Tuesday, October 19, 2010, 1:53 pm, Updated at 2:57 p.m.
By Mark ZuckermanCSNwashington.com
There was, however, always oversight and possible restriction, whether in the form of team president Stan Kasten residing above him, or the lack of a long-term commitment from the organization, even after the acting title was removed from Rizzo's name in August 2009.
Now, though, there's no question who is in charge of the Nationals' baseball operations. Having today received a five-year contract extension and a title promotion, Rizzo has sole control of the front office and a direct pipeline to ownership.
After working out details over the last month or so, the Nationals formally announced Rizzo's extension through the 2015 season as well as the 49-year-old longtime scout's new title of executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager.
"For a guy who loves baseball and grew up in it his whole life, this is a dream opportunity for me," he said, "to be able to hone in on a franchise and build it the way I see fit."
Rizzo will have autonomy to build the Nationals the way he sees fit, provided ownership gives him the funding. Having previously worked under Kasten, who served as a conduit between the GM and ownership, Rizzo now reports directly to members of the Lerner family.
"Mike Rizzo is unquestionably one of the best baseball minds in the game," managing principal owner Ted Lerner said in a statement. "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."
Rizzo's promotion was a natural one, especially after Kasten announced his plan to leave as team president following the season. Rizzo referred to his former boss as "my mentor and a good friend" and credits Kasten with helping the former scout and assistant GM adjust to the demands of the lead GM position during the 2009 season.
Over the course of the last two seasons, though, Rizzo has taken on more responsibility and made several major moves that have put his stamp on the entire organization. He promoted Jim Riggleman from interim to full-time manager, revamped the front office with a host of new assistants and scouts, signed No. 1 draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to record-setting contracts and traded away veterans Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson and Matt Capps for prospects who could ultimately help the Nationals post their first winning season since arriving in town in 2005.
Now Rizzo will have more say in franchise-altering moves.
"I do believe that with the new responsibility and the new title and the new job description, I feel it will certainly be my baby," he said. "My fingerprints will be all over the organization, more so than they are already."
Though he had worked the last two seasons with no long-term job stability, Rizzo said he approached his job as though he was here to stay. Now that he's secure for another five seasons, he insists that mindset won't change.
"You know, I never once thought about what type of contract I had, the terms of it," he said. "I always have a long-term view with a short-term focus. It won't change my approach to this job one bit, other than I know we're going to have continuity and consistency from the top down."