Even before the Nationals went on a 23-14 run that has reinvigorated the franchise and its fans after 3 1/2 years of losing, Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo’s fates seemed secure.
Maybe the on-field results at the major league level weren’t exemplary but take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Was the Lerner family, still controlling the club for the foreseeable future, really going to make changes at the manager and general manager positions at this point?
You can certainly find faults with Martinez as a manager, though there are a number of reasons to praise the job he’s done as well. But considering the roster he was given since the rebuild began in July 2021, were you really going to blame him for the Nats’ won-loss record?
And you can certainly find faults with Rizzo as a GM, most notably his team’s inability to draft and develop players who have turned into quality big leaguers over a not-insignificant stretch. But likewise, there are plenty of reasons to applaud the job he’s done, especially when it came to acquiring both quantity and quality in the two biggest trades he’s made in his career.
Besides, once the Nationals were clearly embarking on a rebuild that figured to take several years to complete, how could you reasonably evaluate their GM before giving him a chance to see that process all the way through?
If the Lerners felt changes were necessary, the time to do it would’ve been two years ago, allowing others to take over and embark on the rebuild themselves however they saw fit. Once Martinez and Rizzo were retained into the 2022 season, they deserved an opportunity to finish what they reluctantly started.
So Monday’s news – Martinez has agreed to a new two-year deal with a third-year club option, and Rizzo is working toward a new deal of his own, according to a source familiar with the discussions – shouldn’t have surprised anyone. At least not the actual news.
If there was anything surprising about this, it was the timing. Rarely have the Lerners made any moves of this type before they absolutely had to. If the manager or GM had a clause in his contract stipulating an option must be picked up by a certain date, it would be picked up very close to that date.
In this case, there were no clauses. Martinez and Rizzo’s current contracts each run through the end of the season. So that led most to believe their fates wouldn’t be determined until September, or perhaps even October.
The events of the last month, though, had to help make the decisions easier.
At the big league level, the Nationals are enjoying their best sustained stretch since June 2021, when the roster included Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Bell and Max Scherzer. This winning stretch has been keyed by the likes of CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, Riley Adams, Joey Meneses, MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, Jake Irvin and a suddenly dominant bullpen that has been effectively deployed by Martinez.
At the minor league level, a new crop of top prospects, all of them either drafted or acquired via trade within the last two years, has transformed one of the sport’s worst farm systems into a top-10 organization. And with Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House and Robert Hassell III all now playing together at Double-A Harrisburg, there’s ample reason to believe there’s going to be a massive influx of talent on the big league roster within the next 12 months.
In other words, it’s a pretty good time to reward the manager and GM who have overseen these overwhelmingly positive developments.
That’s certainly how any franchise being run in a normal fashion would handle this situation. The Nationals, of course, aren’t normal at the moment, and they haven’t been since Mark Lerner first made public his intention to explore a sale of the club in April 2022.
Some 16 months later, Lerner and his family still own the team but by all accounts, still intend to sell if they can find a buyer willing to meet an asking price that remains higher than anyone is willing to meet.
So perhaps Monday’s news further underscores what most have come to believe: The Lerners don’t appear close to the selling the Nationals, so they have no choice but to make important long-term decisions themselves now, rather than wait to see if those could be handed off to new owners.
New multi-year contracts for Martinez and Rizzo would fit that narrative. The next big question that looms: Will they green light a more aggressive approach to free agency this winter, giving Rizzo the ability to bolster his burgeoning young core with some much needed experience?
We don’t know the answer to that question yet. But at least we now appear to know who will continue to run the dugout and the baseball operations department as the Nationals move into the next phase of a rebuild that looks more encouraging by the day.