MILWAUKEE — Despite being in the midst of a disappointing 2013 season, the Washington Nationals’ ownership reaffirmed its faith in general manager Mike Rizzo on Thursday evening by announcing a long-term contract extension with him, along with a promotion to add president of baseball operations to his title.
“Upon purchasing the Nationals, Mike Rizzo was our first hire and he has performed brilliantly,” Nationals managing principal owner Ted Lerner said in a statement.
“We started with an idea about how baseball teams should be built, and he translated it into a reality far faster than many could’ve imagined.”
The deal comes on the heels of the Nationals’ 2012 campaign in which the team won 98 games, took the National League East title and was one out from advancing to the National League Championship Series.
Rizzo, who was brought in immediately after the Lerner family assumed ownership of the Nationals, has been the primary architect behind the team’s rise to prominence in the major leagues. First as an assistant general manager and then as the GM, Rizzo has overseen almost every step of the team’s rebuilding process and been integral in turning it into a major league power.
The contract has rewarded him for that, as it is a multi-year package. It also a club option attached to the end.
When Rizzo assumed the job as full-time general manager in August 2009, he inherited a team that by the end of that season had lost 205 games in two years.
By overhauling the organization, starting with scouting and player development, Rizzo helped transform the Nationals’ farm system into one of the league’s best and a key tool in helping them acquire top major league talent.
Twenty-one of the 25 players on the Nationals’ 2012 National League Division Series roster were acquired, via the amateur draft, free agency or trade, during Rizzo’s tenure.
“He knows the game, the players and is a true professional,” Lerner said. “Under his direct leadership, the Nationals have become one of the most exciting and respected young teams in baseball.”
The extension and promotion came roughly four months after the Nationals indicated to Rizzo that they would pick up the first option on his contract, for the 2014 season.
At that time, principal owner Mark Lerner told The Washington Times that while the club held another option for the 2015 season, the organization was in talks for an extension with Rizzo and expressed confidence that a deal would get done before Rizzo’s initial contract was up.
“We’re talking about the future now,” Mark Lerner said in April. “We’re in discussions with Mike and I think both sides are confident that we’re going to come to an extension.”
Despite the Nationals currently working to salvage a disappointing follow-up to their 98-win campaign a year ago, ownership’s belief in Rizzo as the leader of the organization obviously has not wavered.
“I am truly proud to be a part of the Washington Nationals and excited to be able to continue what we’ve started here,” Rizzo said in a statement. “The task of building this club from nearly expansion level — at both the minor and major league level — has been challenging, but the Lerner family has been nothing but supportive.
“We’ve made significant progress toward our goal of competing for a World Series Championship, and I intend to do everything in my power to one day hand that trophy to [Ted] Lerner at Nationals Park.”
Terms of Rizzo’s contract, and what his increased responsibilities with the additional title will be, were not immediately available. The Nationals have not had anyone in the role of president of baseball operations since Stan Kasten parted ways with the organization after the 2010 season. Kasten is now part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It is likely, however, that Rizzo received a significant raise from his first GM contract.
It’s somewhat common for first-time executives to sign team-friendly contracts when they go through the initial negotiating process. Rizzo, whose career path took him from an area scout to the head of an organization, had little GM experience when he negotiated his first deal.
But now Rizzo has far weightier credentials with a National League East title on his resume. Another example of Rizzo’s increased profile came on Opening Day, as he handed out a Gold Glove, three Silver Slugger awards, a Rookie of the Year trophy and a Manager of the Year award.
When all of that was finished, Ted Lerner presented Rizzo with the Executive of the Year award he was honored with last offseason by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“We’ve still got work to do,” Rizzo said in a statement. “But I am pleased that ownership trusts me to get it done.”