Washington’s spring training facility will be populated with cameras and pitchers in three days. The winter’s contracts have been settled -- the Nationals deciding to run it back, more or less -- which means the actual work is next with the season arriving in less than two months.
Roster expenditures dominate offseason discussion. Length of contract, annual costs, those missed out on, those brought in, all boost chatter while waiting for games to come back after the winter thaw. In Washington, two key contracts remain unattended to: Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez are in the final guaranteed years of their deals.
And, their cost is rising. Winning the World Series suddenly makes everyone smart, or more talented, or at least in increased demand. The victory warps time. What was the offseason becomes a continuation of the blinding October race. Martinez spent much of it traveling for distant vacations -- he went to Bali for one -- or talking in front of tech groups which want to know about leadership. He turned down numerous requests in order to steal time for himself.
Rizzo married, sadly lost his father, and has shown at a variety of promotional events. Pushed aside by talk about the local longevity of Stephen Strasburg or Ryan Zimmerman is how long Rizzo has been shaping the Nationals. He arrived in 2007 as the assistant general manager. He was in charge by 2009. Only three current general managers have worked with their teams longer: Brian Cashman of the Yankees, Jon Daniels of the Rangers and Dayton Moore of the Royals. Neither the Rangers or Royals have put together a winning season since 2016.
So, decisions loom.
Martinez’s contract could be resolved easily. The organization holds an option for 2021. If they simply pick it up, he’s around for another season, that’s that.
Of course, it’s rarely this simple or direct when it comes to the Lerner family and managers -- or even Rizzo. Most decisions are left to be made late. Publicly, managing principal owner Mark Lerner backed Martinez once the team entered the playoffs (in fairness, he didn’t speak during the season). Asked then if he considered firing Martinez during the team’s atrocious start, Lerner said he never did. Then the team won the World Series. Which was not enough to prompt the organization to pick up the option before the calendar flipped or even before spring training began.
Rizzo is in for another hard negotiation. He joked after his new deal in 2018 what a battle it is with the organization’s lawyers when trying to finish a contract between the sides. Rizzo derives great enjoyment from contractual battles. The rare instances he goes to arbitration with a player -- often quibbling over the Major League Baseball equivalent of $5 -- he celebrates beating the player in private and sometimes in public. It’s just another layer of competition to him. This one is personal, though.
His two-year, reportedly $8 million deal in 2018 vaulted him toward the top of the GM payment scale. Rizzo said at the time the length of contract was important to him, but also acknowledged the money represented where he thought among his peers.
“I think everything else takes care of itself in the long run,” Rizzo said then. “Like I told the players, if we win, we all eat better. That’s kind of our motto.”
They did that. He reached the outcome he was mandated with. Subsequently, his price went up and leverage has been intensified.
Dusty Baker didn’t make it to the goal. A flood of other managers rarely made it past or to Year Two. Martinez is in line to become the organization’s longest-tenured manager -- a low bar, but still a bar -- if he manages through July 1 of this season.
So, Rizzo and Martinez will spend spring training in West Palm Beach and limbo. Washington’s first World Series win didn’t alter how ownership is approaching payment for management. What the title did change is the power structure when those discussions are had. The people on the other side of the table can no longer be told they did not get it done.
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