Mike Rizzo laid out his plans for an organizational reboot after the Washington Nationals traded away eight players (seven of whom — Max Scherzer; Kyle Schwarber; Brad Hand; Daniel Hudson; Jon Lester; Josh Harrison; and Yan Gomes — were on expiring deals + one year-plus of control of Trea Turner) at this past July 30th’s trade deadline.
“It’s a difficult decision to make,” the GM in D.C. explained. “But oftentimes the decision is made for you, and this year it was. And we recognized where we were and what work we had in front of us and we decided to begin a building process that will allow us to compete at the highest level for a continuous part of — over the years. That’s always our goal.”
The prospects the Nationals received in return in those trades, Rizzo explained, were a mix of young, in some cases major-league ready players, who will be a big part of the next gen competitive team.
“The remnants of this trade deadline, the last trade deadline, the last couple of impactful drafts that we had, will be the core of this next world championship-caliber club,” he said, before noting that he went through a similar process when he took over as the GM in the nation’s capital back in 2009.
“We started this thing in 2009 way below where we’re at today, as far as organizationally,” Rizzo explained, “and it took us three years to win 98 games. So, we have a great plan in place, we’ve got great people out in the field, scouting and developing our players, and we’ve got a great major league staff, and a good stable of players that are going to impact the majors in the near future.
“You never put a timetable on it, but I’m a restless person and I don’t like to lose, and we’re not going to put up with losing for too long.”
With all the money coming off the books, the obvious question was whether the club would jumpstart the process with some free agent signings this winter?
“We’ll see where we’re at as far as where our prospects in the minor leagues are,” Rizzo said.
“It’s always a balance of everyone coming to the big leagues and impacting the big leagues at the right time, so you don’t want to — you saw what we did the last time we rebuilt this thing into a championship organization. Right before the impact at the big leagues, when our young players came to fruition, and we became a really good team, we went out and made some impactful free agent signings.
“I think that’s the best way to kind of combine the two, is grow your own, develop your own guys, and when they become ready for impacting the big leagues, then you go out and get your guys to finish it off.”
As for other lessons learned from the process they went through back in ‘09 before making the postseason for the first time in 2012, then again in 2014, ‘16, and ‘17, before winning it all in 2019?
“Stay true to the plan, it’s a tried and true plan,” Rizzo said.
“It’s scouting, player development, analytics combined, and you have to follow the plan, and you have to be patient. And patience doesn’t mean losing, believe me, patience means we know what we’re doing, we’ve got a plan in place to not only win in the near future, but to sustain excellence throughout a decade and that’s what I learned in ‘09 and that’s what we’re going to employ here in ‘21.”
Talking about the end of the 2021 campaign, Rizzo said he was excited about the challenge that lies ahead, as he and his staff try to reboot the organization and rebuild the big league club into a contender.
“I’m all fired up about it,” he said.
“This is the greatest job in the world and I like the challenge of showing people we can do it, and the non-believers we love showing them that we can do it. So, it’s a labor of love, it’s a lot of work, and seasons like this are not easy, this is one of the most difficult seasons that we’ve had, most frustrating seasons that we’ve had, but I think that when we made our decision, the worst possible scenario for us would have been to kind of go halfway and kind of band-aid it, and so it was finally time to — when that Max Scherzer window closed, we saw it closing, I thought it was time to really not go halfway and to reboot it.”
A number of the players they received in trades (Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, Riley Adams, and Mason Thompson) contributed down the stretch this past season and gave the Nationals’ brass a good look at what they have to offer and improve upon as the 2022 campaign approaches.
“I like the early returns on the players we got,” Rizzo said. “Like I said before, the last two draft classes and this deadline are going to be the core players of the next championship-caliber team here in Washington, and I do think it’s going to be a long-term championship run again when we get where we’re trying to get.”
Will the fact that current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) is set to expire December 1st affect the clubs thinking on what they do as far as spending this winter?
“We’re going to go business as usual until something tells us that we can’t, so we’re going to take this as we always do in the offseason,” Rizzo said.
As far as the balance on the roster, and how they’ll approach potential additions in terms of a mix of veterans and young players, the GM said it’s also a matter of how any new players and the remaining players on the roster complement one another.
“It’s just that when you’re talking about a young core of players, ‘How do you fit veterans around them?’
“How do you make trades that positively impact them, and when you’re talking about a young core of players.
“I think you need to take into account when you make a free agent signing or you make a trade or you bring a guy up from your system — How does he fit in? And does it impact positively or negatively?”
Rizzo said at another point in his season-ending interview the focus will be on pitching, and improving the starting pitching and relief corps, because it has been the focus in D.C. since he took over in the front office.
“You know, our mantra here has been that starting pitching is the most important thing, and pitchers have to go deep in games to give us a chance to win, to take the onus off the bullpen, and I always think of it this way, right or wrong, it’s that your starting pitchers are your best pitchers, and most relief pitchers are failed starters that moved to the bullpen, so we’re going to count on the pitchability, the talent, and the expertise of our starting pitchers to give us the bulk of our innings in games.
“For eleven years, when we were a championship-caliber club, we had starting pitchers that led the league in innings pitched and strikeouts, and wins, and that’s how we built our championship clubs.”