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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has a plan ... and he’s sticking to it

More from Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo’s talk with reporters last week in West Palm Beach, FL.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Talking with reporters in West Palm Beach, FL last week, when Washington’s Nationals first gathered for the start of Spring Training 2023, GM Mike Rizzo declined to delve into talk of the potential sale of the franchise or what the future holds beyond this season, as he goes into the final year of his current deal with the club he’s guided since 2009.

Rizzo said he’s solely focused on the job he has to do this season (and on the long-term health of the organization), deep into the reboot which the club kicked off with a series of deals at the trade deadline in 2021 (two seasons after 2019’s World Series win).

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m under contract this year,” Rizzo explained, with the option for 2023 included in the two-year extension he signed for the ‘21-’22 seasons picked up by the team last July.

“It’s not the first time, won’t be the last time I’m on a lame-duck contract. It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t bother me. I have been there before. I was an area scout. I worked on 20 one-year contracts in a row. So I’m no stranger to limited security. My work will be my résumé and we’ll see how it goes on from there. But the Lerner family is the owner of this club, they’re our boss, we take our marching orders from them, and we’re going to do the job we’ve always done here.”

With plenty of work to do on the baseball side throughout the organization, there is no time for Rizzo or for his staff to worry about things which are out of their control either, so he didn’t have much to say when it came to continued talk of a potential sale of the franchise.

“We’re so locked-in on the day-to-day baseball side of it, I don’t have time or the energy, or the inclination, to get involved in what’s going on above me,” Rizzo said.

“They’ll give me my marching orders, and I will do them to the best of our ability, and we’ve had nothing but success here in the past, and I see that going forward.”

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

As for where he thinks the club is in the process of reloading for another competitive run in the nation’s capital like they had between 2012-19?

“I see the progress,” Rizzo told reporters.

“I see the young, big-league players on the major league field. I see that back field full of exciting prospects and I see that the plan is taking place. It’s taking root. I think this is a big year for us to move forward with the plan, it’s going to be [dependent] on the development of some key players, both at the big league level and at the minor league level, and getting us the pieces that it takes to put a championship-caliber club on the field. I think that I see what is needed to do that. So I’m optimistic, I’m excited about this time in our developmental curve with our organization, and when you guys do get back out there to see those guys on the back fields, those prospects, it’s an exciting time. It’s the best group of upside players we’ve ever had here. I’ve been here since day one. I’ve never seen it like this before. And then when you filter in, there’s 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds that are already kind of established in the big leagues, I think you see what we’re trying to accomplish here. And I think that will be the first rung on the ladder to get back to the championship.”

When he does visit those back fields, assessing the talent the club has assembled with two years of big trades at the deadline, and first-year and international draft classes, what does the architect of the championship roster and the organizational reboot see?

“I just think you’ve got yourself just a cluster of high-end, physical, physically-gifted [players], mentally strong, [with] terrific work ethics,” Rizzo said. Players who are going to be challenging themselves and each other as they work their way up through the minor leagues.

“And when you put that stuff in a group setting and you get that competition gene going with all these big-time athletic prospects,” he continued, “... I think you see something special happen. It happens when — over the course of time, I’ve had it in Arizona, when you get a group of prospects and they kind of move together, and that becomes your core group, and I can kind of see this thing happening here also. When you look back on the team when we were rebuilding here, and you draft [Ryan] Zimmerman and all of a sudden he’s a guy at third, and [Ian] Desmond comes kind of out of nowhere to become one of the best shortstops in the game, and then you draft Jordan Zimmermann and [Stephen Strasburg], and then you feel it’s time to make a move and you trade for a Gio [González] and/or a [Doug] Fister or those type of guys. That’s how these things are rebuilt, and I think you kind of reload, and then you try to go on that — have a sustained run like we did before.”

And how close are the Nationals to supplementing what they see as the core of the next competitive club in D.C. with the next Gio Gonzàlez or Doug Fister (or Jayson Werth or Max Scherzer)?

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts
West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder James Wood (20) looks on during a spring training workout at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

“I think the landscape of the franchise kind of develops over the course of the year,” Rizzo said.

“We see where these guys — what steps forward or backward we take, we’ll take account of where the players are and what their timetable looks like, and it kind of mirrors what we did back in ‘09, ‘10 and ‘11.

“When you establish yourself with some good, reliable, durable starting pitching and you develop, you get yourself some homegrown prospects, you see more guys coming, and then usually your payroll is at a point where you can go and add in that direction down the road, and that’s kind of how we built this thing back in the day, and I don’t see us veering off that road map right now.”