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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo on 2020; building for 2021

During the press conference announcing Davey Martinez’s extension, Mike Rizzo talked about the Nationals’ 2020 run and planning for 2021.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In hindsight, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said as the 2020 season wound down, Washington’s veteran-laden roster, many of whom helped the club win the World Series in 2019, may not have been particularly well-suited for the 60-game COVID campaign.

“I think the COVID part of it we mastered very, very well,” Rizzo explained. “It was the start-stop-restart of Spring Training and the early season that kind of bit us with our veteran lineup.”

Spring Training 1.0 started on time, but with the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the country, baseball shut down in mid-March, and didn’t start back up until July, when a three-week ST 2.0 was held for everyone to ramp up for the start of the 2020 campaign later that month.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves
Second Base Umpire Vic Carapazza points towards the suite level near Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Though things didn’t go as Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office planned, he said they will take an approach similar to what they’ve done in previous offseasons as they try to put together a contender for 2021 and beyond.

“We’re always trying to get bigger, better, younger, faster, and more successful,” Rizzo said, “... but having a good hybrid of exciting young players and experienced veterans was our recipe for success from 2012-2019, and we’ll take steps into sticking with our philosophy, but I think we have to get a roster that can handle the rigors of a 162-game season and then an extra month of playing. And I think that we have — after we do our summary of 2020, we’ll find out what worked, what didn’t work, what we have to improve on and by Spring Training we’re hoping to have a roster in place that’s going to compete for the National League East championship and the World Series championship.”

Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez both signed long-term extensions this winter (don’t ask them how long, trust us), so with their own futures settled, they planned to meet last week, form a plan for the offseason, and then attack it like they always do while roster building.

[ed. note - “The first move was to apparently move on from pitching coach Paul Menhart, whose contract was not renewed, so hiring a new pitching coach is now on the list of the things the Nationals have to do this winter.”]

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Rizzo, the GM and President of Baseball Operations in the nation’s capital, said Martinez has strong opinions and expresses them when it comes time to make decisions on players they look at as potential options in D.C., and his views are taken into consideration before any of the roster moves are made.

“We’re in constant contact especially in the winter when we’re constructing the roster,” Rizzo said.

“Davey’s got great input,” he added.

“I would be foolish in not bringing him into the decision-making process, because he’ll know things about — he’s been around this game a long time, and he knows people who know people.

“We do our due diligence in finding people who know the guys that we’re trying to bring in, because they need to fit seamlessly into the clubhouse and into the community and their skill set has to fit into the roster. And I need to know Davey’s opinion on each player, because I need to know how he’s planning on using a player we would like to acquire either as a free agent or via trade.

“He’s involved in just about every decision we make. Like I’ve always said, this is a total team effort.

“It’s a ‘we’ effort, not a ‘me’ effort and the roster construction, there’s a lot of great minds that go into picking a player.”

Will they look at the players they have interest in keeping or acquiring any differently when they consider performance in the 2020 campaign? It was, of course, an odd season for all involved, and Nationals’ pitchers, in particular, and pitchers in general around the league seemed to have a tough time getting right with just the three-week ramp-up for the season.

“I think we’ll evaluate the play on the field like we always do,” Rizzo said. Looking outside the organization, “... will be different because we don’t have physical scouts in the stands, which will impact our decision-making process a little bit, but what we did do though, is I got to see our guys play 60 games, so we’re going to make assessments and evaluations from that. We will put together our short-term and long-term plans like we always do, and we’ll touch on the trade market, the free agent market, what’s within our system like we always do.”

“In a trying, unsuccessful performance-wise season this year, we did come away with some bright spots and we feel that the future of this franchise is in good hands,” Rizzo added.

“Regardless of what the periodicals say and the experts say about what’s coming in the minor league system, we’re very, very excited about what we’ve got in the pipeline, and guys that are going to make impacts on this team in the very, very near future. The core group is in place here. We’ve got young players who have performed terrific on the major league stage, and we’ve got more waiting in the wings. And we haven’t won four division titles, a world championship, and a whole bunch of games by not having a clear, concise strategy to put together another championship-caliber club, and that’s our goal for next year, to do the same.”