“My goal, as like the rest of our ownership and front office, is to put out a product that the fan base can be proud of and that we win a lot of games and we bring another parade to Washington, D.C.”
Washington’s season has progressed with looming questions about its rebuild and whether Rizzo, 62, and Manager Dave Martinez would remain with the club. In late August, the Nationals agreed to a two-year extension with Martinez, with a club option for a third year that could stretch the deal through 2026. But then weeks went by without a similar announcement for Rizzo.
Rizzo, who has been with the team since 2006, became general manager in 2009 and was promoted to president of baseball operations in 2013. During his tenure with Washington, he built the Nationals into perennial contenders, looked on as they won a World Series title in 2019 and shepherded Washington into a franchise reboot in the summer of 2021.
Now Martinez and Rizzo are locked in, and the Lerner family, which in April 2022 announced that it would explore a sale of the club, is the largest remaining question. Rizzo said Wednesday that, despite the potential sale, the Lerners have been “more involved and more focused” than ever before.
“Mike and I have talked and worked with each other almost daily for 17 years. Together with my family and the entire Nationals staff, we’ve always shared the same dream: to make the Washington Nationals a team that our fans could love and be proud of,” Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner said in a statement.
“… We are once again hard at work to build a championship contender in D.C. We now believe we have the beginnings of a roster filled with promising young players and exciting prospects at nearly every position. … We are excited about our future.”
Rizzo signed a contact extension toward the end of the 2020 season to remain the team’s general manager, but that deal was set to expire at the end of this season.
Since winning their World Series title in 2019, the Nationals have traded away ace Max Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner in 2021, then shipped star outfielder Juan Soto to San Diego in 2022. But the team’s recent play has been encouraging.
At the major league level, catcher Keibert Ruiz — who was part of the Scherzer-Turner trade — has broken out at the plate since the all-star break. So has shortstop CJ Abrams, acquired in the Soto deal, since he moved to the leadoff spot. Josiah Gray was an all-star this season, and MacKenzie Gore has shown promise. But consistent success has been elusive. The Nationals entered Wednesday’s game against the Pirates with a 3-7 record in September after a 17-11 August.
“The team’s playing better than expected,” Rizzo said Wednesday. “I don’t think that it’s a successful season but it’s a very encouraging season. Nobody wants to aim to win 70 games in a season. We want to win 97 games in a season.
“So that’s our goal, but this is a good step in the right direction to that and I’m really excited about what’s coming down the pike and the players that are going to be the next core group of the championship team that plays in Nationals Park.”
Rizzo also addressed the situation surrounding Stephen Strasburg, who hasn’t pitched since last June and plans on retiring. No announcement has been made yet as the two sides work through details of his retirement terms, which Rizzo said Wednesday is typical protocol. He dismissed reports about a disagreement between the two sides as “much ado about nothing.”
Rizzo has worked to revamp the Nationals’ farm system over the past few seasons, building depth via trades and adding through the MLB draft. In Class AA Harrisburg, the Nationals have Dylan Crews, who Washington made the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 draft, as well as prized prospects James Wood, Brady House and Robert Hassell III. Yohandy Morales and Andrew Pinckney, two picks from the 2023 draft, recently joined the Class AA team. The Nationals’ 2019 first-round pick, 6-foot-8 right-hander Jackson Rutledge, made his major league debut Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
But the staff around Rizzo will look different than it has in years prior. Johnny DiPuglia, Nationals’ international scouting director, has resigned. DiPuglia was one of Rizzo’s closest confidants in the organization. Kris Kline, the team’s longtime scouting director, was moved into a new role as a special assistant to Rizzo. Additionally, a dozen scouts were told that their contracts would not be renewed after this season. Rizzo’s replacements for DiPuglia and Kline will be vital.
“All the strife and struggles that you go through can’t be measured to the glory that you [feel] when that last out, the 27th out of that Game 7 of the World Series, goes into the mitt,” Rizzo said. “So that’s why it was so important to me to be here to see this through.”