MILWAUKEE -- A day after signing a contract extension with the Nationals, general manager Mike Rizzo said he and the organization had been talking about a long-term deal for several months The talks were amicable and no timetable was set on reaching an agreement.
"We were getting close the last couple of days, and the last day, it came to fruition," Rizzo said.
Now that Rizzo has been promoted to president of baseball operations and general manager, it means, as he puts it, "The buck stops with me. There is nobody above me, nobody to look to above me. They are my decisions and I'm going to run the baseball operations department in its entirety. It's the hiring and firing, implementation of policies and philosophies."
Rizzo, who has served as Washington's GM since 2009, has turned the Nationals into one of the best organizations in Major League Baseball. Under his leadership, the Nationals won their first division title in 2012, going 98-64. His Draft expertise was one of the reasons the Nats were among the game's elite clubs entering the 2013 season. Of the players on last year's team the entire season, seven were drafted by Rizzo, including outfielder Bryce Harper and right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
Rizzo was named 2012 Executive of the Year by the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and Hit Club of Chicago.
"I think he is an outstanding baseball man. I think he has done a great job [in Washington]. It's good to see the boss is rewarded. I'm very happy for him," manager Davey Johnson said.
This year, however, the Nationals have been struggling. Entering Friday's action, the Nationals were 52-56, 11 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and 7 1/2 behind the Reds in the NL Wild Card race. The Nationals were considered the favorites to win the East, and Rizzo is dumbfounded as to why the team has been sputtering.
"If you look at the roster that we have out there," Rizzo said, "and you look at the track record and the players that are on the field -- in the bullpen, in the rotation, on the bench -- you say to yourself, 'If these guys play up to their potential and up to their career norms, we should have a really good ballclub.'
"For a player or two to struggle and have a down season is understandable. It happens. But a group of players struggling at the same time and not have the continuity is a little bit puzzling. If I had a definite reason for it, I would fix it. We are looking for some explanations on how to fix things. … Right now, we have to allow the players to play out the last third of the season and see where it takes us. One good third of the season can turn this thing around."
Although the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed, Rizzo is still looking to improve the Nationals, but said they are not going to be in a rent-a-player mode. It's not a secret the Nationals are looking to improve their bench, which is one of the worst in baseball. Last year, the team was able to acquire catcher Kurt Suzuki after the Trade Deadline.
"We are looking for ways to improve the club," Rizzo said. "I expect this team to play extremely hard and play winning baseball down the stretch and really lay it on the line the last third of the season. I have no problem with the effort level on the club. We work extremely hard, we play extremely hard. I think we need to [have] a little energy within the offense, some timely hits and string some things together, and I think we'll start getting on a run."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.