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Bad Situations, Positive Things

Earlier this week, Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten appointed Mike Rizzo to head up a tough project in a foreign country. Rizzo knew baseball scouting, not business, yet this project called for him to be a navigator, a negotiator and a real estate agent. Rizzo knew hardly any Spanish - "Muy poquito," he said - but he was given a plane ticket to the Dominican Republic and 72 hours to make everything work.

During that time, Rizzo dismantled the same baseball facility that his boss, General Manager Jim Bowden, had once sold as a core of the organization. And when Rizzo returned on Friday to Space Coast Stadium, having relocated the Nationals' base in the Dominican to a site 30 miles away from controversy, Rizzo got to tell the story of what just happened. He had become Kasten's appointee to talk about a job well done.

"Well, I told Stan when this all happened, sometimes out of bad situations, sometimes positive things can happen," Rizzo said. "And this is certainly one of those cases."
On this day, Rizzo's role within the organization connected to more prominence - and more importance - than ever before. Another day passed without Bowden's firing, which only meant that as Rizzo talked about what he had done, the baseball world wondered what he will become.

"That right there is a powder keg in Washington," one baseball executive said, "and Rizz is a good solution."

For now, Rizzo remains Washington's assistant general manager. But he is also the only in-house candidate to replace Bowden, under FBI investigation, and under fire for his connection to the fraudulent signing of the player known as Esmailyn González, who emerged from the very facility that Rizzo shut down.

While in the Dominican, Rizzo visited that facility - which the team had rented from recently fired employee José Rijo. After scouting eight new locations, he settled on a complex in Boca Chica. The 2-1/2 fields at the new site are "gorgeous," Rizzo said, and the eight pitching mounds are "beautiful," and the players will be housed in a "beautiful resort," three to a room, with "air conditioning, cable TV, bathroom, four meals a day, 24-hour security." Washington's prospects were "exuberant" about the relocation, and received a pep talk about making it to the United States and helping the Nationals win a World Series.

"It's something that doesn't compare to anything I've ever done," Rizzo said on Friday. "It was - when we landed today, I said, 'Do you believe what just happened?' "
Rizzo came to the organization in July 2006, just weeks after the signing that netted González, whose real name is Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo, $1.4 million. By then, he had already developed a reputation - during almost seven years as the Arizona Diamondbacks' scouting director - as one of the game's premier talent evaluators. He had a love for physicality: pitchers with velocity, corner outfielders with raw tools. His philosophy favored college players, too. Carlos Quentin - that was a Rizzo guy. Same with Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew and Brandon Webb. Rizzo received and deserved much of the credit for revamping Arizona's farm system, ranked as one of baseball's worst in 2002.

Rizzo was, at heart, a born scout, and scouts are born optimists. They walk into stadiums every day thinking they'll spot the next big thing. And in Arizona, Rizzo worked frantically to do so.

"On any high-dollar [international] player, Mike would go look at him," said Joe Garagiola Jr., Arizona's general manager from 1998 to 2005. "And he'd work it. He'd be in Miami, fly to the Dominican to see a workout, and fly back to Miami to see a game that same night."

But then, something happened. Garagiola resigned on Aug. 7, 2005, to take a job in the Major League Baseball offices. Rizzo was passed over for the Arizona GM job. He stuck around for almost a year, but felt ready for a new organization and a higher job.

"Honestly, the opportunity more than anything else, that's why he left," said one current Arizona front-office member, who requested anonymity. "He saw the opportunity. In one regard it was tough for him to leave because he had really put his imprint on the organization. But in this lifetime we all have a goal, and Mike, he wanted to be a GM. He saw the road to that position a little more clearly in Washington."

Within the industry, Rizzo's baseball acumen is widely respected. And though some question his ability to be a deal-maker - vital for a general manager - Garagiola said that, in Arizona, Rizzo "handled a lot of contract negotiations. He basically handled all the Stephen Drew negotiations with [Scott] Boras, and they don't get any tougher than that."
On Friday, Rizzo got his first chance to talk about a different sort of deal-making, the kind that had occupied the bulk of his previous week. As he spoke, Washington's new Dominican director, Fernando Ravelo, stood to his left. Assistant director of player development Mark Scialabba stood to his right. Kasten stood just to the side, observing.

When Rizzo finished talking, he headed toward a stadium elevator. Kasten extended a hand and said, "Good job, Mike. Great job."

By Chico Harlan  |  February 27, 2009; 9:47 PM ET
 
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Comments

This was a positive article, about what really is a negative thing. Thanks Chico for another good one.

Posted by: VelocityAtrocity | February 27, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

You and Barry are really cranking out the blogs and articles. Many thanks.

Posted by: AshburnVA | February 27, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the piece, Chico. Good to see some optimism in the Nats organization, and to see some positives coming from a negative.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 27, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

As noted, the question with Rizzo will be his ability to make trades. Presumably, he's never had that authority before.

If he's elevated to GM he'll have to make a move or two (or more) before opening day. I'm confident he can do the job but there's no doubt making trades is probably the most difficult duty for a GM.

I'm still of the mind the Nats have to make a decision fairly quickly (less than one week) or they'd probably be better off letting JimBo survive until the "heavy lifting" of ST is done.

Of course, it's possible that JimBo can still wriggle off the hook on the Smiley affair. If he does it's impossible to guess how long he might last as GM.

Posted by: grforbes | February 28, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

Kasten is working in good press for Rizzo. Increasing exposure and responsibilities. I like the pace. Nice introductory period. Very political and media savvy.

I don't see Kasten leaving at all. Bowden gave us exactly what we wanted, a good core of youth with high upside. If he leaves now he still did by us right. Pretty messy at times but it won't ever be perfect.

I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to make an argument Bowden is the best GM in the NL East, if for no other reason than, well, the rest aren't anything great either. Maybe Beinfest but we just crushed him in a trade with our financial power (and open roster).

Posted by: longterm | February 28, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

... I've been one in this group who has been interested in, and commented on this DR situation Frowney/Smiley, Bowden/Rijo, Stan/Lerners, etc. In spite of the calls from some others that we focus solely on 'baseball', I believe this (kind of) thing is very important to the team and how it proceeds into its future, and that fans will want to know about it - how it came about, and how it will end.

... that being said, I will add my voice to those who would like to read a bit more about game action interspersed among the rash of posts concerning the distasteful stuff.

... I'm beginning to turn my POV towards getting something positive to feed on (i.e. game stories, player features, on-field progess, etc.) Without such a balance, there is a danger of a downward spiral into an all-encompassing negativity.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 28, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

Well modulated by both the Post and Kasten. Kasten is a class act all the way. I have heard that Rizzo is a bit uncomfortable with some of the GM responsibilities, I believe Baseball Prospect said that. They did rank him no. 4 on their list of GM candidates and notably higher than LaCava who got so much air time last week and has worked with Kasten previously. I think Boswell's point in his column yesterday--where he asked whether we want Bowden in charge of the Strasburg signing--is the key. I don't know if Rizzo is savvy enough or tested enough to fare well in trades, but that is not what we need. The Kearns and Lopez trade was a good one, but did not make the team competitive. We need someone who can build an organization. Bowden was never about that as witnessed by his failure with Crow. I would prefer to have Rizzo making the selections at 1 and 9A and then responsible for signing them. The Lerners could not affort to have him fail in that first test and that would be a good thing.

Posted by: Juliasdad | February 28, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Interesting piece in the pfishwrap about anonymous Web posters and defamation suits. Link to the story:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022702876.html

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 28, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Very good coverage by the Post on the Dominican front. This is exactly where the reporting resources should be deployed at this moment not in the details of a rather insignificant spring training game.
The decisions that the Nats management are making right now regarding restructuring their organization and the power shifts within are going to be far more influential on whether we win games in 2009 and beyond than any aspect of an early spring training game. Let the on field stories of spring training unfold in due time. We still six more weeks to catch up on them. We have not missed anything yet.

Posted by: driley | February 28, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

This blog and the articles by Chico and Barry are really getting excited about the Nationals. Great storytelling supported by strong reporting.

This blog should be a model for other sports blogs at WaPo...maybe Jason LaCanfora can spend some time reading this so that Redskins Insider stops reading like a high school girl's gossip page and personal diary. No one really cares about the EPL and how his kids are doing. There are blogs like On Parenting for that.

Posted by: skipper7 | February 28, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

... Shawn Hill: twelve pitches is hardly enough on which to make any kind of assessment, so we've got to go with Manny's impression and Shawn himself. Manny said to take it slow, not to baby him. That in itself seems encouraging. For his part, Shawn said he didn't feel any pain, again a sign of encouragement.

... but for me, there is one nagging question. Last year's forearm pain was always spoken of as a mystery, as a situation no one could figure out. So now that it's gone, was there a specific and accurate diagnosis with accompanying treatment that finally dealt with it, or did it just disappear? I'm hoping for the former, because the latter doesn't offer a lot of hope for a permanent recovery; anything that magically disappears, could just as easily reappear.

... Chico: any way to find out what the situation is?

... and as for today and tomorrow: I'm expecting good things from Cabrera and Olson; something to hang my positive hat on.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 28, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

skipper, agreed these stories are good. Very good. But this blog as a shining example? Not really. If you'll notice, all the blog posts are simply the fishwrap versions posted early. It's scoop-y but not original.

Posted by: NatsNut | February 28, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

...cont'd. blogging is meant to be conversational observation that don't necessarily warrant a full newspaper story but still garner interest. This blog hasn't been like that for a long time.

Posted by: NatsNut | February 28, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I thought Hill had his forearm scoped to remove some scar tissue near the nerve, am I just imagining that? If he goes to Toronto to get in a parabolic chamber we'll know the end is near.

I'm guessing today or tomorrow JimBow will announce he's taking a leave of absense from the GM position and will be working as a paid advisor/consultant while he clears his name on the DR allegations.

Mike Rizzo takes over as interim GM until October when they can have a full interview process including potential minority candidates.

JimBow gets to save face by not being fired, Rizzo gets to show he can stear the ship and Kasten still has the option to go outside the organization for a permanent replacement.

If the Nats are successful on the field (and the definition of successful is different for each person mentioned above) then each can use that to move on to better things. JimBow shows how he actually built a talented roster from scraps to get another GM job or TV or consultant or whatever, Rizzo would be back at the top of everyone's list for GM opening down the road and Kasten has taken full and complete control of the team, shown results accross the organization and can pick the GM he wants to complete the re-building.

That's how I see it, and how I would do it. Realilty will likely be far more messy...

Posted by: estuartj | February 28, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Just a heads up, the MLB network is in the process of doing their show "30 clubs in 30 days" and the Nats season preview will be on at 8pm tonight on the MLB network.

Posted by: rachel216 | February 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Where are our line-ups? 90 minutes to gametime!

I know it's Saturday, but some of us need our baseball fix...

Posted by: estuartj | February 28, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

To add to the above post, the Nats segment is scheduled to rerun tomorrow at 6:30, 9, and 11:30 a.m. and at 8 and 11:30 p.m., as well as on Monday at 6:30, 9, and 11:30 a.m. Those are all Eastern time.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 28, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Scheduled pitchers for 2/28/09: Cabrera, Detwiler, Shell, Wagner, Atilano.

Posted by: BinM | February 28, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Lineups are posted on mlb.com

Posted by: BinM | February 28, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

"I thought Hill had his forearm scoped to remove some scar tissue near the nerve, am I just imagining that? If he goes to Toronto to get in a parabolic chamber we'll know the end is near."

... thanx estuartj. I hadn't heard that ... but I was out of the loop during the off-season so I may have missed it. I hope whatever treatment he DID have worked well.

... but the hyperbaric chamber?? Please! Let's not go there again - not the Nats, not us.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 28, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

...and new post up.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 28, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Parabolic chamber -- It's weightlessness therapy, like the Vomit Comet.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 28, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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