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June 24, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

Thoughts on Riggleman and Rizzo

For Jim Riggleman, yesterday’s decision to resign as manager was life changing. He certainly will never manage again, and any future employment in Major League Baseball is doubtful. But my attitude is that it’s his life, he has the right to choose how to live it, and he will bear the consequences of his own decisions.

For the Nationals, on the other hand, I think much of the angst and even anger is misplaced. There are few jobs on a baseball team with as many qualified candidates waiting in the wings as manager. And there’s little evidence that a manager makes that much difference to a team. An analogy is a utility infielder—sure, they sometimes can make a difference. A good utility infielder may add a win, while a bad one may cost you a win. But if you need to replace one, there’s always an ample supply. And it’s well nigh impossible to figure out ahead of time which ones will be good and which ones won’t work out.

My bigger concern is what this episode may be telling us about Mike Rizzo. There’s a lot I like about Rizzo. He’s a builder. He’s developed a plan for the team, and he appears to be sticking with it tenaciously. If a trade or a free agent signing doesn’t fit into his plan, he’s not going to bite and doesn’t get distracted.

The flip side is that while tenacity can be a virtue in executing a plan, it can turn into stubbornness when circumstances change and the plan needs to be modified. In history, great builders have sometimes also presided over great disasters that occurred when they were unable to adapt their plans.

A more immediate concern is that yesterday’s events suggest that Rizzo has problems with communication, and especially with listening to others.  Even before yesterday’s events, I’d seen news stories in which executives from other teams have complained that Rizzo isn’t good at the give-and-take that comes with trade negotiations—that he tends to come in with take-it-or-leave-it offers and not listen to counteroffers.

For someone like Riggleman to depart in such a confrontational manner expresses a great deal of frustration.  Riggleman says he wanted a meeting with Rizzo to discuss his contract status and Rizzo refused. I can understand how frustrating it must have been for Riggleman to want to be heard by his boss and not to be given the opportunity. Rizzo should have been willing to meet with him and hear his case. If Rizzo’s hesitancy to renew the contract was based on concerns about Riggleman’s performance, he should have been upfront about it. Somehow, I think Jim would have been less frustrated if he’d at least been given a chance to be heard.

Looking forward, Rizzo will need to engage in other negotiations that will be hold much more significance to the future of the franchise. Will he be willing to listen to Stephen Strasburg’s concerns? Will he be willing to modify his timetable for negotiations if Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t want to wait for Rizzo’s timetable? Will he have the patience to deal with Bryce Harper’s ego?  Unfortunately, Rizzo’s inability to handle Riggleman’s contract issues without offending his manager doesn’t augur well for his future negotiations with star players like Zimmerman, Strasburg, and Harper.

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  1. Do the Nats have a communications problem? « Nats Noodles

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