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One year later, Mike Rizzo reflects

One year ago today, Jim Bowden walked to the center of the Nationals clubhouse, a Starbucks coffee cup in his hand, and told the players, "I am resigning as general manager of the Washington Nationals." Bowden, after four years of constant dealing and oddball behavior, no longer ran the team. The Nationals, operating amid the chaos of an international scandal and a federal investigation, needed to find their second general manager.

Though Stan Kasten did not shed Rizzo's interim label until August, Rizzo has now been the Nationals general manager for precisely 365 days. When asked today if he knew the significance of the date, Rizzo took a sip of water and shook his head. When informed, he seemed to get a kick out of it. Rizzo is clearly proud, both of simply being a big league GM and of the work he's done to begin transforming the Nationals. In a conversation today, he reflected on how much the team has changed in Year 1 AB.

Q: What are your broad reflections of the last year?
Rizzo: It's significant enough to me not to recognize the day. I've kind of gone through the whole process just kind of day by day. Until I got a chance to really put my stamp on the organization, last year, it really was, we were looking day by day. Maybe a week in advance. We were just trying to adjust on the fly. Since then, since I've gotten the job full time, it's been really exciting to be able to put together a staff, put together a club employing your philosophy and stuff like that. It's been really gratifying to do that, and it's been really exciting, to see how much we've progressed.

Q. When you think about those first days and weeks, how crazy was that when you look back now?
Rizzo: It was extremely, extremely chaotic. The best way to describe it is, it was a day-by-day event just putting out some kind of fire every day. You rarely got a chance to step back and look big picture. They were all mini-emergencies, every day. Just trying to put out a fire. It was crazy. The president of the club says, 'Do this, get it done quickly.' I just went into action. I go into my get-it-done mode. You pull out all the stops. You employ all your resources, all your contacts, all your experience over the years, and get it done. That was a big fire. When I get back from that fire down in the Dominican, then Stan makes me the interim, acting, or whatever I was at that time. So I'm running the day-to-day club. I packed for a two-week trip. I haven't left yet. [Laughs.] It was quite the eventful spring. It just went right into the season. It was quite exciting and quite hectic and quite nerve-wracking. There's a lot of adjectives you could put to it. The people who were there on a daily basis realized the trials and tribulations that we went through. It was really a remarkable season. It really was.

Q. Is there one low point? Did it come during the Dominican saga, or did it come later? It's not like things were easy.
Rizzo:
The low point of the season for me is when I had to fire Manny. That was difficult. A good guy, a good person, a good baseball guy took the fall for non-performance. He understood it as a professional. I understood having to do it as a professional. That was, to me, the toughest part. Right on the heels of that, though, we kind of had a new beginning. It was difficult firing him at 2 o'clock in the morning when we came back from that road trip. And then the next day, Jim was the new manager. The sadness of him being fired, the excitement of Jim's time starting. The all-star break wasn't much of a break. We'll put it that way.

Q. At what point do you feel you had your stamp on the team like you wanted it?
Rizzo:
Like I wanted it, really not until this offseason. I thought I had a pretty good foothold in the latter part of the season. I think a watershed moment for the organization and for my regime was when we made the [Nyjer] Morgan trade. That was an important part of it. I thought that was the beginning of putting my stamp on it. Because it was something that wouldn't have been done under the old regime. That was an important moment. I felt in well control towards July, August of that season. I felt good in the GM skin. Going into the offseason was really -- obviously, getting the official pat on the back and the official title, the official job. More than that, ownership really allowing me to put my fingerprints on the organization from top to bottom.

Q: It must be strange thinking this is something you wanted to your whole career, but the first thing you had to do, that time, was something really difficult to go through.
Rizzo:
It was. But I think all good things come to those who wait. I think that was just a part of the dues I had to pay. Other GMs have had a little easier road getting their opportunities. You know, I look back at it, I think it was a baptism by fire. It was the case of, 'Why don't you get your feet wet?' [Laughs]. It was 'Here it is. Run with it. Keep us afloat.' A lot of things took place. We made more roster moves than any team in baseball. In one week, we turned a whole bullpen over. We made a five-man sweep in one day. That was kind of the changes we had to make. It's so difficult when the season has begun to overhaul a roster. That was part of the things that I had to compete with, and I was competing without an assistant GM, without many scouts. We were in it on our own.

Q: Obviously, things will change. But do you feel like you're pretty much done with the skeletal change you wanted to make to the organization?
Rizzo:
I think the majority of it is done. We're always looking to get better, obviously. Different opportunities present themselves at different times. I think the mass majority of it is. We got the guys in there we want. Now, there will just be some tweaks and some subtle changes. We've more or less overturned the major league roster, the front office staff, the majority of the scouts and the player development staff.

Q: That must be a good feeling -- you have a base and now you can tinker.
Rizzo:
It is. It's a good feeling. I feel comfortable with the fact that we have three drafts under our belt [with Rizzo as the scouting director or GM]. We've got a fourth coming up with the first pick. We've got Roy Clark and Kris Kline heading the staff, two great track records. I think it usually takes five or six strong drafts to come up with a foundation of an organization. I feel we're at the point where we're getting there.

Q: What was the high point?
Rizzo:
The successful signing of Stras was a high point. I'll tell you what, the day we dialed up with ownership when we were putting this winter plan together, the ownership meetings where we kind of plotted out what we were going to do, with me being the architect of it, and then helping me get through it, and them allowing me to do it, giving us the okay. 'Okay, here. It's a good plan. You explained it well. You explained the long-term ramifications, the short-term commitments. Where we'll be in '10, where we'll be in the end.' And then, having a plan is one thing. Getting the guys to sign with you at a time where it was difficult to get free agents to take us seriously and come over here was another part of it. One of the high points is when we got the Pudge Rodriguez deal done in the winter meetings. Really jumping out fast in the winter meetings and kind of setting a precedent that we're going to be aggressive. The Nationals are here, and we're not going to be tread on any longer. We're here, we're here to stay, we're here to beat you. We're not going to roll over.

Q: Given how much of a debacle it was last year, how different is the feel now than last year?
Rizzo:
Knock on wood, it's smooth. Even when normal things happen, that will be an improvement. If a guy's not playing well or an injury happens, that's what's supposed to happen in spring training, not all this periphery stuff. The one thing that I'm most proud is, this is certainly a professionally run spring training with professional guys. There's no circus atmosphere. There's no carnivals. It's baseball like in 29 other organizations. That's a big part of it. We're getting to the point where, these professional guys, they wouldn't let it be any other way. Pudge isn't going to stand for anybody clowning around. Neither is [Adam] Kennedy or [Adam] Dunn in their own quiet way. They're not going to stand for it. Like we did in Arizona -- [shoot], the manager didn't have to say a word. You screwed up, Matt Williams put you in a locker. And that was end of it. Mark Grace, Matt Williams, Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez -- those were the guys who gave the fines, jump peoples' [rear], put a guy in a locker. That's what we're trying to get here -- the veteran presence. [Ryan Zimmerman] is turning into that veteran presence, too. We're lucky our best player is our hardest worker.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 1, 2010; 6:15 PM ET
 
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Comments

I like the comments about the vets making the clubhouse better and making guys accountable - lets hope it happens. The coaching staff can't do it by themselves and its hard for a guy to get on another guy if both guys should be playing in AAA.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 1, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Peri, I wonder whether you may be confusing sec 505203 with 506 (disclaimer: I'm not implying that either of them is a ranter, pot, or kettle ;-)).

---

Noting that section506 is one who often "rants" about the "Lerners are Cheap". Pot calling the kettle black if you ask me.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 2:50 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 1, 2010 4:44 PM
____________________________________________________________

Peri,

1a is correct. I think you're confusing 506 with me. I tend to rant about the Lerner's being cheap. 506, not so much.

Although, right now, I'm softening a bit, because, I'm just looking forward to seeing some baseball.

Oh, I still think the Lerner's are running things on the cheap but, I'm optimistic that we are moving in the right direction, it may be at a glacier pace but, it is movement nonetheless.

GO NATS!

Posted by: Section505203 | March 1, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

That sound pretty optimistic, which poster is going to complain first?

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 1, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

DOOMED! They're DOOMED, I tellya! You're all blind!

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 1, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Rizzo does indeed have a plan A, B, and even C in position going into the 1st spring training game for the position players. Albeit catcher still looks a bit weak as SCNatsfan pointed out. Still you can see it. The players have to feel good about it.

Still. for Rizzo that starting rotation, was for him, the big conundrum of the offseason. I'm not saying Rizzo didn't didn't do everything he could do to get it done the way he would have liked it ... and perhaps he may yet with a trade ... nevertheless it is what it is and pitching is the key to everything.

We;ll just see how it all shakes out. Hopefully Rizzo will prevail.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

"DOOMED! They're DOOMED, I tellya! You're all blind!"

Perhaps all they need swastikas on their caps, gold charms with #13 on their belts and black on their uniforms?

Posted by: lerici | March 1, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Godwin! New thread!

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 1, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Rizzo: Knock on wood, it's smooth.

Tell the truth, who else knocked on wood when they read that line? Yeah, I thought so. Me, too.

I have a feeling that the transition to Rizzo as GM, and the moves that he's made, both in the FO and on the field, are making a difference in the perception of the team. Knock on wood (again), that will help with FA signings and deals with other GMs. Forget the circus, let's play some ball!

I'm wondering whether the last paragraph might be an indication of a possible Kangaroo Court organization for the team this year. (Perhaps Dunn could be in charge of locker stuffing, if so.) If so, who's the judge? (Here comes the judge...)

p.s. I liked Year One AB. We have a similar construct in my family for the "before" designation, except that, due to the initial involved, the abbreviation is "BS." :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 1, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

And I just finished crafting an insightful, amusing comment, too. Sheesh.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 1, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Okay, now I'm really confused about the whole new post thing.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 1, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

I see Kilgore got the memo about new posts whenever I take the time to put together some research....

Posted by: Section506 | March 1, 2010 2:47 PM

************

laughed really hard on this one. glad to see you back again, 506!

Posted by: NatsNut | March 1, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Please ask Rizzo if he wanted another starting pitcher and why it didn't happen.

Posted by: brianbu | March 1, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Ohhh, Godwin's Law. Got it. Thanks, Google.

That wasn't a strike, though sec3. It was way over my head. Three more of those and I'm headed for first base.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 1, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm didn't someone in the thread mention Mike Epstein referring to him by his then nickname of "Superjew"? Wouldn't that invoke Godwin's law first?

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

Godwin's Law. Its real:

Authorities believe a Washington man was killed by accidentally urinating on a downed power line after a car crash.

Grays Harbor County sheriff's Deputy Dave Pimentel (PIM'-en-tel) said Monday 50-year-old Roy Messenger was not seriously hurt after he collided with a power pole Friday and called a relative to pull his car from a ditch.

However, family members found Messenger electrocuted when they arrived.

Pimentel says Messenger apparently urinated into a roadside ditch but didn't see the live wire. The urine stream likely served as a conductor, allowing the electricity to reach his body.


Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/03/01/national/a125332S34.DTL&tsp=1#ixzz0gyZZtCU4

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

-Repost-

Just for grins, I looked up pitchers who threw at least 200IP in 2009 (36, by my count). Of those, 20 were considered as the #1 on their respective staffs:
Jurrens - ATL; Haren - AZ; Guthrie - BAL; Beckett - BOS; Arroyo - CIN; Lee - CLE/PHI; Jimenez - COL; Buehrle - CWS; Verlander - DET; Johnson FLA; Greinke - KC; Jered Weaver - LAA; Sabathia - NYY; Duke - PIT; Hernandez - SEA; Lincecum - SF; Wainwright - StL; Shields - TB; Halladay - TOR; Lannan - WSH.

Of those 20, Lannan ranked 19th in WHIP, 5th in efficiency (pitches/IP), and 19th in IP/GP.

He's not an ace, but he holds up decently against the best in MLB, and could fill a #2-3 slot on most any staff in either league, in my book. With both Lannan & Marquis (also a top-36) now on staff, I'll take the teams chances against the National League.

Posted by: BinM | March 1, 2010 7:06 PM

Posted by: BinM | March 1, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

The question still remains BinM, would you trade Lannan 1 for 1 for Matt Cain?

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

BTW Adam, a 'smack-on' interview piece with Rizzo. Makes me think (as a fan) that we finally have a competent mind in the GM position.

Posted by: BinM | March 1, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

That guy in Gray's Harbor County reminds one of TBCTBC.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

periculum, it's only March, and you're already driving me nuts. Why do you pushing this thing? Okay, Matt Cain's better than John Lannan and the Giants probably wouldn't trade Cain for him. They probably wouldn't trade Cain for Roy Halladay either at this point. So what? It doesn't mean Lannan can't be considered a #1 or #2 starter.

I asked this earlier and nobody answered it. Do you know who was the winningest pitcher for the Phillies in 2008 when they won the Series? Jamie Moyer. 16 wins at age 45. He probably wouldn't have met your standards for a #1 or #2 starter, either. Good thing you're not running the Phillies. Or the Nats for that matter.

(Change of subject time) Adam, we love the flow of posts. Keep it up. Thanks.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Man, could the Nats make any more of a big deal out of Smiley-gate? All of this talk about chaos and needing to get this or that done super quickly is a bit much. What did Rizzo need to get done so quickly and by use of all of his contacts built up over the years that Stan Kasten could order? Ink this kid, trade that guy? They did pretty much nothing last spring after Dunn left but for signing Beimel late.

Maybe Rizzo refers to draft prep, but that was going to be his thing anyway as AGM and a great bulk of that work is done over months and months in advance of the draft date. Maybe he had to think really, really hard about who they'd pick first?

No more whining about Smiley, please. They got soaked by a kid from the DR not telling the truth about his age. It was not some terrible, awful scandal. There are scores of MLB players who lied to get to the bigs, many All Star caliber guys. It happens. There is nothing very special about it at all.

The money that went to Smiley did not hamstring the club. The rumored federal investigation of the kickbacks from DR signings has turned up nothing.

Nats brass does not deserve points for having to overcome something that was never really such a big deal to begin with.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 1, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Wow. "It's not a sideshow anymore"??
I mean, it's not like everybody doesn't know, but geez.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 1, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

and no, the Epstein reference doesn't invoke Godwin.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 1, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

baltova1 would you trade Lannan AND Marquis for a top 10 pitcher listed? Matt Cain and Lincecum happen to be two.

I bet Rizzo probably would.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

@peric: Lannan 'straight-up' for Cain? Sure, if Sabean & the SF ownership bought off on it. That's not likely though, because the Giants are 'pitching-rich' right now; They're looking for young, proven bats w/power first to fill their lineup around the "kung-fu Panda", Pablo Sandoval.

It would have taken a completely over-the-top offer from the Nationals (Willingham+Marrero+Maxwell/Desmond+a pitching 'prospect') to pry Cain loose; I realize that now, having floated the idea of trading for him back in December/January.

Just.Let.It.Go. Cain to WSH isn't going to happen; Find a new player to obsess over, OK?

Posted by: BinM | March 1, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

"Just.Let.It.Go. Cain to WSH isn't going to happen; Find a new player to obsess over, OK?"

How about JD Martin or Trevor Holder? Gee, are those obsessions too? Thank you Doktor BinM, Frankl, Freud, and Adler would be proud of your analysts skills. Stop being a damned self-annointed higher power that judgeth all posters. In other words stop being a jerk you can always, as sec503 said, scroll by. Take some adderall and stop blogging if it bothers you.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

BinM answered you better than I can. The Giants don't need pitching so your hypothetical trades make no sense. Even so, right now I don't think Rizzo would trade those two guys for Cain or another top 10 pitcher. They're the only two starters he's got as we've been whining about all winter. Even if you got a top 10 pitcher, you'd still have to fill the other spot and it's not clear who'd do that.

What you're ignoring in all of this is something somebody mentioned earlier: Strasburg changes everything. If he turns out quickly to be what he appears to be, HE'LL be the top 10 pitcher you're craving. You won't need to make a trade. We're going to find that out soon.

Once Strasburg shows up, and if the Nats find something in Olsen/Wang/Detwiler/Chico/Martin/Martis/Stammen, etc., we will quickly be looking at an entirely different team.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Cain straight up for Lannan would be the most lopsided trade since Babe Ruth for cash. Cain is a great young pitcher and people in baseball know it even if he is not a household name among most fans.

And Lannan and Marquis for any top 10 pitcher would be a huge steal for the Nats and thus would be laughed at by any GM.

Someone should tweet Matt Cain and tell him to check out this blog he would die laughing.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 1, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Interesting useless info from Jayson Stark on espn.com today:

Only one team in baseball will roll out a double-play combination this season in which both members lit the "E" light on the old scoreboard at least 20 times last year. And that team is … the Nationals (with Adam Kennedy and Cristian Guzman, who committed 20 errors apiece).

Just four National League rotations this year will feature more than one starter who blew past 200 innings last season. And I bet you can't name any of them except for the Giants' rotation (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, of course). The others are …

The Nationals (Jason Marquis, John Lannan), Brewers (Randy Wolf, Doug Davis) and Diamondbacks (Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson). Who knew!

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 1, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

BTW, speaking of information that might be interesting and useless (but maybe not)...
Last year, the Giants' record in the games Matt Cain started was 21-12. They won 88 games.

The Rockies' record in games Jason Marquis started was 19-14. They won 92 games.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

@dfh: I personally don't see the Nats' FO as gaining points for putting the DR fiasco behind them - They (the Lerner's & Kasten in particular) lost face for letting it happen in the first place, and tossed away four years of possible player development by doing so. But if that's what it took for them to give JimBow the boot, then it may have been a good thing in the end.

Posted by: BinM | March 1, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

I just spent ten minutes complaining to my dog about why The Nationals are like the movie The Happening.
See more at JimPalmersHair.com

Posted by: kxelliot | March 1, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Weird to think, but a few years from now we might look at the Smiley incident as the best thing that happened during the first 3 years. Busted up the front office, exposed all kinds of weaknesses, became the impetus for re-commit, got Rizzo in the driver's seat, showed the Lerners that shallow investment yields shallow results.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 1, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

@peric: You're welcome, but you seem a bit touchy today; Should we talk about that?

Just because someone calls out a possible error in logic is no reason to get angry; It's just a spot check against an opinion.

You had the early call on both Martin & Morse last year - Good for you. If you think that Holder will make a significant move in the ranks this year, fine, but opinions vary at this point in his career.

Posted by: BinM | March 1, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

More interesting ephemera:

Remember Chico's link to that wonderful Esquire story on Roger Ebert? Here's another intriguing tale. Writer meets Ebert, loses Ebert, gets Ebert back.

http://deadspin.com/5482198/my-roger-ebert-story

Posted by: Drew8 | March 1, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

i think peric is tired of people shooting him down. i wish he'd realize that if everyone disagrees with him, that doesn't necessarily make everyone else wrong.

Posted by: sec231 | March 1, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

I come home from work, and read all this infighting. Please, WE ALL LOVE THE NATIONALS and want them to win. If you don't (Poopy-whatever your smelly name is), just don't ever post here again.

Posted by: nats24 | March 2, 2010 2:05 AM | Report abuse

I hope hat the Smileygate thing is a big turning point, but not sure much has changed yet. Rizzo and the Lerners finally adding FO people should help a lot. But the spending habits have not changed, the troll for upside guys who are down on there luck for one reason or another is still the same and the club, notwithstanding all of thier "we expect to win" cheerleading, has little chance to compete in the Division this year, barring fairly amazing luck. And they have not added, despite Boz's excitement over the SP inventory in camp in relation to years passed, a bunch of top notch young talent for 2011 and beyond. So, if Smiley led to Rizzo and Rizzo led to a real FO and if a real FO leads to better talent and if better talent leads to a respectable win total and the Lerners spending at reaonable levels to build a winning club, then great. But we are not yet really far into the adding better talent phase (Zim and Lannan are the only MLB proven pieces under control long term who are not coming back from major injury) and it has been 4 years in the making.

It is long beyond the time for the Lerners to ramp up the time frame for building the elite franchsie they promised us.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 2, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

nats24, I think as Nats fans - and I was an Expos fan - we are all tired of hearing that things are going to be better and then hoping for a .500 year and that gets frustrating - I can't imagine how frustrating for those who hold season tickets. But my problem is this is the one time of the year we can be optimistic without our record and losing streaks to bring us down; I don't need to read in every thread how terrible we are, how cheap we are, how the only players who come here have nowhere else to go, how our pitching stinks and we should have signed other guys, how we have no talent in the minors, etc.; to those with that viewpoint, you are welcome to your opinion and you might even be correct but every thread doesn't have to be an exercise in pointing all those things out; I get your point and I know it isn't going to change.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 2, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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