Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Questions raised by Rizzo's new deal
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense. With the franchise in a much more stable situation now than it was two years ago when Rizzo took over, it's appropriate to add some more stability to the front office by locking the GM up through 2015. The last thing the Nats need to be contemplating right now is another GM change. Rizzo has accomplished quite a bit since replacing the disgraced Jim Bowden, and though there's still plenty more to be accomplished, he deserves the opportunity to finish what he started.
But how long will it take to finish? In some ways, the Lerners handing out a five-year extension suggests they believe it's still going to be a while. Think about it. If, at the end of the 2013 season, the Nationals are still losing 90-plus games, wouldn't it be appropriate to consider a GM change? Rizzo will have had five seasons under his belt at that point. Few GMs are given more time than that before success is required.
But under that scenario, Rizzo would still have two years remaining on his contract. Would the Nationals be willing to eat the money, or would they feel obligated to leave Rizzo in control until the contract expired two years later?
The Lerner family is perfectly comfortable committing to Rizzo through 2015. The question is: Are they making that commitment because they're confident Rizzo will have already built a winner before then and want to make sure he's locked up, or do they have reason to believe this rebuilding project needs five more years to be completed and thus it's unfair to judge their GM until then?
That's the kind of question that should have been asked yesterday to ownership upon the announcement of Rizzo's new deal. But no one from ownership was made available on the conference call set up for reporters. Only Rizzo, the man getting the contract extension, was available. The official press release announcing the move included a token statement from Ted Lerner, but neither he nor any other member of the ownership group spoke publicly about one of the most important decisions they'll ever make.
That was a head-scratching move, and it raises another question about the direction this franchise is headed: Who's the new public face of ownership now that Stan Kasten is gone?
For nearly five years, Kasten was the man standing in front of cameras and reporters, delivering the message for ownership. He was there when players were signed, when GMs and managers were hired, when there were issues with the stadium or local government entities.
Now, Kasten's gone and he's not being replaced by anyone. Rizzo is completely in charge of the baseball operation and with his new title reports directly to ownership, no intermediary necessary. Andrew Feffer, hired last winter as chief operating officer, is in charge of the business side of the franchise for now and also reports directly to ownership.
But Feffer doesn't oversee the baseball department and he doesn't oversee Rizzo. Only ownership does. But ownership has no public face at the moment, and that's a problem.
Ted and Mark Lerner have never been real comfortable with public speaking. They prefer to run their businesses in private, which is perfectly acceptable. But in the world of professional sports, someone has to speak for ownership if ownership itself isn't speaking.
When a GM is given a five-year extension, when a scandal alleging illegal actions by club officials in the Dominican Republic comes to light, when fans want to know why they couldn't buy tickets to Opening Day even though thousands of Phillies fans could, someone representing ownership needs to speak directly to the public.
For five years, Kasten was that guy. It's time for ownership to figure out who will be taking over that vital role and serve as the public face of the Nationals moving forward.
Posted by Mark Zuckerman at 10:45 AM