CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 24: Mike Rizzo General Manager of the Washington Nationals talks on the phone during batting practice before a game against the Chicago White Sox on June 24, 2011 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Nationals named John McLaren as their new manager. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Mike Rizzo and the Nationals were impressive yet again in signing all their key draft picks. But we know Rizzo is good at the drafting and scouting process. What about the rest of his job?
The MLB Draft signing deadline on Monday night proved once again what we've learned the past three years: Mike Rizzo is really good at the draft. Forget the dollar figures, because they're ultimately pointless when considering baseball's royally screwed up slotting system. The bottom line is that Rizzo and his team drafted arguably the top hitting prospect in the draft in Anthony Rendon, then signed him and their top 13 picks, even though several had signability questions.
That's three straight years of the Nationals doing their job at the draft. Remember the anxiety everyone felt in 2009, when there was a legitimate worry Stephen Strasburg wouldn't want to sign with as downtrodden an organization as the Nationals? Following the signing deadline on Monday night reminded me of how nice it is to know that things were in good hands. Rizzo and his team deserve all the credit they'll get here.
Still, something seemed a bit unsettling about Monday night. I think it has something to do with what Rizzo said after the signings were wrapped up.
Mike Rizzo more fired up tonight than I'd ever seen him. "We are the talk of the industry."
On one level, Rizzo is entitled to brag a little. But "talk of the industry?" Maybe in the wee hours of August 16, 2011, when everyone is in draft mode. Otherwise? Most organizations know that the drafting process is just one of the many things a baseball general manager must do well. The Nationals won't truly be the "talk of the industry" until they brush up on those other things.
This is always the lingering concern I have with Rizzo. Considering his scouting background prior to becoming the Nationals' general manager, is it that much of a stretch to say that he gets up more for drafting and scouting than the other parts of his job?
Maybe, maybe not. But consider the mountains of circumstantial evidence. Earlier this season, when the Nationals were in a long losing streak and needed some crisis management from their GM, Rizzo was on the road scouting prospects for the draft. Even something as unbelievably trivial as media relations came a little awkwardly to Rizzo earlier this season. It's silly, but it potentially reveals the story of a man who shows far more attention to detail to scouting than everything else.
Then, there's his free agent record, which continues to be spotty. Rizzo was right to not spend on Adam Dunn, but made an even more colossal mistake by handing Jayson Werth a mammoth contract. The idea that the Nationals needed to spend to show their legitimacy is faulty (isn't that what overspending in the draft is for?), and to give that money to a player over the age of 30 who has no experience dealing with the pressure of being a "main guy" was foolish.
The smaller moves Rizzo has made have also been questionable. Adam LaRoche was probably a waste of money with Michael Morse proving he's more than capable of playing first base. For $5 million a year, Jason Marquis had one decent half a season before being turned into a low-level prospect that will be lucky to see the Majors. Was that really the upside Rizzo saw when he signed Marquis? Finally, stocking his bench with washed-up veterans hasn't exactly thrilled new manager Davey Johnson.
There are other questions too. International scouting has been a huge problem under Rizzo, with the Nationals throwing gobs of money at Yunesky Maya only to find he stinks. Crisis management still remains an issue. The saga with the Potomac Nationals field reflected poorly on everyone involved, and better people management could have prevented the Potomac personnel from venting in the press. Finally, no matter how you feel about Jim Riggleman's decision to walk out on the team, there's a sense that better communication between Rizzo and Riggleman could have prevented, or at least lessened that scenario.
All this isn't meant to demean Rizzo's accomplishments with the draft. The draft is really important, and Rizzo is getting it done there. By that alone, he's already exponentially better than Jim Bowden. It's also possible that, if Strasburg and Harper are as good as advertised, the Nationals will be a good team with anyone running the show.
But as far as being the "talk of the industry?" That will only happen once Rizzo becomes as good at the rest of his job as he is at the draft.