Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why Rizzo Is Not "Rebuilding"

Mike Rizzo was recently quoted as saying that the Nats were not rebuilding. Now before we get to the punchline that you cannot rebuild what was never there, we have to remind ourselves that Mr. Rizzo is still working under the title "acting GM." As the first half of the season unfolded and Rizzo attempted to untangle the mess of the Jim Bowden era, Rizzo's fingerprint was crystal clear. He removed the dead weight from the forty-man roster, brought in young ground ball pitchers, then began improving the defense. However, none of the marquee players were touched.

Rizzo understands the value of defense and must know that Adam Dunn in left field and Cristian Guzman at short, despite their offensive numbers, will not compensate for their defensive shortcomings. These players would be the best trade bait. Every AL contender could use a bat like Dunn, and Guzman is more appealing than many teams' shortstop options. However, Rizzo isn't GM, and his boss doesn't exactly share his goals.

Stan Kasten isn't responsible for making the Nationals win. He is responsible for making the Nationals profitable. The problem is that winning and making money are not mutually exclusive. Mr. Kasten should care that the Nats have taken just four years to become the league laughingstock, but instead, he is forced to profit on that fact. Hence the fact the Nats have taken out specific ad campaigns catering to fans of opposing teams (Phillies, Red Sox, Orioles), the fact that they are only trading veterans in the final year of their contract, hoarding as many high profile players as possible, and the fact that they cannot be rebuilding.

2009 is a lost year. By admitting that the Nationals are rebuilding, that 2010 may be more of the same, will sacrifice season ticket sales, television ratings, and what little interest the public still has will quickly disappear. Kasten needs marquee players and hope to put people in the seats, not the possible myth of rebuilding. Sadly for the fans, Kasten's method works to meet the bottom line, and he will continue to put forth a team that he can sell as being a "potential winner" until he cannot sell seats and gets himself terminated.

These two differing philosophies are hamstringing the Nats. Rizzo would prefer to play .300 ball this year, .400 ball in 2010, then go for .500 in 2011 and 2012, while Kasten hopes that his current team could play better, consistently play .450 ball and threaten a run at .500 at some point. Rizzo would prefer to invest in in scouting and prospects while Kasten would prefer to go after free agents and Strasburg. Who knows for sure who pulled what string in Acta's dismissal, but more than likely somebody hoped that Riggleman would spark a resurgence.

The tragedy in all this is that by 2009 being a lost year, the Nats killed 2010 by not making a deliberate move either for or against Rizzo's plan. He probably deserves a chance to see his work through, but odds are Kasten is going to hire outside the organization and bring in new blood. The new GM will have to build within the existing framework and 2011 will be a lost year as well.

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