Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are Rizzo's Days Numbered?

The report from Gordon Edes at Yahoo Sports, so far confirmed by no one, is that Mike Rizzo is about to be fired and replaced by Arizona Director of Player Personnel Jerry DiPoto.

I'm a fan of Mike Rizzo, but I'm not so wild about him that I can't imagine anyone better. The issue isn't whether Rizzo "deserves" to be fired. We're not talking about a greeter at Wal-Mart. There are exactly 30 MLB GM jobs, and if the Nationals' brass is convinced that he's one of the best 30 GMs on the planet, he should be out.

Rizzo has a lengthy body of work going back more than a decade to his time in Arizona. He had some tremendous drafts, but at least some of that was classic "checkbook scouting," getting the best players because his owner gave him the resources to do so (Justin Upton, Stephen Drew). Still, he found Brandon Webb, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Quentin, and others and built a team that nearly made the World Series almost totally on the strength of his drafts.

Rizzo apparently shined in the Strasburg negotiations, doing his part to make a great deal for the team. He attacked problems like the bullpen and defense and made the team better. He's shown a willingness to adjust, for instance correcting an excessive bias against flyball pitchers (passing over Tyler Clippard and Jason Bergmann for Kip Wells, for instance). He made the deals that had to be made at the deadline, getting something for Nick Johnson and Joe Beimel.

I've nitpicked some things, like sending useful Ryan Langerhans to Seattle and his over-emphasis on "clubhouse guys." He's not an effective media spokesperson (if you care about that sort of thing).

My biggest disappointment is that Rizzo hasn't committed to a rebuild. By not trading Josh Willingham or Adam Dunn, indeed apparently committing to them as the core that will return us to the 73-win heights of 2007, he's either massively over-evaluating his own talent (which I dooubt) or setting his goals way, way too low.

All that said, if Rizzo isn't given the permanent job, he's been treated pretty badly by the Nationals. He came to DC as the presumptive Bowden replacement-in-waiting. He didn't go shopping for the jobs that came open in the meantime. He certainly hasn't had a fair chance to show what he can do to build a team, taking over the Nationals too late in the off-season to really execute a plan.

And now, like Manny Acta, Rizzo is being left to twist in the wind week after week until finally leaks from within the organization tell us the writing is on the wall.

Maybe Edes's article is hogwash. But probably it isn't. Most likely at least two people with the Nationals talked to him. Or DiPoto talked, which would be idiotic.

Bottom line, the team needs to stop dithering and make a hire. And now is a good time to do it, as the draft signing deadline is really the time when teams out of contention turn the page on the current season and begin focusing primarily on the off-season and 2010.


Will said...

I don't understand why the Lerners and Kasten would let Rizzo be the lead negotiator in the Strasburg negotiations if they were already thinking of replacing him soon thereafter

SUSasskuash said...

Regardless of whether they choose Rizzo or somebody else, this whole GM selection process has been a little bit silly. Jim Bowden's "resignation" came at an unfortunate time since there was no time to perform a proper search for a new GM before the season, and nobody actively looking for a job that close to opening day. However, to leave your team, your fans, and your own front office employees in the total darkness like the the team has done just seems pointlessly cruel. They've had 5 or 6 months (I forget the exact date of Bowden's departure) to make a decision. At the very least they can say "our decision will come _____." I would even understand if they said the decision would come at the end of the season. Hell, I would be OK with StanK waiting until after the playoffs. But to insist on saying absolutely nothing, leaving your fans wondering what direction the team will go, leaving the FO employees wondering if and when they will get the axe, and leaving the players wondering who will remain a teammate and for how long makes no sense to me. This franchise, even with the recent improvements, needs leadership and it needs that leadership to say something. Their silence seems more disturbing every day. Good job signing Strasburg, now its time to run the team again. That sometimes includes opening your mouth, instead of letting "unnammed sources" make everybody dizzy.

Anonymous said...

This is an absolute joke. What has DiPoto ever done? When Rizzo came here the minor league system was a joke. Part of his job was to draft to fix that. He has for the most part had very good drafts (Zimmerman, Norris, Burgess, Strasburg, Storen, Rhinehart, Smoker, McGeary, etc.). Once he inherited the team, he did what he could to get rid of Bowden trash and turned Milledge into Morgan who has been a god send for this team. If they only kept Rizzo to negotiate with Boras (was very successful doing so with the Diamondbacks) then it is an absolute shame. Rizzo got Strasburg signed for far less than ANYONE in the industry anticipated. Isn't the job of the GM to improve the team? Hasn't Rizzo done that in the short time he has been here? Another thing to consider is that most of the high profile scouts for this organization came over from AZ with Rizzo. What happens to them if Rizzo goes? The Nats would be going backwards if they decide to let Rizzo go!!! Shame on the Lerners and they are again showing their incompetence in running a baseball team.

Bobby said...

Kevin Goldstein (no relation) says today that Rizzo ought to have the "interim" removed.

Michael said...

@ Will: "I don't understand why the Lerners and Kasten would..." If a statement begins like that, throw rational thought out the window when seeking resolution.

I think Rizzo has showed he's deserving of the job. He's been the best thing about the Nationals this season. Perhaps not trading Dunn or Willingham was a mistake, but Willingham is a cheap, reliable source of .850 OPS in LF. Dunn is also good bang for the buck, and with more time at 1B, he should be less of a liability with a glove.

Also, I like the Langerhans deal. I'm not sure how "valuable" he is to any MLB club, especially ours, with out glut of OFs. I think Mike Morse has much greater value. Offensively he's performed similarly to Langerhans at nearly ever level, and has greater defensive relevance to the Nats. To me he seems like a true utility player who can still swing the stick. Maybe I'm undervaluing Langerhans' defensive ability, but I'd rather have Morse in the organization that Langerhans. Langerhans' ability to do well at AAA but not the same at the big league level says to me that he should consider playing in Japan. Perhaps Ichiro can give him some pointers.

That said, if there is someone better than Rizzo out there, then by all means we should go after him. In some ways that's not fair to Rizzo, but look at it this way; Rizzo came into an abysmal situation here and made a lot of moves to get the clubs headed in the right direction. He performed well in a front office that had been marred by frequent debacles. That fact alone has got to help him find another job should the Nats look elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, I can give you a number of reasons to keep Rizzo, but I can't tell you why he is "better" then DiPoto, anymore then I can tell you why DiPoto is better then Rizzo.

BUT if DiPoto is the guy they have confidence in, and is the guy who they will let implement a philosophy throughout the FO, the draft, and the minor leagues, then hire him.

Don't keep Rizzo because he is a breath of fresh air after Bowden, or because he has done his job, which he has and then some, hire the guy you want for the job and then support him.

I don't want them to keep Rizzo because they "should", because at the end of the day that is just a recipe for him to be fired in a year or two and the whole thing to start over.

I would keep Rizzo. But I don't sign his checks and wouldn't second guess myself (and him) every time a move does not work (and some will NOT work, even for the best GMs).

So hire the guy you want and move forward with him, and with the support he needs.