CHICAGO -- Washington Nationals president and GM Mike Rizzo has built two contending teams from scratch. First as scouting director of the Arizona Diamondbacks and now as an executive of the Nationals, Rizzo has received baseball-wide acclaim for his talent evaluating and development.
Although 2013 has been a down season for his club, the Lerner family, who own the Nationals, tore up Rizzo’s previous contract and named him team president. The vote of confidence is a clear signal from ownership that Rizzo is the face of baseball operations for now and the future.
Rizzo, a Chicago native, has been watching what the Chicago Cubs executives have been doing since taking over the baseball operation in October of 2011.
“Often times in these undertakings you are starting almost an expansion franchise or even below that,” Rizzo said. “You have to first deal with existing contracts at the major league level that have a trickle-down effect on all of your baseball operations. You then have to set a foundation in the minor leagues and establish your way of player development and scouting.”
Rizzo looks at the new system of having caps on spending for the June amateur draft and international signings as a real challenge for all teams, including the Cubs.
“With these new rules, you can tell that is why Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) have been so aggressive in the international market place. These rules have put the small-market teams on a comparable level with the richer clubs. Now it is back to old fashioned scouting. The teams with the better scouts will get the better players. It is really a true scouting system now.”
Rizzo points to his own use of maximizing the old system and how it impacted his team’s future.
“We went out three years before all of these changes in the draft rules and tried to sign a lot of players -- being very, very aggressive,” Rizzo said. “We were able to spend money on this important area before the rule changes came on the draft. This rebuilding plan all starts with great scouting. Health has a lot to do with your degree of short-term success but I believe some teams scout and develop better than others.”
The Cubs’ plan of moving forward with farm-developed players makes sense to Rizzo. “We have the third-youngest team in major league baseball. Our core players are extremely young and our starting rotation is also extremely young. The place you look to put veterans is in the back of your rotation and on your bench. You look for mentors for your young group but you also need to have them perform on the field.”
That theory was precisely the reason Rizzo picked up David DeJesus on Monday. Rizzo also put DeJesus on waivers in case a more competitive team comes calling before Sept. 1. In the meantime, DeJesus helps bring that veteran atmosphere so many young clubs need to get through a 162-game season.
“Look, every decision you make as a baseball man is so much under the microscope,” Rizzo said. “You really have to have thick skin. You really have to believe in your plan and what you are doing.”
While Epstein and Hoyer do some heavy lifting, Rizzo is trying to get his team straightened out for 2014.
“I know this market extremely well,” Rizzo said. “The most important thing that Theo and Jed bring to the market here is that they have done it before. They have a track record of success. They will need conviction and a thick skin to implement their plan. If ownership is supportive of them, there will be fruits to bear down the road.”