Timing is everything, as the cliché goes, and it wasn’t right the last few months to address the situations around Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo.
It is now.
Major League Baseball has a date for spring training to start again. The schedule is expected to be released before the week ends. Keeping everyone safe -- as much as that can be done -- will be the perpetual challenge.
The Nationals can finally pivot to in-house business. They need to figure out their expanded roster, how spring training in Nationals Park will operate, and what pitching strategy they may deploy in a 60-game sprint. Simultaneously, they need to determine what to do about the contracts of Martinez and Rizzo, who are both in the final guaranteed years of their deals.
Martinez is easy. The team owns a club option on his original contract. He will become the organization’s longest-tenured manager this summer. They won the World Series in 2019. There’s no way to manage yourself out of a job (seemingly) during a 60-game season. Fan sentiment is to retain him. Player sentiment is to retain him. For the Nationals, it’s a simple move which remains cost-effective and positive PR. There’s no reason to wait, despite their standard approach to stalling until the very end on personnel contracts.
The cost is now bargain-basement. Martinez signed a three-year, $2.8 million contract with a fourth-year option for $1.2 million. He would command three times that on the open market. It’s such a team-friendly deal, the Nationals may be well-served to try to tack on two years when discussing the option, let alone promptly pulling the trigger on the option year.
When asked May 1 if there were any discussions at that point about his contract, Martinez responded, “Nothing.” Understandable in the prior climate. It's not now.
Rizzo is more complicated in negotiations, but not merit. He is among the reasons the organization moved from the ashes to the title. His contract expires this year. Of the league’s 30 teams, 27 would probably be interested in hiring him (the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees are situated).
He will have distinct leverage for the first time in negotiations. In the past, Rizzo could point at the team’s high-draft pick hits, the regular season wins, the improved culture. Ownership could counter with a flat fact: the team has not won the World Series. They only hired to accomplish that goal, and he was yet to meet it.
That’s off the table now.
Rizzo’s expectation will be a contract that vaults him into the top five of general managers/team presidents in the sport. He has an argument for it. Will the Nationals bestow such a deal on him? If so, the decision will run counter to their usual approach. The organization often acts as if the existing framework is sufficient for success, viewing the people within it as interchangeable. Rizzo, in essence, built the framework, so, does he fall in the same category? They have four months to figure it out, and, finally, the window to start doing so.
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