We don’t have a strong sense of the Giants’ thought process as they begin their search for a new head of baseball operations / general manager (a role that will, for the rest of this article, be called “Overlord”).
The general shape of the job appears to be exactly as Larry Baer describes with his “next gen” comment someone who can mix “old school” scouting and humanity with “new school” technology, math, and ruthless efficiency. The team might prefer to go with someone who’s held the job before and they seem open to the exact title of the Overlord position, which would theoretically free them to interview a multitude of current GM and Vice Presidents, who are customarily only granted permission to interview with another team if the job would be a promotion.
This “general shape” would seem to be drawn wide enough to include someone like the Washington Nationals’ President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Mike Rizzo, whom Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle connected to the Overlord search in this random tweet from Saturday evening:
Maybe this is Mike Rizzo's way of ingratiating himself with the #SFGiants in a bid to come west as head of baseball ops. And, strangely enough, I heard his name mentioned this morning as someone who could wind up in the mix. https://t.co/sBvHCzh03s— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) September 30, 2018
That was a comment made in reply to Keith Olbermman’s joke that the Nationals weren’t going to start Max Scherzer against the Rockies in the final game of the season to intentionally screw the Dodgers.
We don’t know who Schulman heard this from so it’s not totally responsible to say MIKE RIZZO IS BENG CONSIDERED BY THE GIANTS FOR THEIR OPEN FRONT OFFICE OVERLORD POSITION, but out of all the beat writers, he seems mostly content stirring up drama with his views on baseball and less on the news he breaks.
Still, this is the first time we’ve heard of any name “mentioned” as part of the search, and for all my conjecture or that of Alex Pavlovic and Kerry Crowley and Andrew Baggarly (and even Eno Sarris), there’s just not a lot of information out there at the moment regarding the search. This is it. So, does it make any sense for the Giants?
Rizzo has been the GM of the Nationals since 2009. He was technically their interim GM from March-August 2009, so let’s be extremely generous and just count his record since 2010. That gives him nine full seasons and a combined record of 786-671 (.539), with four playoff appearances (and first round exits).
We don’t know the extent of the international and internal scouting departments that were created when the Nationals were still the Expos and bolstered once the Lerner family formally took ownership of the franchise and infused it with cash, so we can wonder a little bit about what Rizzo’s role was in developing their seemingly endless supply of young international talent, but we can’t deny that that’s been a steady part of his tenure (Juan Soto being both the most recent and notable exception).
When you think of the Nationals, you think of a deep, talented organization. A slightly closer look at the record shows that, yeah, the Nationals scouted and drafted extremely well when they were Expos and when they had very high draft picks — Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Jordan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, and Bryce Harper — but since Rizzo took over and has managed the team, only about a dozen players have made it to the major leagues and the combined bWAR of those players is under 2.0.
The Nationals’ two big scouting accomplishments have been Andrew Suarez, whom Rizzo drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft but didn’t sign, only for the Giants to get him the second round of 2015, and Nick Pivetta, whom he traded to the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon. As hilarious as that trade is in retrospect (and probably was at the time), trades appear to be Rizzo’s greatest strength.
He was part of a three-way deal that netted the Nats Trea Turner, he traded for (in no particular order) Gio Gonzalez, Mark Melancon (Good Version), Wilson Ramos, Tanner Roark, Sean Doolittle, and Adam Eaton. Trades seem to be his strong suit. He’s very Brian Sabean in that way.
The rest of the Nationals’ strength comes from the ownership’s ties to Scott Boras. As the reliable Bob Nightengale notes,
It’s an ownership that has the coziest relationship with powerful agent Scott Boras, with 40% of their roster Boras clients. Rizzo was told they didn’t have the money for a closer last winter after Kenley Jansen resisted their overtures, only to suddenly have enough to sign catcher Matt Wieters in spring training, who happens to be a Boras client.
And that could be very helpful for Larry Baer & co. if they’re dead set on bringing in Bryce Harper and other big ticket free agents in the future. There’s a nonzero chance that Nightengale is the person Schulman heard the Rizzo rumor from as part of a coordinated effort by Rizzo to create leverage or opportunity for his current situation (the Lerners have an option on his contract for next season that’s yet to be renewed).
Still, given the Nationals’ track record of success and his possible availability, it’s not difficult to see the Giants having interest. If Rizzo does make it onto a candidate list, there’s a very strong chance Dusty Baker gave his blessing — Baker’s tenure in Washington ended so suddenly and, by all accounts, because of the Lerner’s whims, that a Rizzo interview suggests that the Nationals’ turmoil definitely starts at the top (as it often does in large organizations).
Rizzo could bring over some of the people from the Nationals even, installing one of them as the new GM — Larry Baer has indicated that this new Overlord will be able to reorganize baseball operations however they see fit — but it would be interesting to see how Rizzo’s publicly visible strengths (trades and signing free agents) would work with a team that’s followed a similar path right into oblivion. And even if the Lerner Family has created a rough situation with their various managers (7 in 13 years), Rizzo’s still the one creating the short lists, and it’s difficult to see how Matt Williams landed on one.
He feels like a safe choice, and after these past two seasons and this weekend’s annihilation by the Dodgers, it’s time for the Giants to throw caution to the wind.