Around a week ago, it finally came up. The Lerner family reached out to general manager and team president Mike Rizzo about his soon-to-expire contract. They wanted to get a new deal done. Rizzo wanted to do the same. Discussions opened, took a break when the team was on the road, then began to wrap Friday night before a conclusion Saturday morning. A three-year extension was the end result.
There was little doubt a deal would be reached. The sides both started from a place of trust and understanding. After more than a decade together, there were no mysteries, no questions about how the other would be if times were tough or celebratory. They had been through everything already. Top draft picks, losing seasons, hiring and firing a slew of managers, division titles, postseason failures, then, finally, holding up the World Series trophy.
“It feels good,” Rizzo said of his new deal. “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. It feels good for me personally, but professionally and as the leader of the franchise, it feels good for everybody around us. Now we can take care of our business and do what we have to do toward the end of the season and the offseason.”
The offseason will include a severe reworking of the roster. A fourth starter is necessary. Decisions at catcher and first base are to come. The bullpen, in perpetuity, needs to be restocked. The Nationals are 14-25 following Sunday’s 10-3 loss in Atlanta. This season is just short of being over with 21 days and 21 games remaining.
So, coming in September before this flop finishes are cameos for younger players. Carter Kieboom and Luis García will play the rest of the season. Seth Romero’s broken right hand is expected to heal enough that he receives more time on the mound. The younger pitchers at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg -- Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli among them -- could end up in the major leagues. There is no service time concern with them.
The Nationals will also be looking ahead to the 2021 draft. It’s unclear if win-loss record will be the lone determining factor in the upcoming draft. But, if it is, they are on a path to receive a top-five pick thanks to their subpar play in this 60-game season.
The chase, or “the grind” in baseball parlance, is what still excites Rizzo, and he will be back on it hard because of this season. He could have ascended to a more hands-off position in this franchise or another, where his title outweighs his workload. Instead, he wants to remain in daily discussions now and into the future.
“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 you have to do as a general manager is my favorite part of this job. It comes down to having the people below that you trust that are doing their job. All the accolades filter up, but the guys below me that really are the foundation of our success here and I couldn’t be prouder of those guys and girls that work for me.
“To me, this is what I was meant to do and look forward to doing it until I can’t do it anymore.”
The franchise’s pivot since Rizzo’s arrival is stunning. As is the resurrection of the Navy Yard around the stadium. The area has grown with the organization, so much so that few sightlines to the Capitol Building remain because of non-stop condominium development.
His future in the burgeoning area is now secured until he moves into his early 60s. His father, Phil, worked until he was 90 years old. It’s a path he would like to follow.
“I’m here for the long haul,” Rizzo said. “I want to do this as long as it feels good to me, I’m having fun doing it, and I enjoy the competition and the interaction with the players. I would love to do this thing for the rest of my life.”