Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reading the entrails

Who's going to have a press conference first, Stephen Strasburg or the new GM of the Nats?

All indications are that Rizzo is going to be replaced, and soon. In the wake of the successful Strasburg negotiations, Kasten has been extremely non-committal when speaking about Rizzo to the media. Gordon Edes is out with another report saying Dipoto is the winner, and Danny Knobler reports that Dipoto plans to accept the job. Perhaps the most interesting thing I saw was this tweet from Bob Nightengale last night:
My interpretation of all this was that Stan really wants to recreate the 1990s Braves, with Dipoto as the new Schuerholz and a strong manager a la Bobby Cox.

But then Mark Zuckerman said something that hearkened back to an earlier report that Kasten prefers Rizzo, while the Lerners want to make a splash by bringing in an outside candidate:
There's another factor in all this, one that was pointed out to me earlier this evening by someone who knows the Nats front office well. The GM decision can't really be made until Stan Kasten has decided whether to remain as team president or not. There haven't been many rumors lately about Kasten's potential departure, and certainly there's reason to believe he's going to stick around here a while longer. And if he stays, this person believes, Rizzo likely gets the GM job. If Kasten were to leave, though, then whoever the new team president was would have to have the final say on a GM.
So, we're back to our old trope about who's really running the Nats and the conflict between Kasten and the Lerners.

Both could be true: Kasten could be trying to recreate the Braves while fighting the Lerners every step of the way. Is hiring Dipoto a sign that Kasten is winning or losing? Yes. No. Who knows? In the meantime, the front office staff is waiting for the other shoe to drop and bloggers and the media are clamoring that to ditch Rizzo right after signing Strasburg would be another tone deaf, classless move by the Lerners.

You know what? They're not entirely wrong. Again and again, the Lerners have shown they don't exactly possess a deft touch when it comes to the media or public relations. There shouldn't have even been such a public GM search during the season. After the Lerners got it through their skulls that Bowden was radioactive, the Lerners and Kasten should have presented a united front and stated very clearly that Rizzo was going to remain as acting general manager for the entire 2009 season, that the team would announce a decision on a permanent GM after the season, and refused to comment on anything else. There would have been some heat on Rizzo and the rest of the front office staff, but nothing like the swirling speculation there is now. And Kasten and the Lerners could have taken the time to interview other candidates while deciding whether their forced marriage with Rizzo was for the best.

Since that's not the route they chose, there's another consideration. At this point, anything that might delay the needed overhauls of the player development system and front office should be avoided.

The PR hit the team will take -- and it will be significant, at least in the local media -- will be worth it if it allows Dipoto to start making changes immediately. Although many of the new people one assumes Dipoto would like to bring in are under contract to other teams through the end of this season, there's still a lot for him to do. Giving Dipoto the job now allows him to spend the rest of the season discovering just what he's gotten himself into, learning what's broken, and thinking about how to fix it. Edes also points out that this is when most teams are preparing their 2010 budgets. Bringing Dipoto in now gives him a say in the process, letting him prioritize what he thinks is important, rather than having to work with someone else's budget. Hopefully, Dipoto will also spend the rest of the year conceiving an organizational plan and figuring out just what the "Nationals Way" is going to be."

Dipoto would be the Lerners' first real independent hire, and as such represents a dramatic step for the Nationals. Kasten was forced on the Lerners by Selig. Bowden was a legacy of MLB's ownership of the Expos. Rizzo was a part of the Bowden regime and is only in the mix because of Smileygate. Sure, there was some speculation way back in 2006 that Rizzo was brought in to be GM after Bowden, but that talk died down after Bowden kept parking his car in the spot reserved for the GM. A new GM, whether it's Dipoto or someone else, secure in his employment, will hopefully have the vision and authority to take The Plan® from a joke to, well, an actual plan.

The timing of the hire may make it look like Rizzo is getting the Moe Greene treatment, but it's for the good of the team.

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