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.