- Associated Press - Thursday, April 5, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) - In nearly a decade as general manager of the Washington Nationals, Mike Rizzo has proved adept at wheeling and dealing, at drafting and developing, to the tune of four NL East titles in the past six years.

When it came time to discuss his own contract - talks that resulted in a two-year extension through 2020, announced hours before Thursday’s home opener against the New York Mets - Rizzo joked that he wasn’t quite as tough at the table as usual.

“My negotiating skills are much better when I’m negotiating for a trade or with free agents than I was for myself; you don’t usually buy a house when you’re negotiating a contract. But like I do a lot of times, I made no bones about where I wanted to be and wanted to do,” Rizzo said, wearing a three-piece gray suit to mark the occasion. “I came to a deal that I’m very happy with, very satisfied with.”

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And then, lapsing into GM-speak, appropriately, he referred to the average annual value of his own contract the way he would a player’s, saying: “The years are important to me, but the AAV of the deal is right where I wanted it to be. I think everything else takes care of itself in the long run. Like I’ve told the players: ‘We win, we all eat better.’ That’s kind of our motto.”

For comparison’s sake, executives leading other recently successful franchises such as Theo Epstein with the Cubs, Dave Dombrowski with the Red Sox, Brian Cashman with the Yankees, and Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers all have five-year deals. So, too, does Mike Hill with the Marlins, while Andrew Anthopolous with the Braves has a four-year contract.

Rizzo came to the Nationals as an assistant general manager in 2007, then succeeded Jim Bowden as the GM in 2009, before adding the title of president of baseball operations in 2013.

“This is a common-sense move that had to get done,” said Max Scherzer, who has won two NL Cy Young awards since signing a free-agent deal in Washington.

Because he was entering the final year of his contract, Rizzo’s future was a big question mark heading into this season, along with 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper’s chance to become a free agent after 2018.

Now one of those franchise-altering issues is resolved.

“I thought it was important for the team not to have this as a distraction. And I thought going forward it was becoming one,” Rizzo said about his own status. “I heard some players being more vocal about it. I’m glad it’s behind us now and there’s some continuity and consistency.”

One of Rizzo’s big jobs moving forward - in addition to trying to finally oversee the Nationals’ first series victory in the postseason - will be to either figure out a way to keep Harper in D.C. beyond this season or figure out a way to suitably replace his production.

“We’ve made no bones about it that Harp’s a big part of this organization. He’s a vital cog in what we’re trying to do. He’s a guy I’ve known since he was 16 years old that we scouted, signed and watched him blossom into a star at the big-league level,” said Rizzo, who drafted the outfielder with the No. 1 overall pick in the amateur draft. “Of course, we’d love to keep him long term.”

Harper’s reaction to Rizzo’s new deal?

“He’s one of the best in the game. … Unbelievable getting guys in trades and things like that. Also, he lets guys be themselves. He’s great for this organization and happy to have him at the helm,” Harper said. “I can say that we have definitely gotten closer over the years. Riz is a great guy. Somebody that’s going to have your back, each and every night. Somebody that’s going to battle for you in the trenches, when you’re going bad or going good. I’ve got a lot of respect for Rizzo.”

Still, Harper also said it didn’t matter all that much whether this extension came now or later.

“I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse has really been thinking about it. I guess maybe he’s been thinking about it,” Harper said. “We’re definitely happy for him. But I don’t think we’re really worried about a GM getting an extension.”

Perhaps. But first-year manager Dave Martinez did say it was a bit of a concern for him when he joined the Nationals, knowing his GM was tied to the team only through 2018 at the time.

“He’s really good at what he does. I’ve learned a lot about just how he develops players and what he thinks of players,” Martinez said. “And he’s helped me out a lot so far.”


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich


More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

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