- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

VIERA, Fla. | The role Mike Rizzo is inheriting carries no change of title, no promise of permanence, nothing more than a chance to be the guy who picks up the phone when another team calls the Washington Nationals with a trade proposal.

But that step - that it will be Rizzo taking the call - put the 48-year-old closer than ever Wednesday morning to the job he has sought ever since he took his first job as a territorial scout with the Chicago White Sox 27 years ago.

Nationals president Stan Kasten announced Wednesday morning that Rizzo, the Nationals’ assistant general manager, will be responsible for the team’s major league operations while the vacated post of GM Jim Bowden remains that way for the time being.

Kasten said he won’t rush into a search for a permanent GM and will be more involved in baseball matters than he has previously been. But for the foreseeable future, the direction of the team is Rizzo’s to maintain.

“Mike is a guy that I have a lot of confidence in,” Kasten said. “At some point, I have to do a search, and a search will progress. But I don’t feel any rush at all. There’s no particular urgency or timetable for that.”

It’s difficult to see Rizzo’s role as the de facto GM as anything but an audition for the permanent job. Though a number of executives have been recommended to the Nationals or expressed interest in the post - Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, Rays assistant GM Gerry Hunsicker and Rangers special adviser John Hart among them - a National League executive said most in the game believe Rizzo eventually will land the job.

Rizzo will be indoctrinated in many of the role’s most stringent work right from the beginning, including possibly dispatching several veterans before the end of spring training and managing a scouting staff doing fieldwork for the June draft, in which Washington has the first and 10th picks.

Asked whether Rizzo will have the same authority as a permanent GM to make trades, Kasten said: “I think most people in the organization and the ownership look to me for final decisions like that. I don’t know how to answer that in a vacuum. All GMs report to their presidents and boards, especially for large-size things. I’m sure that’s going to continue.”

At the very least, the move will raise the profile of Rizzo, who is viewed across the game as a sharp talent evaluator but has spent more time in scouting than negotiating deals.

He has a chance to prove he can handle the whole job, working with the man who helped build the dominant Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s.

“My goal has always been to be a major league general manager, and as Stan said we have a good feel for each other right now, and I think we have a good group put together with the Nationals,” Rizzo said. “The ultimate goal is to succeed and put the best team on the field as possible, and that’s the group we have together right now.”

The lack of a job title keeps a cloak of uncertainty around Rizzo’s future, but Kasten said he dislikes interim titles precisely because they suggest instability. The best thing to re-create some order in the Nationals’ front office following Bowden’s resignation Sunday, Kasten decided, was to keep jobs mostly the same.

Assistant general manager Bob Boone will continue to oversee the Nationals’ minor league operations, and scouting director Dana Brown’s job will stay unchanged.

“We will get around to a search at the right time and at its own pace,” Kasten said. “There is nothing pushing us forward because I do think we’re set to go as we are at the moment.”

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