about playing us."