Saturday, February 28, 2009

"I'm Mike Rizzo. I Solve Problems."

Yesterday, Mike Rizzo returned triumphant from his trip to the Dominican Republic, a whirlwind tour that saw him, like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, swooping in and cleaning up a massive mess with all the speed, efficiency, and professionalism of a master at work. (Watch that clip and just imagine that Rizzo is the Wolf, Stan is Jimmie, Jim is Vincent, Jose Rijo is Jules, Uncle Teddy is Bonnie, and Smiley is Marvin. I think it works.)

At least that's the story they're peddling, and for now I'll buy it. There are some conflicting reports about whether the new facility in the DR is "gorgeous" or just "ok," but this is a situation where "ok" is probably better than ok. When your girlfriend kicks you out of the apartment, you're pretty psyched when your buddy lets you sleep on his couch. And if someone offers you a futon in a private room, you're on cloud nine. You don't care that you have to share a bath.

The rap on Rizzo has always been that he's a top-notch talent evaluator, but that he's not that charismatic, isn't that good with press, and lacks the heft and presence for tough negotiations. If you've ever met him, you can see this isn't totally unfair. He doesn't have the gift for gab. He kind of trips over his words, uses sentences like, "We put a lot of thought and a lot of time and a lot of working into it pre-going over to the Dominican." The photo of Rizzo in today's Post in a Tommy Bahama hat and awful Aloha shirt is classic Mike. No slick package here--just a guy who can spot baseball talent but has no particular interest in the media spotlight.

Does that mean he's limited to the AGM role? The general manager needs to be able to work the press. And how is this guy going to hold his own against fast-talking slicksters like Scott Boras?

On the first score, Rizzo seems to be passing the test. The headline in today's Post was "Nats' Rizzo Proving Up to the Task." The Times headline was "Rizzo hailed for transition." You can't get much more favorable press than that. Can't remember Jim ever getting headlines like that.

On the brass-tacks negotiations, former Arizona GM Joe Garagiola, Jr., stuck up for him. From Harlan's article in today's Post:
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 the talent evaluation part, there can be little argument (although if you're interested in a slightly skeptical, smart look at Rizzo's record in Arizona vs. LaCava's in Toronto, check out this post from Bucco Blog, which makes the case that although Rizzo did well, he benefitted from a number of fortunate advantages and some dumb luck).

When Rizzo took over as scouting director in Arizona in 1999, the team ranked 29th in overall minor league talent by Baseball America. When he left in 2006, they were number 1. He drafted in Brandon Webb, Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Conor Jackson, Micah Owings, Max Scherzer, Carlos Gonzalez, Tony Pena, Mark Reynolds... He built the depth that allowed the team to trade for Dan Haren. He basically built the entire Diamondbacks contender you see today. Yeah, he had a lot of high picks and vets to trade and support from owners to pay over slot, but you still gotta pick the right guys and develop them into professionals.

In any case, the tea leaves seem to be pointing towards Rizzo emerging as the likeliest successor to Jim. My latest completely bogus speculative theory is that Kasten's first instinct was LaCava, and he started making moves in that direction (no matter how vehemently Stan denies it, someone who works for Bud Selig told more than one reporter that the Nationals had inquired about LaCava--I suppose some Tony-lover or Jim-hater could have made that up, but I doubt it). Then, Rizzo, who from day one has made no secret that he wanted Jim's job, probably said, "look, it's him or me," and Stan decided to take some time to think it over. Maybe have Mike run down to the DR to see if he can handle being the guy in charge under duress.

This week has the feel of an audition for Rizzo, and by all accounts he seems to have aced it. We should know for sure within a few days.
  • Ed note: I should acknowledge that David Pinto about 8 hours ahead of me posted the exact same Pulp Fiction clip, making essentially the same joke. I swear we both thought of it on our own. Great minds think alike I guess! But to acknowledge that he beat me to the punch, I urge y'all to click over, bookmark Baseball Musings, add it to the RSS feed, peruse his excellent PMR fielding stat, and tell him I sent ya.


Anonymous said...

Dont forget the budget aspect. Bringing in a new GM would cost ownership at least $300K where Rizzo is already under contract making very good money. I am for Rizzo as he should be given the chance to clean up the mess that Jim made. Lets hope Rizzo wipes out the Boone's, Foli's, and other Reds running around in Nats land.

estuartj said...

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...

redcottageaudio said...


Hmm, I think you've hit on the right strategy, but not the one they will take. Bowden needs to be removed right now, if only to free the ball club from this state of paralysis.

The only problem with this plan is that to really run this club Rizzo is going to need build his own staff which will be hard as interim. It's going to be hard to scout the draft with the Reds Army that Bowden collected.

You know what? Bowden may survive. He has friends in high places.

redcottageaudio said...
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