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September 11, 2012 / Nat Anacostia

Do the Nats have a communications problem?

As the Strasburg shutdown debate raged over the last month, something was bugging me – why is it that Mike Rizzo and Stephen Strasburg seem to be communicating to each other through the press? Now I see an article by Dave Fleming that says it well:

 I’ve followed this story entirely through various sports news channels, and while I can’t claim that I’ve heard every sound bite that comes from the front office, it has seemed to me that the great majority of conversation that should have occurred between the General Manager and the Ace Pitcher has occurred first through the intermediary of those various sports channels. We have Mike Rizzo coming on the radio saying that Strasburg has an innings pitched limit. Then we get Strasburg talking to a reporter and saying that he hasn’t heard anything about a pitch count. Then we get Rizzo saying to someone that Strasburg doesn’t get to make decisions about the team.

I don’t know why this has been the case. I don’t know why it’s seemed that for the majority of this season, Stephen Strasburg has sounded like the guy who knows the least about what’s going on with Strasburg.
There’s been a strong tone of parentalism coming from the front office; a sense that Mike Rizzo is trying to communicate that he’s the boss. There’s little in the way of flexibility: the purpose of Rizzo’s comments have been to a) communicate that the decision on Strasburg is his decision, exclusively, and b) that he’s made his decision, and will not reconsider it.
To my mind, this attitude is needlessly defensive. And it’s needlessly confrontational. Rizzo has escalated an issue that should’ve been resolved in June into something that will dominate all future discussions about this baseball team, for the rest of this year.
I don’t understand why Rizzo didn’t go to Strasburg first, rather than addressing the situation to the media. I don’t know why it has seemed, repeatedly, that Stephen Strasburg is the last guywho hears about any of this stuff. I don’t know why the team’s decision has been so staggeringly uncompromising about their decision. I don’t understand why no one had the foresight to realize that a young pitcher in his first big-league pennant race might be reluctant to sit on the bench and rah-rah his teammates in the playoffs.
And: I don’t know why this has been allowed to turn into such a needless line-in-the-sand drama, when there were so many avenues available that would’ve allowed for a reasonable compromise.
Because Mike Rizzo and the Nationals are probably not wrong about the central decision. It is very wise to limit Strasburg’s innings. It’s a good plan. They’re absolutely right to be careful with Strasburg.
But Rizzo and the Nationals have made a holy mess of how they’ve tried to implement their plan. They’ve left Strasburg, a central player for this young franchise, deeply upset. At the very least, they’ve jeopardized the chance that Strasburg would sign a long-term deal with the team to buy out some of his free agent years. They’ve reduced the chances that the Nats will advance far in the 2012 playoffs.  And if the team doesn’t win the World Series this year, their players and fans will endure an off-season debating the ‘what-if’ of a needless, unnecessary, stupid controversy that the team and the General Manager have fostered all summer long.
I’ve worked in organizations that deal with the public, and the first rule is always to sort out issues in private and present a united voice to the press and media. Even when you’re not dealing with the media, I’ve always taken it as good management practice to discuss issues and resolve affecting an individual employee in private, not in front of the rest of the work force. I mentioned my concerns about Rizzo’s communications style more than a year ago in the wake of the the Riggleman resignation. Unfortunately, my concerns have not been assuaged.
Maybe Rizzo needs to take some training on effective communications.
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2 Comments

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  1. Todd Boss / Sep 12 2012 10:13 am

    Absolutely the Nats have a communications problem. I’ll give you two other blaring examples of Rizzo’s limitations as a personnel manager:
    1. The entire Riggleman affair, as you mentioned. I completely agree. Lots of people put that squarely on Riggleman; i don’t. According to Riggleman, he was asking for a simple meeting with his supervisor to discuss his status and his future. Not exactly an unreasonable request. Rizzo apparently refused to have a 20 minute meeting with his direct underling, so Riggleman pushed the issue. Why wouldn’t Rizzo have a simple meeting?? It was clear that Riggleman wasn’t Rizzo’s “guy,” but that didn’t mean Rizzo had the right to treat Riggleman like a piece of trash.
    2. The Lannan demotion issue this spring training. Johnson is busy telling Lannan he’s the #5 starter all spring and then suddenly Rizzo demotes him and you’ve got Lannan demanding a trade. How does that happen so badly??

    Rizzo may be a great scouting director and (thus far) an effective GM. But his management skills are woeful.

    • Nat Anacostia / Sep 12 2012 11:12 pm

      I agree – the case of Lannan is a great example. Another example was back when Harper was in the minors, I had the impression that no one sat down with him and explained what their development plan for him was. I understand that management needs some flexibility, but the players deserve to hear their plans before its broadcast to the media.

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