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Rijo To Be Fired

The Washington Nationals have made the decision to fire Jose Rijo, the member of their front office most closely linked to the Smiley Gonzalez fraud, a source with knowledge of the situation said tonight. Rijo owns and operates a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, which the Nationals have used as their scouting base in Latin America.

Rijo, who has worked for the team since 2005 as a special assistant to the general manager, had taken a forced leave of absence from his job this weekend and returned to the Dominican Republic. Now, that leave has become permanent.

By cutting ties with Rijo, the Nationals have also cut ties with Rijo's academy -- the place where the organization and their now-infamous prospect intersected. According to one source, one member of Washington's front office, Mike Rizzo, is currently in the Dominican Republic seeking information about a new facility.

Rijo, reached tonight, was not yet aware of the firing.

Asked if he'd heard anything, Rijo responded, "No, nothing."

A Washington spokesperson said the team would not have any announcement forthcoming tonight. President Stan Kasten has not responded to an e-mail seeking comment.

Rijo's departure comes in the wake of last week's revelation, confirmed by Major League Baseball, that Washington's top Dominican prospect had signed with the team under a false name and age. Though Rijo has denied any involvement in the fraud, which turned a 20-year-old shortstop named Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo into a 16-year-old named Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez. In July 2006, the Nationals -- with Rijo's recommendation -- signed Gonzalez, believed to be 16, to a $1.4-million signing bonus.

Rijo knew Gonzalez for two years before the signing, and helped link his team -- including General Manager Jim Bowden -- with his childhood friend, Basilio Vizcaino, with whom the Nationals negotiated during the signing.

Though Rijo is the first Washington employee to lose his job as a result of the scandal, the FBI investigation into Latin American scouting has landed others, Bowden included, in hot water. Last summer, the FBI began looking into both Bowden and Rijo as a part of the probe. Both have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Washington's arrangement with Rijo was unorthodox. Most Major League teams own their facilities in the Dominican. The Nationals rented, thus supplying Rijo with a supplement to his regular salary.

Rijo's complex, located in the hills outside San Cristobal, was supposed to become the epicenter of Washington's new focus on international scouting. The Gonzalez signing, which coincided with the team receiving a new ownership group, was designed as a bold entrance point into the high-stakes game of Latin American prospect-signing. But since then, the Nationals have kept a low profile in the Dominican.

Since leaving the team this weekend, Rijo has been back home in San Cristobal. In an interview earlier this week, Rijo explained that his original leave of absence -- described at the time as a mutual decision -- was in fact forced by the team. "They say I take a leave of absence," Rijo said. "I didn't take it. They gave it to me."

Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 25, 2009; 8:41 PM ET
 
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Next: Rijo Out, Boz In

Comments

No official announcement yet, but if they're smart (and Stan as been doing this for awhile) they will announce Jose and Jim on the same day, in order to avoid questions on the same day. Within the week...maybe that's been sped up.

Posted by: AnonymousSources | February 25, 2009 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Let it begin........

Posted by: theredskin | February 25, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Rijo, Bowden, Kearns 1,2,3

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | February 25, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Release the hounds...

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 25, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Rijo, Bowden, Kearns, WiMP, Bergmann 1,2,3,4,5

Posted by: jdschulz50 | February 25, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

If they terminate Rijo's contract, what happens to the DSL teams? I would guess that a number of the players housed at the 'Academy' are members of the two DSL teams. Ripples in a pond...

Posted by: BinM | February 25, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Jose "Blame It On" Rijo.

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 25, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

"If they terminate Rijo's contract, what happens to the DSL teams?"

The question is really what happens to the players on those teams? Some of them (e.g. Frowney) have signed contracts with the Nats, while others may not have. Presumably those players who have signed a deal with the Nats still belong to the Nats. Are there really 50 of them (or whatever the number was that Barry quoted)? If so, the loss of Rijo's facility may not be all that big a loss. The players that have signed with the Nats can play elsewhere in the Dominican.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 25, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

There's been a high level of bloodlust being shown over the last couple of weeks here, and admittedly, I've been part of it.
My concern at this point might be have we broken out the pitchforks & torches for a "guilt by association" series of career-destroying moves, or is there a real, connected fire behind all the smoke from the last two weeks?

Posted by: BinM | February 25, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Cry me a river. Bye-Bye Rijo and don't forget to close the door on the way out.

Oh and while your at it please take JimBo, Austin and Willy-Mo too. Its time to clean out the Reds stink from the clubhouse.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | February 25, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Sounds to me like the Nats overestimated their ability to keep things under wrap while they got their ducks in a row for the change in regime.

First someone in the commissioner's office leaks Stan's unofficial call to Selig about what MLB would do if the Nats needed to change GMs during the season.

Next Rizzo/Brown get spotted in the DR and everyone starts talking to everyone under the sun and get what appears to be a decent picture of the clubs efforts to re-tool the DR operation.

All this while JimBow is watching the team in Kissimmee, hopefully not knowing that Stan is clearing out Jim's figurative desk back in Vierra and DC.

Posted by: estuartj | February 25, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

"...career-destroying moves..."

Bowden and Rijo knew they were accepting positions with very low security when they took their jobs, over four years Bowden has produced a last place team and a bottom ranked farm system while Rijo has produced no notable prospects from Latin America, their terminations are more than justified regardless of the revelations of the past week.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | February 25, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

@nunof:
The two questions are linked - teams need players, and players need residences. If the Nationals' pull their sponsorship from Rijo's 'Academy', where will they house (and train) those players?
I'm working under the assumption that if Rijo gets terminated as a Nationals' staffer, he'll close his facility to players. It's not like the players in the D.R. get anything close to what players in the U.S. get (no per-diem for outside meals, no "sponsored" housing, etc.) - for most of them, it's training, a bunk & meals at an 'Academy', or go back home.

Posted by: BinM | February 25, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

BinM

Earlier this evening on XM's MLB channel, host Mike Ferrin interviewed John Perrotto of Baseball Prospectus about this issue. Perrotto basically gave the Lerners a pass because they weren't plugged into the allegations against Bowden when they bought the team. But he said this may be the tip of the iceberg of the depths of the problem and that the Lerners and Kasten want to get out from under the cloud as soon as possible. He also said Stan wants LaCava, formerly with the Braves, to sweep clean the house and Rizzo isn't a candidate because management doesn't want any public backlash that may be caused by elevating Bowden's assistant to the GM post. If there's anyone to feel sorry for in that scenario, it's Rizzo.

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 25, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

If the player development system gets back on track, regardless of who is GM, Rizzo will have ample GM opportunities going forward.

Given his connection to Bowden and the slight regression of the farm system this year it shouldn't be a surprise to Rizzo that he isn't at the top of anyone's list of GM candidates, even the Nat's list apparently.

Posted by: estuartj | February 25, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

@estuartj

Rizzo apparently isn't a candidate for the GM job even though he was brought here from Arizona by Kasten, and not Bowden.

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 25, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

estuartj - It's Rizzo in the R.D.. Brown is in Florida, could be spotted at the game today in Kissimmee.

Posted by: AnonymousSources | February 25, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

"Rijo, reached tonight, was not yet aware of the firing."

Good to know that standard operating procedure for the Nats FO hasn't changed. Another class move by Lerner, Kasten, & Co.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | February 25, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Anonymous - An earlier report had Brown and Rizzo in the DR, guess its just Rizzo.

leetee - doesn't matter that he was hired by Kasten, by working for him he carries some taint from the Bowden scandals, bringing in fresh face from completey outside allows for a fresh start, not just a change of face. That seems to be the perception anyway.

Posted by: estuartj | February 25, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Rotoworld had this story at 8:11 (attributing it to ESPN). This entry is timed at 8:41. Why did it take half an hour to confirm that and get this up, particularly when the byline on the ESPN story is Jorge Arangure, Jr. -- who, as most of us know, _preceded_ Chico on the Nats beat? Did Jorge leave on bad terms?

By the way, _I_ posted this to the comments on Gonzalez/Alvarez at 9, when I saw the item on Rotoworld. There was no headline on the front page when I did so, which is why I posted the item. Are we past-posting (no pun intended) our stories?

Posted by: gbooksdc | February 25, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Bowden survives. Rijo is the only one to get the ax. Mark my words, Bowden is guilty of nothing in the courts.

Posted by: Brue | February 25, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

gbooks -- some websites post the time the person started typing the post, not when they hit publish. If he typed/edited it in the little website wizard, that could account for it... or it was waiting for an editor to hit publish.

Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | February 25, 2009 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Uncle teddy: it's interesting in an inside baseball kind of way (not trying to be ironic). The previous item on Selig is timed at 8:39PM. (Two minutes for this story, including calling Rijo for comment? World record, if true.) FireJimBowden reported at 8PM that ANOTHER blogger, Kristen, of we've got heart, posted this. And a commenter (not me) pointed out that since Jorge got the story while Svrluga was "on the ground" with Bowden, this is an embarrassment to the sports reporters at the Post.

It's more important to be right than first. BUT -- if you're reporting what someone else says to be fact, you can run that as soon as you learn of it. (If this had run in CityPaper, WaPo would take, as usual, all the credit, but since it's ESPN and Jorge, they have to own up.) I just find the story behind the story to be at least as intriguing as this story -- especially given WaPo's tendency not to credit the outlet that breaks a story first when it does get beat.

Posted by: gbooksdc | February 25, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Brue - doesn't matter, he is a lousy GM. There's a dark cloud hanging over the team and at this point the only way to remove it is by revamping.

Posted by: AnonymousSources | February 25, 2009 10:33 PM | Report abuse

I don't know but this is really getting ugly in here. Can we not be so gleeful at this sort of news? Even if Rijo is as guilty as the day is long it's all still bad news, not something to be jumping for joy about. These are still people--fathers, husbands, sons--and reputations and relationships and livlihoods fercryinoutloud.

It's one thing to yaw away about this or that player sucking at today's game, or making a bum play, or whatever. But words have power, even at this lowly level of obscure blog commenter, and the problems coming out about this case are too big and ugly to be taken so lightly.

It's just bad all around. Bad if any of these allegations (Rijo, Bowden LaCava, etc.) are true and worse if they're just rumors.

Let the professionals get it all sorted out and then I would hope we could be a little more measured in our words; comment with a decent level of decorum (or decor, for nattydread) and respect for everyone people involved, even the bad guys.

Posted by: NatsNut | February 25, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

... it's not good news when anyone is fired, and that includes this news about Rijo. But the fact remains; he's not the one who is responsible. Jim Bowden is.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 25, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

"Rijo, reached tonight, was not yet aware of the firing."

Maybe he hired Odalis Perez as the switchboard operator at his academy.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 25, 2009 11:10 PM | Report abuse

"Jorge Arangure, Jr. -- who, as most of us know, _preceded_ Chico on the Nats beat"

No he didn't. Jorge had the Orioles beat on the Post when Svrluga had the Nats beat.

Posted by: nunof1 | February 25, 2009 11:13 PM | Report abuse

"But the fact remains; he's not the one who is responsible. Jim Bowden is."

And you know this how? Are you scooping the Washington Post, the FBI and everyone else in the world here?

Posted by: nunof1 | February 25, 2009 11:17 PM | Report abuse

NatsNut -- amen to calling for some restraint! This is not the time for joy in Mudville.

Posted by: Natsgal | February 26, 2009 1:12 AM | Report abuse

"Rijo, reached tonight, was not yet aware of the firing."

Maybe it is Bowden's job to call Rijo and tell him.

Posted by: ihatewalks | February 26, 2009 2:37 AM | Report abuse

Rijo, reached tonight, was not yet aware of the firing.

Asked if he'd heard anything, Rijo responded, "No, nothing."

******************
The guy hears this news first from the Washington Post?? This just makes me sad.

Posted by: NatsNut | February 26, 2009 5:51 AM | Report abuse

Rijo, reached tonight, was not yet aware of the firing.

Asked if he'd heard anything, Rijo responded, "No, nothing."

******************
The guy hears this news first from the Washington Post?? This just makes me sad.

Posted by: NatsNut

It's getting mawkish in here as well.

It's also evident that some posters are stating as facts things that they have no clue about, while others are ready to hang scalps up outside of their teepees. What we do know is that Alvarez conspired with his extended family and the whole population of his native town to scam a million dollars. It worked. Should the Lerners be furious? You bet. Should they go around kicking everybody's dog at this point? That is what some want. By the facts that are known at the moment Rijo is first dog to get kicked around. If in the end Bowden, Kearns, and Wily Mo become former employees of the Lerners then that is fine, it's a business decision. It's the gloating that I can't stand.

Posted by: driley | February 26, 2009 6:53 AM | Report abuse

"But the fact remains; he's not the one who is responsible. Jim Bowden is."

And you know this how? Are you scooping the Washington Post, the FBI and everyone else in the world here?

Posted by: nunof1 | February 25, 2009 11:17 PM

~~~~~~~~~

... mea culpa. It was a case of poor choice of words and use of language.

... I should have ensured that my meaning was clear. It is my belief, based solely as a fan, that he is responsible.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 26, 2009 6:56 AM | Report abuse

Lot of teams blow signings, particularly down there in the Bermuda Triangle. The difference here is the possibility of collusion. Kickbacks, would be the other way of putting it.

Nobody thinks Bowden did any such thing. But the others....

Posted by: Samson151 | February 26, 2009 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Samson151:

"Nobody thinks Bowden did any such thing."

... are you sure that there is no one who believes he is guilty of such? My reading of all our comments here, and elsewhere around the web, would suggest otherwise.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | February 26, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

Beware natscan, because an awful lot of people know he's guilty of causing their pride to be hurt when the team is mentioned on Baseball Tonight and, after that, are willing to pin anything else on him too.

Posted by: Section506 | February 26, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Possible Bowden replacements:

http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=7683

Posted by: jctichen | February 26, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

I think Brue is right. Rijo is the only one fired this Spring. The Rijo firing isn't a presage to a Bowden dismissal; rather, Rijo's departure precludes Bowden's firing.

I do have a question, though. If I was wrong - and it wouldn't be the first time, that's for sure - and Bowden were fired, could they simply hire a minority candidate to replace him? Would that get them around the league mandate?

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 26, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

And what even counts as a minority according to baseball?

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 26, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Also, who paid for Zimmerman's plane ticket to Arizona last week? He wasn't under contract at the time, you know.

(I know that last point isn't germane to the discussion, but it's bothered me over the last few weeks, and god knows we need something else to talk about.)

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 26, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I have to third NatsNut's excellent post on the mob mentality here and in the Natosphere. Some seem to take great pleasure in calling for people to lose their jobs, and as she notes, it potentially affects families as well as the individuals involved.

I've also been wondering who will be the next target if/when Bowden does leave. I have no doubt that there will be one.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 26, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see Rijo go but a swing and a miss (yet again) for Bowden, although I feel his time may come sooner than expected.

Posted by: FireBowdenNow | February 26, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

(hit submit too soon)

I'm also for letting things play out and letting the professionals do their jobs. I'd rather see it take longer and have all culpable parties exposed than have a sacrificial goat or two go now and others get off because people can't wait to see heads roll. Emotions are overtaking reason here, I think. Also, what is the point of a journalist leaking rumor and innuendo to fan bloggers? Just saying.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 26, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

BTW, for those who haven't been following the comments, my reference was to anonymous journalistic sources that have been cited elsewhere, not to Chico.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 26, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

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