The Nationals’ biggest free agent of the past decade isn’t Bryce Harper nor Anthony Rendon. It’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, who is in the midst of preparing for the 2020 season without any certainty about his future beyond it.
Even after the Nationals won their first World Series title in franchise history last October, principal owner Mark Lerner and his father Ted have yet to ink an extension for their longtime GM.
The same goes for manager Davey Martinez, who is only signed through this season with a team option for 2021. Martinez is credited with keeping the clubhouse on track despite a 19-31 start to the season before pulling all the right strings, particularly with his pitching staff, throughout the playoffs.
Both Rizzo and Martinez have reached the pinnacle of their respective positions, leading their club to a championship. Yet they find themselves in the unenviable positions of not knowing whether they’ll remain employed in D.C. after this year. However, there is one advantage to the position they’re in.
Former New York Mets GM and current MLB Network Radio analyst Steve Phillips joined NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast Tuesday and touched on Rizzo and Martinez’s situation. Phillips understands their position after he went into the final year of his contract with the Mets in 2000 without a deal before helping his team to its first NL pennant in 14 years.
“It’s not the worst spot to be in to wait,” Phillips said. “If you go to the playoffs again this year, all it does is add to your value. And if you don’t, you’re still the World Series champion from the year before and can play on that.”
This is a situation Rizzo and the Nationals have been in before. Rizzo entered the 2018 season without a deal before agreeing to a reported two-year, $8 million extension in April. Though the Nationals had yet to advance past the NLDS at that point, they were still one of the winningest teams of the previous five years—a feat with Rizzo’s fingerprints all over it.
After winning a World Series, Rizzo’s salary expectations will likely be much higher. The highest paid executives in the sport are Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein (about $10 million a year), Los Angeles Dodgers president Andrew Friedman ($7 million) and New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman ($5 million).
Washington has a messy history with managers as well. The club tried to hire now-Colorado Rockies skipper Bud Black in 2015 but offered only a one-year, $1.6 million deal that left Black “deeply offended.” The Nationals instead signed Dusty Baker to a two-year deal worth $4 million with incentives. Martinez will have only made $2.8 million in his three years with the Nationals by the end of 2020.
“I think both guys will still be there [beyond 2020],” Phillips said. “I don’t think Rizzo wants to leave. I don’t think that Dave Martinez wants to leave. And I think they’ll find a way to get a deal done to keep both guys in D.C.”
The deadline is approaching for the Nationals to work out a deal with Rizzo, and even if they exercise their club option on Martinez for 2021, his turn will come next year. Washington may be saving money in the short-term by keeping Rizzo and Martinez on their current contracts, but the World Series champion GM and skipper only have leverage to gain by waiting at the negotiating table.
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