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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo on the reboot plan; free agent thoughts; ‘09 vs ‘22

More from GM Mike Rizzo’s talk with reporters this past Sunday in the nation’s capital....

Grapefruit League Media Availability

July 30, 2019:

In the immediate aftermath of the Washington Nationals’ sell-off at the trade deadline this past July, General Manager Mike Rizzo talked about the reboot their club was undertaking being similar to the job he and his staff oversaw back in 2009. Rizzo took over as GM that year, and by 2012, the franchise made the postseason for the first time.

As he explained, the core of the next playoff team in D.C. is in place, and the organization is a lot better off going into this latest reboot, with the prospects they’ve acquired in all of the deadline deals and the talent already in the minor leagues from the last few draft classes.

“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.

“We started this thing in 2009 way below where we’re at today, as far as organizationally, 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.”

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Asked if the club would spend big in free agency this winter to bolster that existing core, the GM in D.C. said the club will spend when and where it makes sense to do so.

“We’ll see where we’re at as far as where our prospects in the minor leagues are. 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, and 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.”

The key thing he learned from the rebuild in ‘09 though, Rizzo said, is to trust the process they put in place.

“Stay true to the plan,” Rizzo explained. “It’s a tried and true plan. 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.”

October 3, 2021:

At the end a brutal post deadline stretch for the Nationals, which saw them go just 17-41 over the last three months of the season, Rizzo talked to reporters again, updating main talking points while reiterating that the club is further along in their reboot than in their 2009 rebuild, and they have a plan to get back to contention, though not a timetable.

“Nobody thought in 2012 that we were going to win 98 games,” he said, “including myself, 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 [Mason] 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,” Rizzo continued, “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.”

Proving doubters wrong is apparently a strong motivator for the GM in D.C., and he said that the club has a track record to point to when it comes to his confidence that he and his staff have when they start a reboot like this.

“We’ve been an excellent team for more than a decade and we have an ownership group that wants to win and we’ve got a front office that wants to win, and we’ve got a GM who hates to lose more than he likes to win, so we’re about winning. We’ve always been about winning, and we’ve been as successful as any team in baseball over the last 11 years, and I don’t see our willingness [to win] changing.”

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

While acknowledging that those competitive/championship teams in the last 11 years were built on pitching, and it is a need they will have to address in the post-Max Scherzer era for their rotation, Rizzo said when it comes to spending in free agency, they’ll have to find the right deals at the right time, whether long or short-term.

“I think if you see the right moves that [are] going to sustain you through the rebuild and the championship years, I think that makes sense,” he explained.

“I think some really good one-year deals make sense. We implemented that last winter, and we signed a couple of really fine one-year contracts to some players.

“I think we’re going to be open-minded about both of them and I think that this offseason is going to be exciting for us. We’re looking at putting together a roster in a different way this year, so I’m excited about the challenge and I think the coaching staff is also.”

And the trick this time, will be rebooting the organization in terms of players, and scouting and player development, with a number of notable changes in the scouting and analytics departments this winter, and more likely to come as the reboot moves into talent evaluators as well as the talent.

“I think that we’re certainly going to make some changes in the player development and scouting ranks,” Rizzo said.

“Just to get some new ideas and some fresh looks and some fresh sets of eyes in there, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

“I think that 10-12 years with the same staff shows the cohesion, and then when you make some nice tweaks to get some new sets of eyes and some new ideas is never a bad thing.”