Mike Rizzo’s remodeling of the Washington Nationals’ roster and his deft handling of the Stephen Strasburg negotiations have earned him the permanent general manager’s title.
Rizzo, who has served as Washington’s acting GM since March, will be given the full-time job Thursday, a club source confirmed Wednesday night.
The 49-year-old was chosen from a pool of candidates that included Arizona Diamondbacks vice president Jerry Dipoto and Boston Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer after a lengthy evaluation process that seemed to change course as the summer played out.
Rizzo, a lifelong scout who spent the previous 2 1/2 seasons as the Nationals’ assistant GM and chief draft evaluator, wasn’t always seen as the likely choice. As recently as Tuesday night, an Internet report claimed the club was on the verge of hiring Dipoto, setting off a flurry of speculation around baseball.
Rizzo, though, continued to make a strong impression on Washington’s ownership group, from his reshaping of the club’s struggling bullpen to his widely applauded acquisition of Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett from the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this summer.
The clincher was his ability to negotiate with agent Scott Boras and sign No. 1 draft pick Strasburg less than two minutes before the deadline. The former San Diego State right-hander, touted as the best pitching prospect to come out of college in decades, agreed to a record four-year, $15.1 million deal, but Rizzo was lauded for getting the deal done at what was still considered a reasonable price.
Rizzo was the point man for negotiations with Boras down to the 12:01 a.m. deadline and has been trumpeted by team officials since.
“He’s been making the calls. Since spring training, it’s been his watch,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “I think he’s been very patient with the roster in terms of our position players but has not hesitated to make moves when we were failing as a pitching staff. He was willing to go down to [Class AAA] Syracuse and change it up and keep changing it up until we found the right mix.
“So I think it’s a great combination. He’s showed both aggressiveness and patience with the makeup of our roster. And I think the result is we’re playing better baseball because he kind of solidified our roster.”
Since being handed the reins to Washington’s baseball operations department after former GM Jim Bowden resigned March 1, Rizzo has been at the forefront of all the club’s major decisions, whether it involved roster alterations, trades or the firings of manager Manny Acta and pitching coach Randy St. Claire.
The Nationals got off to a horrible start this season and entered the All-Star break on pace to lose 116 games. But they’ve taken off in the second half under Riggleman, going 17-14 before back-to-back losses the past two nights to the Colorado Rockies.
“The things he’s done since he’s been on board have been good, and they’ve made us a better team,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “He loves baseball. He’s smart. He’s a smart baseball guy. And more importantly, he gets along with all of us really well, too.”
With Strasburg due to be introduced to media and fans at a Nationals Park news conference Friday, it seemed unlikely the organization would make an announcement about its GM search until the weekend at the earliest.
But with the decision having been made by ownership, the Nationals elected to give Rizzo his day in front of the cameras Thursday and then introduce his most significant signing the following day.
“If he didn’t get the job, I think there would’ve definitely been something wrong with that picture,” first baseman Adam Dunn said. “He’s done everything to make this team better. He made great trades. He’s just a great baseball guy, and I’m glad he’s going to be around.”