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But while their status as contenders may have changed, they still view the path to sustained excellence coming through their minor league system — with players who are cheaper and can be controlled for longer.

“When you’re struggling, that means people aren’t playing well,” Rizzo said. “The difference now is that when you’ve got talented players who perform better, you can just rely on them and go with that until something nudges you to make a chance. That nudge is players performing or outperforming even what our plan is for them. Those are good issues.

“It always comes down to roster construction, control of players and cost certainty.”

For now, Rizzo will continue working on the grease boards. He’ll write, and erase, and write again.