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Why being lame ducks only helps Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez in contract talks

Why being lame ducks only helps Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez in contract talks

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.

RELATED: WITH BASEBALL RETURNING, NATIONALS' GM AND MANAGER CONTRACTS REMAIN A PRESSING ISSUE

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.

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST

“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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GM Mike Rizzo 'felt terrible' for Nationals grounds crew after tarp incident

GM Mike Rizzo 'felt terrible' for Nationals grounds crew after tarp incident

Sunday night was one to forget for the Nationals' grounds crew. Washington's clash with the Orioles was called in the sixth inning after the crew was unable to cover the field with a tarp before rainfall made the field unplayable. 

It's a nightmare scenario for anyone working in that particular field. Your job is to protect the baseball field as much as you can from the elements so games can be still be played after a storm passes. Washington's grounds crew didn't get the job done on Sunday, but Davey Martinez and now general manager Mike Rizzo made sure to support their colleagues. 

"These guys work extremely hard and they're so good at what they do, so I just felt terrible for them," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "I went down there and tried to make them feel better after they called the game off. We all make mistakes, I've made bad trades and bad signings, [the Junkies] have had bad shows. They had a bad day at the office and their bad days are seen by millions of people.

"I support those guys," he said. "[Director of Field Operations] John Turnour is the best in the business," he said. "He's got a really difficult geographical city to be a head grounds crew member in Washington D.C. The weather is really tricky here and he navigates is terrifically."

RELATED: NATS GROUNDS CREW BATTLING THE TARP IS PEAK 2020

Like any professional, the grounds crew members seem to have learned from their off-game and are working to make sure it doesn't happen again. According to Rizzo, they're already putting in the time to get back on track. 

"[Turnour] had that one hiccup and I guarantee it won't happen again because they're doing drills about it and they're going to practice with how [the tarp] rolls out," Rizzo said. "It was something that if you don't know about tarps and covering fields it's hard to understand what went wrong."

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't know a single solitary thing about rolling out a massive tarp onto a baseball field in the rain and on a tight schedule. Still, of all the regular seasons you'd want to have games postponed for reasons within your control, the 60-game 2020 schedule is not the one.

The Nationals, who already had one series postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak within the Marlins clubhouse, need as much schedule flexibility as possible moving forward. So it's good to see the staff responding in such a productive way following an extremely unfortunate situation. 

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Max Scherzer's first start since hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Max Scherzer's first start since hamstring injury was a battle, but one he won against the Mets

Better. Though the bar was low.

Max Scherzer worked for six innings Tuesday night in New York. He made it through one roughshod inning during his last outing against the Mets because his hamstring “tweak” was enough of an alarm that he decided to stop pitching.

That was seven days prior to his start against the Mets, which the Nationals won, 2-1. Ostensibly, Scherzer had not pitched for 13 days. He lasted the one inning, needed to work his hamstring problem out, then find a way back to the mound.

Davey Martinez wanted him to stop sprinting -- the initial cause of the hamstring problem -- in between starts. Scherzer did not want to stop sprinting, so he continued to do so once he felt better. He also pitched twice from a mound in the days before the bottom of the first on Tuesday. Both times, he felt 100 percent when pushing and landing. The hamstring was fine. So much so, that he expected to throw the 105 pitches he did to hold off the Mets across the grinding innings they imposed on him.

“Took some shots there early, but didn’t break and found a way to execute pitches there later in the game,” Scherzer said.

RELATED: TREA TURNER'S SWING HAS TAKEN TIME TO ADJUST WITHOUT REPLAY ACCESS

He finished with seven strikeouts across the six innings. Just a run scored. But, there were eight baserunners and Scherzer was in severe trouble in both the first and second innings. Those were the issues as he hunted a path to better out-pitches and location.

“It honestly kind of reminded me of Game 7 of the World Series when he went out there and he couldn’t zone in on the strike zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff was good. His pitch count got high. Once he settled in, we started noticing he started getting through the ball a little better. Balls started coming down. Started throwing a lot more strikes.”

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“Even though my pitch count got out of control, I was just able to just stay with [Kurt Suzuki] and continue to pound the zone and find a way to get through six [Tuesday],” Scherzer said.

The good is clear: He is back on the mound, healthy, throwing 98 mph and 100-plus pitches. Stephen Strasburg returned two days prior, though he is not 100 percent. Scherzer is physically right, if slightly rusty. That combination was sufficient in his first start after the hamstring problem.

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