We’ve reached the final countdown to spring training, so we’re counting down the most important storylines surrounding the Nationals this spring. We begin today with the status of Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez’s contracts ...
If there’s one subject a defending World Series champion shouldn’t have to think about, it’s the future of its general manager and manager. Really, why would anyone spend a second wondering how secure Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez’s jobs are?
Why? Because at this moment, neither man is assured of working for the Nationals beyond the 2020 season.
It’s both a product of coincidental timing and this organization’s longstanding aversion to locking up anyone other than players to long-term deals. It just so happens the Nats won the World Series in the second-to-last year of both Rizzo and Martinez’s contracts. But it’s also telling that both prepare to head to West Palm Beach as lame ducks instead of resting comfortably knowing their futures were secure.
The background on both men’s current contracts:
* Since taking over as GM in 2009, Rizzo has had four different contracts. A couple of the previous ones included club options, but the most recent one he signed (in April 2018) did not. That deal was for a reported two years and $8 million, covering the 2019 and 2020 seasons. It expires at the end of this year.
* When Martinez was hired in October 2017, he was given a three-year contract worth a reported $2.8 million, plus a $1.2 million club option for 2021.
The Lerner family notoriously has taken its time with these type of contract negotiations. One of Rizzo’s previous options needed to be exercised by June 15, 2016; it was picked up on May 14. He entered spring training 2018 as a lame duck, just as he will enter this one, then agreed to his new deal on April 5.
If they follow through with a similar course of action this time, the Nationals ostensibly would be negotiating with Rizzo this spring and announce a new deal around opening day. But the architect of the organization’s ascension from a 100-loss team to a perennial contender to a World Series champion won’t come cheap.
When he signed his current deal two years ago, Rizzo was the fourth-highest-paid GM in baseball, trailing only the Cubs’ Theo Epstein, the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman and the Yankees’ Brian Cashman. He admitted at the time it mattered more to him that he was paid comparable to the best in his line of work than the length of the contract.
“The years are important to me, but the (average annual value) of the deal is right where I wanted it to be,” he said that day. “I think everything else takes care of itself in the long run. Like I told the players, if we win, we all eat better. That’s kind of our motto.”
Well, they won. So he’s going to want to eat even better than he already does. It’s up to the Lerners to decide just how far they’re willing to go to keep the 59-year-old in office and not risk letting him become a new kind of high-profile free agent next winter.
The case with Martinez could be fairly straightforward. Ownership could simply pick up his 2021 option now and ensure he’s under contract for his fourth season with the club.
In many ways, that would be a remarkable achievement. None of the Nationals’ previous six managers so much as completed three full seasons. Barring something catastrophic, Martinez stands to become the team’s longest-tenured skipper on July 1, when he manages his 411th game (one more than Manny Acta).
But doesn’t a World Series winning manager - especially one seemed to play such a central role in keeping the clubhouse together en route to that championship - deserve more job security than that?
This will be the true test of the Lerners and their willingness to use the title to do things they’ve never done before. Would they sign Martinez to a long-term extension now, ensuring he’ll be in the dugout not for a mere four years but for many more to come after that?
The Nationals spent more than a decade trying to find a manager that could lead them to the promised land. Now that they actually got there, are they willing to make sure he stays right here and end the agonizing cycle of managerial turnover that was such a hallmark of the franchise in its pre-championship days?