A potential Chicago Cubs’ general manager candidate about whom we’ve heard very little to this point is Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. As a Chicago native who is leading the turnaround of an up-and-coming organization, Rizzo’s name popped up on a few lists immediately after Jim Hendry was shown the door. Since then, though, you’ve not seen his name much.
This weekend, Rizzo put his own name back into the mix by speaking on the Cubs’ GM vacancy, and attempting to scuttle speculation. In doing so, though, his “denial” sounded suspiciously like Theo Epstein’s non-denial last week.
“I grew up on Waveland Avenue for 30 years, right down the street from the ballpark,” Rizzo said. “And there’s nowhere I’d rather be than the Washington Nationals right now, with where we’re at and what we’re doing and the commitment that the Lerners have shown to me. [The Cubs are] my hometown team. They were my team growing up. I went to many, many games there. But this is the place I need to be.”
Again with the “right now.” I know a big part of that is executive-speak, but these guys certainly do know how to leave doors open.
Other folks have reacted to this statement by Rizzo as a clear denial of interest in the Cubs’ job, but I simply don’t see that. I see a guy who seems to be going out of his way to remind the people of Chicago – including, perhaps the Ricketts family – that he’s one of them. He could have said, “I’m not interested in the Cubs’ job, even if they came asking about me.” Instead, he said, “Right now I’m with the Nationals, and this is where I need to be.”
How many times have you heard a manager, coach, or executive say something like that months before making a move?
Rizzo is an accomplished baseball man, coming up through White Sox and Red Sox ranks as a scout before taking over as the Director of Scouting for the Diamondbacks from 2000 to 2006. From there, he became an assistant GM with the Nationals under Jim Bowden, taking over as interim GM when Bowden resigned before the 2009 season. He was promoted to the full-time GM mid-season. This past offseason, he was given a five-year contract extension.
In his current stint as GM of the Nats – he’s also already been given the organizational reigns as the director of baseball ops – Rizzo has overseen a suddenly almost-competitive team, and led three of the best drafts in the organization’s history. Of course, it’s easy to have superb drafts when you’re picking first and Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are on the board, but the 2009-2011 stretch is considered excellent, even setting aside those two top picks.
Even the biggest potential black mark on Rizzo – the midseason handling of a contract dispute with former manager Jim Riggleman – could be considered a positive by those who appreciated Rizzo’s hardline stance. And Rizzo got the better of “Trader Jim” on the Tom Gorzelanny deal earlier this year, so he’s got that going for him, too.
Make no mistake: if there were a legitimate chance that Rizzo would come, he would be near the top of the list of likely targets. And, indeed, a source tells Adam Kilgore that Rizzo is “definitely” on the Cubs’ wish list.
Fortunately for the Cubs, unlike with other GM targets like Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman (and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Friedman), whose teams are still playing very meaningful baseball, Rizzo’s Nationals are long out of the race. If the Cubs want to interview him in late September or early October, the team’s schedule won’t be a hinderance.