Thursday, August 6, 2009

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself: What makes Rizzo run Part 2

Maybe Mike Rizzo's trades can tell us something about what he really wants after all.

Rizzo came over from Arizona with a reputation as a premier talent evaluator. In Arizona, however, Rizzo had the luxury of ownership that was willing to throw money at players like Stephen Drew and Max Scherzer, consensus top talent other teams shied away from drafting because of the signing bonuses required. Not that Rizzo didn't have to put together a draft board like everyone else, but it's a lot easier to look good when you don't have to worry about sticking to the slot recommendations.

The Lerners haven't been nearly as generous as Jerry Colangelo was, and it's because of this that Rizzo's Nationals trades may provide insight into what he really wants. Maybe Jim Bowden always had a crush on the kind of high-upside players commonly labeled "toolsy" or "projectable," but scarcity turned him into a barrel-scraping lover of toolsy high-ceiling former prospects and fringe veterans well past their primes, giving them second and third chances to show they could contribute at the major-league level.1 More often than not, they failed. What do Rizzo's DC transactions tell us he really wants? Mike Rizzo really wants to create a seamless unit where his pitchers generate tons of ground balls and slick-fielding athletic middle-infielders vacuum them up for outs. How has he adapted his vision to the reality of scarcity? By barrel-scraping for former highly-touted prospects with reputations as plus defenders who inevitably end up not fielding well enough to justify their anemic bats and well-understood pitchers who live down to their stats. Today's trade of Anderson Hernandez for Greg Veloz is the latest example.2

Since the Lerners are presumably going to continue to own the Nationals for a while, the question is how -- or whether -- Rizzo will deal with scarcity should he remain General Manager. Will Rizzo be the kind of general manager who constantly adapts and tries to overcome scarce resources by looking for market inefficiencies to exploit or will he fall into a familiar pattern of making the same mistakes over and over again by chasing what he really wants?3

1 Amateur psychologist moment 1: Jim Bowden was really looking for the baseball version of himself the whole time.

2 As well as being the latest example of Rizzo having no patience for players with makeup issues that affect their performance on or off the field. I'm sure Rizzo and Jose Guillen would have been best friends.

3 Amateur psychologist moment 2: Rizzo is the son of a scout. Not that there isn't value in traditional baseball ideas like being strong up the middle, but how attached is Rizzo to these ideas? One might ask the same question about someone like Jack Zduriencik if he wasn't doing such a good job.

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