Mike Rizzo reiterated on Sunday what he said at this past July 30th’s trade deadline, that he does see a correlation between the reboot the team undertook with the trades they made a few months back, and the job they did between 2009, when he took over as the GM in D.C., and 2012, when the club made the postseason for the first time since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005.
Having done it before, Rizzo said, he’s up for the task of doing it again, though he is hoping it won’t take quite as long to bring playoff baseball and another World Series championship to Washington this time.
“Oh, yeah, you know me,” Rizzo said in a season-ending scrum with reporters on Sunday in Nationals Park when asked about starting over again, though he stressed his belief that the organization is in a much better spot now than they were in ‘09.
“I’m all fired up about it,” he continued. “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.”
Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office traded away expiring contracts for prospects, a few of whom were major league ready and finished out the season in the big leagues, and the GM told reporters that he’s happy with what he’s seen so far from the players they got back in those deals.
“I like the early returns on the players we got,” he explained. “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.”
“We made some changes, as we all know,” manager Davey Martinez said after a 7-5 loss in the series and season finale with the Boston Red Sox left the Nationals 65-97, 25.0 games out, in last place the NL East.
“We definitely got younger, and we got some really, really good pieces, and I’m looking forward to the future, I really am with these guys,” Martinez told reporters, talking up a number of the players the club acquired in their deadline deals.
“You saw Josiah [Gray], the last few outings what he can do, Keibert [Ruiz] what he can do, Riley Adams, who did well for us, and is growing, a lot of guys. Mason Thompson, who, he had his struggles — but in moments he showed signs that he can be really good in the bullpen for us.
“I’m truly excited. These are just part of the guys — we still got some guys in the minor leagues that we got in trades, that I really think have a future here in the big leagues with us as well.”
The fourth-year skipper told his team before Game 162 that there were opportunities in D.C. in 2022, and he wants them all to report to West Palm Beach next year ready to get back at it, and turn this thing around.
“I talked to the boys before the game,” he said. “I told them we’ve got a lot of work to do this winter ... to be ready in Spring Training, they got to be ready physically as if it was Opening Day, and then we can get right into the baseball skills and stuff right from the gate. But I’m excited.”
Rizzo and Martinez have talked since late July about responsibly restocking the system and building the next competitive team in D.C., but neither of them, as they’ve said often in that same time, likes to lose, at all, and they don’t plan on tanking or going through another run like this again in 2022.
So going into the offseason, what are the realistic goals for a GM who has, over the years, said the goal is to put together a team that can win 90 games, then sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, but that’s the goal.
“Our goal is to win the division, is to win the World Series each and every year,” Rizzo said.
“Some seasons going into the winter it’s a little bit more problematic to foresee that, but our goal is to be better next year, give ourselves a chance to win and that can fortify us throughout the season. As we’ve seen, these are long seasons, and 162 [games] is definitely a marathon, and you saw the amount of pitchers that we went through this year, and you leave Spring Training with a set of five starters and you turn around and you’ve got one of the five left. Life comes at you fast, and it came at us fast pretty quickly this year, but you have to have the organization that can sustain it, and that’s what we’re building towards.”
Don’t expect him to offer a timetable for when the Nationals will contend for division titles and another World Series though.
“Nobody thought in 2012 that we were going to win 98 games, including myself,” Rizzo said.
“So you know timelines are kind of at the will of the players on the roster. It depends on how quickly does Keibert Ruiz become that frontline catcher, and Jo-Jo Gray become a frontline starting pitcher, and the bullpen matures, the Thompsons and that type of thing, and what have we built around them and what does the draft class, the [Cade] Cavallis and the [Cole] Henrys and that group, what do they look like? So those are all questions that we need to answer in the near future, and I think those are all legitimate questions that we all have to look at.”
“And as far as putting a timetable,” he said, “... I’m not going to put a timetable on becoming a championship-caliber club again other than to say we’re looking towards a championship-caliber season next season.”