- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ensuring that the key architect behind their rise to prominence does not have an uncertain future, the Washington Nationals are in discussions with general manager Mike Rizzo for a contract extension.

“We’re talking about the future now,” Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner told The Washington Times. “We’re in discussions with Mike and I think both sides are confident that we’re going to come to an extension.”

According to one source with knowledge of the discussion, the Nationals have already indicated they will exercise the 2014 option on Rizzo’s contract, securing him through at least next season. But their focus remains on a long-term commitment.

“I think everyone will be happy at the end of the day,” Lerner said.

Rizzo is working in the final guaranteed year of the five-year deal he signed before the 2011 season. The team holds another option on the general manager’s contract for the 2015 season.

Rizzo politely declined to comment on a possible extension.

Helping to build the Nationals into the 98-win team they were a season ago, as well as the World Series favorites they are this year, Rizzo has given ownership plenty of motivation to secure his future and, from its side, plenty of desire to keep him in Washington.

The first significant hire the Lerner family made when it took control of the Nationals in 2006, Rizzo has overseen almost every step of the team’s rebuilding process and been integral in turning it into a major league power.

When he assumed the job as full-time general manager in August 2009, Rizzo inherited a team that by the end of that season had lost 205 games in two years.

Overhauling the organization, starting with the scouting and player development departments, Rizzo helped transform the Nationals’ farm system into one of the league’s best.

Twenty-one of the 25 players on the Nationals’ 2012 National League Division Series roster were acquired during Rizzo’s tenure with the organization. Quite simply, he’s built them into what they are, and has put the plans in place for what they could be in the future.

The Nationals and Rizzo have plenty of time to broach a contract extension, but that deal would likely need to include a significant raise for the GM.

It’s relatively common for first-time executives to sign team-friendly contracts when they go through the initial negotiating process. Rizzo, whose career path has taken him from an area scout all the way up to the head of an organization, had little GM experience when he worked out his contract with the team during the 2010 season.

But the second time around, Rizzo will have far weightier credentials and plenty of leverage when it comes to a possible extension. Should the sides reach an impasse, there will also likely be significant interest in him elsewhere.

The latest example of Rizzo’s increased profile came on Opening Day, as he handed out a Gold Glove, three Silver Slugger awards, a Rookie of the Year award and a Manager of the Year award. When all of that was finished, managing principal owner Ted Lerner presented Rizzo with the Executive of the Year award he was honored with this offseason by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The Nationals haven’t secured Rizzo any further than his current contract allows, but they’re taking steps to do so and appear confident in the possibility of having him around for an extended period of time.

“I’m sure we’ll all sit down and talk when the time is right,” Mark Lerner said during spring training on the topic of a contract extension. “I think this is the place where he wants to make his home and we certainly want him to be here. I’m sure we’ll come to some understanding at some point in time.”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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