We no longer have to refer to Mike Rizzo as the Nationals’ acting general manager. He is, at last, just the GM. And at his introductory press conference this afternoon, you could tell how much this all means to him and his baseball-loving family.
I’ll get to the best Rizzo quotes in a moment, but I also want to share a bit of detail about how the whole search process played out. …
Stan Kasten said when he realized he was going to need a new GM on March 1, he put together a list of candidates. That initial list was about 75 names long. Obviously, he needed to pare it down quickly. So that list turned into a pool of about 15 “serious” candidates. Kasten met with all of them in person or over the phone. Eventually, he picked about six “finalists.” Obviously Rizzo was in the group. So were Jerry Dipoto and Jed Hoyer. There were others whose names never became public.
Though the Nats gave strong consideration to all of those finalists, it really became obvious to most everyone in the front office about a month ago or so that Rizzo was the right man. I can’t stress how important the Nyjer Morgan/Sean Burnett trade was to boosting Rizzo’s stock. It was huge. And though the Stephen Strasburg signing confirmed this was a no-brainer decision, Kasten insisted he would have picked Rizzo no matter what happened Monday night.
Other tidbits: There will be more front office hirings, perhaps in the next few weeks, to fill out Rizzo’s staff. Remember: He has no assistant GM. The Nats realize they need one, plus perhaps a few more front office types. As for the managerial decision, Rizzo said that will wait until after the season. So Jim Riggleman has six more weeks to make his case, which to this point has been a strong one.
OK, onto a few quotes from Rizzo and Kasten…
On when he thought he could be GM: “Well, right or wrong, I thought I had the ability to be a general manager a long time ago. I knew I had the player evaluation part of it down early in my career. I always considered myself as a good leader. I always thrived under pressure. This is a pressure-cooker job; don’t think it’s not. It’s 24-7. There’s a lot of tough decisions that have to be made, and there’s not a lot of lamenting after they’re made. So I thought I had a good foundation, and then when I did get into the front office job I was smart enough to learn what I didn’t know. And it was vast.”
When other names began to surface were you worried you might not get the job? “No, I always felt I would be the choice. I didn’t know if they knew it yet. But I always felt like I was the choice. I have a confidence level in myself and I thought I was well-prepared for the job, and the one thing I kept drawing on … the Lerners are good business people, and I knew they would pick the right guy for the job. With that in my mind, I always thought it would be me.”
What are your top priorities for improving the roster? “In the immortal words of Stan Kasten, pitching, pitching and pitching. We understand that we have a very talented young starting rotation. That said, we need an anchor at the top of it. So some kind of veteran starting pitcher would help. You know, my philosophy is speed and defense, especially up the middle, and have your big mashers on the corners. So we’re going to take that into account. Of course we have to stabilize a resurgent bullpen, but a bullpen that has not performed up to standards. That’s another priority.”
On why Rizzo was the choice: “In March, we had the turmoil that we did, and we asked Mike to step in. And every job that we needed done got handled flawlessly. Our operation continued seamlessly up through today. Since that time, all Mike has done is gain the respect of everyone in our organization, all the fans in D.C. and baseball people throughout the country.”
Did the Strasburg signing seal the deal for Rizzo? “No, I felt that way before that. And I will tell you … we were going this way irrespective of how Monday turned out. I can tell you that. We said that to each other last week. In fact, let’s face it, if this hadn’t worked out on Monday, that falls on me and the owners. That would have been me. Let’s just say Mike bailed me out on Monday.”