December 2010: It had already become clear that the Washington Nationals were going to allow Adam Dunn to walk as a free agent after the Nats and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo had decided to turn down the offers they had for the big middle-of-the-order bat at the Trade Deadline, and after the season ended without Dunn agreeing to an extension. Dunn would become a free agent, available league-wide for the second time since 2009 when he'd signed for 2-years/$20M dollars with Rizzo's predecessor, then-D.C. GM Jim Bowden. The Nats' Front Office, as Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell told the story in an article entitled, "It's hot stove time, and it's not too early to worry about the Nationals", had completely misread the situation:
"The amateur-hour component of the Nats' decision-making was never more evident than in the Nats' internal view all summer that Dunn would be more likely to sign a contract extension as the season came to an end because he really liked playing in D.C. This naivete stood 30 years of free agent history on its head and left industry insiders howling - with dismay or laughter."
Late June 2011...
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, in an article on Jim Riggleman's decision to resign yesterday entitled, "Hard to defend Riggleman's choice", writes that there's a lot of blame to go around for the circumstances that resulted in the Nats' Skipper's abrupt resignation. Riggleman was under contract, with an option for 2012 that he thought should be renewed. The Nats wanted to wait until the season was over to fully assess how the team had developed. Riggleman, Mr. Rosenthal writes, "gave Rizzo an ultimatum, leaving the GM no choice but to push back. He effectively committed professional suicide, shocking and disappointing his closest friends in the game."
Rizzo and Riggleman had an odd relationship according to the bow-tied FOXSports.com reporter, who wrote that unlike, "Most GMs," who, "talk with their managers every day...[Rizzo] rarely spoke with Riggleman, according to numerous sources." And the Lerners, Mr. Rosenthal writes, once again misread the situation as the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell contended they had with Adam Dunn:
"Most teams understand that a manager’s authority is compromised when he is in the last year of his contract; the Lerners proceed along their merry way, seemingly ignorant of conventional baseball wisdom."
Is it hard to believe that the Lerners or others in the front office might have misjudged or misread these situations? Not really. Is it hard to believe that D.C. GM Mike Rizzo did? That's a little harder. It's pretty clear from what's been reported since Dunn's departure that he was not a "Rizzo" player, though Rizzo had, in the past, described Dunn as being, "...a prototypical clean up hitter in the lineup that hits 40 HR's and drives in a 100 runs," and a player who was, "a great clubhouse presence," which, he said, "...means a lot to us and our fanbase."
When he wasn't traded the assumption was that the Nats believed that the two 1st Round picks they'd receive in 2011 were of greater value to the organization than what Dunn provided or other teams had offered. Dunn became Type-A free agent and the Nats took a highly-regarded right-hander out of the U of Kentucky, Alex Meyer, and an outfielder, Brian Goodwin, out of UNC and then Miami Dade College, 23rd and 34th overall with the picks they received from Chicago as compensation for Dunn signing with the White Sox.
The Nats' General Manager wanted to get more athletic at first, and after entertaining other options the Nationals settled on Adam LaRoche, who, according to Rizzo, "changed the whole dynamic of that infield," defensively at least, though his shoulder issues severely limited his offensive production and prematurely ended his first season in the nation's capital. Dunn was not a "Rizzo" guy, (or at least not at 4-years/$56M), it's hard to avoid that conclusion in hindsight. So was Riggleman a "Rizzo" guy? As the Nats' GM said this afternoon, "I'm the guy who hired him as the manager of this club, I've supported him through the media personally and in the clubhouse every step of the way, and he certainly, he obviously, didn't take to it and wasn't persuaded by it."
Jim Riggleman was brought back in the final year of two-year deal (2010-11) with a club option for 2012. The Nationals, if they'd wanted to, could have bought Riggleman for just $100,000 at the end of the 2010 season, but instead, after he'd led the Nationals to a 102-135 record in a season-plus on the bench, the Nats decided to bring Riggleman back in 2011, citing the Nats' ten-game improvement in 2010 under Riggleman's guidance, (which tied Washington for the fourth-best jump from '09 to 2010, behind only San Diego (+15 wins), Cincinnati (+13 wins) and Tampa Bay (+12 wins) as the Nationals noted in a press release making the manager's return official.
"I'm very confident in Jim. I made him the interim manager. I made him the full-time manager," Rizzo told CSN Washington/NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman before the 2011 season began in article entitled, "One-on-one with Nats GM Rizzo."
"I've got all the confidence in the world in him that he's the guy who's going to lead us in '11 and beyond," Rizzo said, "He's got my utmost confidence, and he always has."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson asked about the Riggleman's contract status in an February 2011 interview entitled, "Rizzo has good feeling about Nationals", wondering if the Nationals' manager was in a "must-win" situation, back on the bench with an improved roster that was expected to show continued improvement, but just another one-year/($600,000 dollar?) deal:
"Rizzo: You are asking a Jim Riggleman question during the second week of Spring Training?
MLB.com: He is on a one-year deal.
Rizzo: Jim Riggleman is the manager of the ballclub. I have great confidence in him."
In the end, when it boiled over this afternoon, it was the fact that he was on a one-year deal, combined with his impression that discussions about an extension were seemingly being put on hold until some as-yet-undetermined time in the future, that Riggleman cited as the reasons behind his decision. "I think it's just the way that the ballclub wants to do business, and I'll tell you, I've been doing it ten years, and maybe I'll never get another opportunity, but I promise you I'll never do it on a one-year deal again."
"But it's about me, it's about looking in the mirror and feeling like I've got to answer to myself and I was coming to work feeling like in today's world, in major sports, it's not a good environment to work when a manager or head coach in football, basketball, whatever is on a short leash." It was these comments in particular that seem to have bothered the Nats' GM, who told reporters in a post game press conference, "I'm disappointed that this is a distraction, that this is not thinking of the team first, it's not thinking of the team first, it's thinking of personal goals and thinking of personal things first."
In a press release on Riggleman's resignation Rizzo reiterated this point, writing that he was, "...surprised and disappointed, personally, and am even more disappointed for our players and fans. I was always taught that one of the cardinal rules of baseball was that no individual can put his interests before those of the team."
If Jim Riggleman was a "Rizzo" guy, that seems to have changed once he put what Rizzo saw as an ultimatum to the Nats' GM, saying he wanted to know the two could have a conversation about an extension before the team departed for Chicago. "Today's conversation put to me in the way it was put to me, you certainly can't make that decision in a knee-jerk reaction, it's too big of a decision to be put in that position."
"This is more about, feeling it's just not the way you do things when you keep a manager on a one-year deal," Riggleman said. It's bothered him since this past October when Riggleman learned he'd be coming back for 2011 but didn't have his option for 2012 picked up. "I just wanted to have a conversation [about it] when we got to Chicago," Riggleman said yesterday, "And Mike said he's not ready to have that conversation, I respect his decision and so I said, 'I've got to give it up then. If I'm obviously not the person that you all want to go down the road with...and I get that, that's okay, you know, but I love it here and I'll miss it."