October 16, 2019

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo wary of straying from plan

GM Mike Rizzo presents Bryce Harper with his 2012 All-Star jersey (July 7). (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Zack Greinke. Ryan Dempster. Francisco Liriano. Ramon Hernandez. All these names have been mentioned in some capacity by varying sources as potential trade targets for the Washington Nationals as the MLB trade deadline rapidly approaches.

In a piece on Nationals Journal Tuesday, Nats GM Mike Rizzo was interviewed about the upcoming deadline and how active the Nats might be in acquiring pieces for the stretch run. Rizzo, unsurprisingly, remains steadfast that he believes the team as constructed has few holes and will not sacrifice long-range plans for a playoff push.

“There’s not a whole lot of things that we’d like to upgrade,” Rizzo said. “If there’s a way we can upgrade with a clear upgrade, we certainly would exhaust all the ideas to try and do that. But we don’t have a whole lot of needs. And we’ve got a lot of young players that are going to be with us long-term. We have control of the contracts, that type of thing.”

“We’re always looking for ideas that will make us better long-term. We’re looking for long-term more than short-term. If it helps us and it fits into our plans going forward, then we’ll do it.”

Local and national media are falling all over themselves about the impending “Strasburg Shutdown” and how the Nats will — or in their opinion, should — handle the situation. But Rizzo has held all along that he had a plan in mind and will stick to that plan, which will likely see Strasburg shut down for the season, regardless of playoff implications, in early September. What is a travesty and disrespectful to the game for some is prudent planning to others.

We’ve been over the scenario before though. The Nats just don’t have the surplus of top-notch prospects to pull off a deal for the top arms that will be available this deadline season. Combine the fact that the Nats wouldn’t receive draft pick compensation should an acquired impending free agents leave the team in the off-season, and you should have a pretty clear idea about what Rizzo is thinking about this deadline.

Fans can clamor for that big trade deadline acquisition, but they aren’t necessarily looking at the big picture, at least the way Rizzo is looking at it.

Rizzo has had a plan since he took over as GM of the Nats. He wants to win, but he wants to win his way, with his guys. Rizzo is a scout, first and foremost. He’s fiercely loyal to his scouting and player development department. He’s fiercely loyal to players that he’s drafted and brought through his system. He retains loyalty to the players he drafted and cultivated in systems previous to his employ in D.C.

He’s just not going to jeopardize what he’s building for the sake of renting a player for two months.

If Rizzo does make additions to this team for the stretch run, I can much sooner see him picking up some help for the back of his rotation, someone like Joe Saunders of Arizona or Jason Vargas of Seattle. Not that I’m advocating picking up either player, just using those names as examples. Both have arbitration years left and could be useful at the back of next year’s stacked rotation should the team elect to watch Edwin Jackson chase a long-term deal that would presumably be in excess of the $11 million he makes this season.

But pitchers like that are completely expendable if you have better options, and the Nats hope they will continue to have better options internally, which makes trading away assets for a rental player that much less palatable.

You get the idea that Rizzo is comfortable going into the playoffs this season, should the Nats qualify, with Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Jackson and Ross Detwiler — or another piece in the fourth slot — and taking his chances rather than mortgage a big part of the future for a rental that will walk at the end of the season, regardless what the pundits — or fans — might say.

That idea doesn’t bother me, either.

I realize that many fans won’t be satisfied if the Nats don’t make a big trade, shut down Strasburg, then fail to qualify for the playoffs or get bounced in the first round. But Rizzo wants to build a club that will contend for a decade, not just this season. It’s hard to see him making a decision that strays from the plan he’s had in place all along and gotten him this far.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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