WASHINGTON – Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo signed a five-year contract extension through 2015 and was promoted to executive vice president of baseball operations on Tuesday, giving him more control over the franchise and a direct line to the team's owners.
"I do believe that, with the new responsibility, the new title and, really, the new job description, it will be my baby, and my fingerprints will be all over the organization, even more so than they are already," Rizzo said in a conference call with reporters.
He joined the Nationals as an assistant general manager in charge of scouting operations in July 2006, after seven seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks. When Jim Bowden abruptly resigned as Washington's GM during spring training on March 1, 2009, Rizzo took over most of the day-to-day duties, essentially as the interim GM.
Rizzo became the permanent general manager in August 2009, shortly after signing No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg to a record $15.1 million contract.
Until now, Rizzo has been working under team president Stan Kasten, who served as a "bridge to the ownership," as Rizzo put it Tuesday. But Kasten resigned at the end of this season, and that bridge is gone now.
"It's a huge opportunity, and it's a huge responsibility, and I'm going to embrace it," Rizzo said. "For a guy who loves baseball and has loved it his whole life, this is a dream opportunity for me, to kind of hone in on a franchise and build it the way I see fit. I'm very humbled by it. I'm very honored by it."
The Nationals increased their win total from 59 to 69 this season, although they finished last in the NL East for the third year in a row.
Rizzo likes to say the team is "building" — as opposed to "rebuilding" — and he drafted Bryce Harper with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's amateur draft, then signed him to a $9.9 million deal. Rizzo also has revamped the Nationals bullpen, overseen the arrivals in the majors of homegrown players Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, and traded for catcher-of-the-future Wilson Ramos.
He said Tuesday his proudest accomplishment to date is bringing together the group of front-office employees he's hired.
"It took a while for us to assemble the cast that we have right now, and I think that's going to pay dividends down the road. It's paying dividends currently, but it's going to really pay dividends down the road," Rizzo said. "This organization is going to be built on scouting and player development and that doesn't happen without a good foundation of scouts in the field, minor league coaches and managers, assistant GMs and the like."
Talks with the Nationals about a contract extension began late in the season, Rizzo said, aiming for what he called "a more seamless transition from Stan's departure to my taking over."
In a statement released by the Nationals on Tuesday, principal owner Ted Lerner said: "Mike Rizzo is unquestionably one of the best baseball minds in the game. He has a unique ability to see player talent for what it is, what it can be, and how it fits into building a team. Mike has been one of the architects of the rebuilding of the entire Nationals player system, from scouting, to player development, to big league signings. We believe the talent foundation we are establishing on and off the field will make the Nationals one of baseball's most exciting teams over the next several seasons."