Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo didn’t mince words when he talked to reporters about the decision to reboot the organization with a series of trades which dealt expiring contracts (and a year-plus of Trea Turner) at the July 30th deadline this past summer.
It was a difficult but necessary step, he explained.
“Yesterday was probably as tough a day as I’ve had as a General Manager,” Rizzo said. “The good thing about this group is that we’ve got everything out of this group that we could have got out.”
That group of players on expiring deals (some of whom helped the Nats win it all in 2019) included Max Scherzer, Kyle Schwarber, Brad Hand, Daniel Hudson, Jon Lester, Josh Harrison, and Yan Gomes (as well as Turner).
In the aftermath of the club’s sell-off, the GM acknowledged he was excited and a bit emotional about what transpired, with a prospect haul injecting young, major-league ready talent into the organization, while a number of well-liked veterans went to other teams around the league.
“This process can be exciting, but it’s also really, really difficult,” Rizzo said.
“These aren’t just assets that you acquire, these are human beings that I have great affinity for, and I know all these guys personally, so yeah, it’s been a tough couple days.”
Tough, but necessary, in his mind.
“The players that we acquired today at the trade deadline, and the last couple of drafts and trade deadline acquisitions we had,” he added, “will be the core of this next championship-caliber club, and that’s our goal. So, our goal is to build one of the great organizations in baseball. We’ve been that for the last 10-12 years, we plan to continue to be that, and our process is tried and true and we expect nothing but excellence. And our goal is always to do this, to win a World Series, win a ring.”
“I wore it today,” he said of his 2019 ring, which he flashed at the cameras, “… to remind myself that’s the goal.”
The influx of talented players (including Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, Riley Adams, and Mason Thompson, who all finished up the year in the majors in D.C.), Rizzo hoped, would kick off the reboot and get the team back competing for division titles and World Series titles sooner rather than later, though he, of course, declined to offer a timetable for that process.
“What can I do to win this division?” Rizzo asked. “To get in the playoffs, and give me a chance to win the World Series, and when I took a step back and made that — look, I didn’t see a path to be a World Series-caliber team this year [in 2021], so I felt it was time to take a step sideways, to allow us to take a step forward and get back to where we’re supposed to be, which is a championship-caliber organization.”
Pointing to the period between 2009, when he took over as GM, and 2012, when the club made the postseason for the first time since returning to the nation’s capital in 2005, Rizzo did lay out as close to a timetable as we’re likely to get out of him.
“We started this thing in 2009 way below where we’re at today,” he explained, “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.”
When he spoke again in early October, he reiterated what he’s said a few months earlier about fielding a competitive team sooner rather than later.
“Nobody thought in 2012 that we were going to win 98 games, including myself,” he 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, 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.”
In an MLB Network appearance this past November, Rizzo said he and his front office staff embraced the challenge of rebooting their organization and building another competitive roster, even if it had to start with some painful decisions back in July.
“It’s a great challenge,” the GM and President of Baseball ops in D.C. acknowledged. “We’re excited about the challenge ahead for us, and we’ve done this before, and we think we have a good blueprint on how to try to compete in a very balanced and tough division, and we’re looking forward to the challenge of building a sustainable championship-caliber club like we have for the last ten years.
“It was painful at the trade deadline,” he added. “You know these guys a lot and you’re used to competing in September and October, playing meaningful games, and to trade away some of the biggest stars in the game was difficult, but we thought that it was the right course of action to take at this point in our franchise’s history, but we’re a competitive bunch and we are looking to reboot and get back in this thing and start challenging for world championships again.”
Now that we’ve once again reset the table for the Washington Nationals’ 2021-22 offseason, and as we wait for MLB and the players to hammer out a new CBA at some point in the near future, what is the first thing you want to see Rizzo and Co. in the D.C. front office do once teams start signing and trading players again? Pitching? Obviously, right? Rizzo was clear it is something the club will address, and he said a bat or two around Juan Soto and Josh Bell would make sense. But as far as signing big free agents this winter, he also suggested that they’d act as they did in the past, building up the club and then supplementing the existing talent when they’re ready to compete, since that approach worked.
“You saw what we did the last time we rebuilt this thing into a championship organization,” he said back in July.
“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.”
So while they see what they have in-house, should we expect more one-year deals with vets who can help a team trying to compete, but also serve as potential trade pieces if they can’t get the club right back in the mix in 2022?
“I think if you see the right moves that’s going to sustain you through the rebuild and the championship years, I think that makes sense,” he explained of potential big-ticket signings in October.
“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.”