Rizzo rooting D-backs on from afar
Team's former scouting chief credits ownership's patience
WASHINGTON -- Last Saturday evening, Nationals assistant general manager Mike Rizzo was in his hotel room in Melbourne, Fla., watching Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Diamondbacks and Cubs.
When Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano flied out for the final out, helping Arizona advance to National League Championship Series, Rizzo had a big smile on his face. A former member of the Diamondbacks' front office, he wanted to celebrate. The problem was, there was no one to celebrate with. Rizzo, however, did receive a lot of congratulatory e-mails and phone calls.
"I was so fired up. I'm looking around my hotel room, jumping around with nowhere to go," Rizzo said. "There was nobody to jump up with. You are jumping up and down and there nobody in the room with you. It was a great feeling. I was so proud of them."
As the Diamondbacks' scouting director and then the team's vice president of scouting operations for a combined seven seasons, Rizzo has every reason to be happy. He was instrumental in drafting players such as Brandon Webb, Justin Upton, Chad Tracy, Mark Reynolds, Micah Owings and Stephen Drew, all of whom have had a hand in helping the Diamondbacks get a step closer to the World Series.
When Rizzo became the scouting director in 2001, Arizona's farm system ranked 29th, according to Baseball America. By the time Rizzo left the organization in 2006, it was ranked No. 1 by the same publication.
Rizzo said patience from ownership is the reason the farm system was replenished and is now helping Arizona in the postseason.
"If you do things in the correct manner and ownership is patient, it allows you to do what you are paid to do. Things can change in a relatively quick manner," Rizzo said.
The plan to build Arizona's farm system started in 2000, a year before it won its first World Series title. The front office, led by then-majority owner Jerry Colangelo and then-general manager Joe Garagiola Jr., realized the players on the Major League roster were getting older and the payroll was going to be burdensome. It didn't help that the Diamondbacks owned millions in deferred payments the next few years.
"We knew of the deferred payments that were coming. They were getting more expensive and we thought as time wore on we could develop our own players," Rizzo said.
At $53 million, the Diamondbacks now have one of lowest payrolls in baseball and a plethora of talent in the Major and Minor Leagues. Pitchers Max Scherzer and Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez are expected to be the next wave of Minor Leaguers to help Arizona soon.
"There are still young players coming through the pipeline. They have several great impact players on the horizon. By no means are the Arizona Diamondbacks done with putting great young players into their Major League system, which allows them to control the payroll and have a very productive organization," Rizzo said.
Although he was successful in replenishing Arizona's farm system, Rizzo felt he needed a change of scenery. On July 24, 2006, Rizzo departed the Diamondbacks to become an assistant GM and vice president of baseball operations for the Nationals.
One of the reasons Rizzo left Arizona was because he didn't get the GM job, which went to Josh Byrnes before the 2006 season. Rizzo expressed his disappointment to upper management, but he says he has no ill will toward the Diamondbacks. Rizzo pointed out that upper management promoted him to vice president of scouting operations that offseason.
"I wouldn't say I was upset [by not getting the GM job in Arizona]," Rizzo said. "Did I agree with the decision? I did not. I told that to the ownership of the Diamondbacks. But there is no animosity towards them. We are all grown men.
"[Going to the Nationals] was a huge promotion for me. This job -- assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations -- is the biggest you could have in the industry without being a general manager. It allows me to expand my horizons for my ultimate next job, which is to be a Major League general manager in the near future."
Today, Rizzo is looking to have the same success in Washington that he had in Arizona as he seeks to replenish a farm system that has been depleted for almost a decade.
By all accounts, Rizzo and scouting director Dana Brown had one of the best Drafts in Expos/Nationals franchise history in 2007. Washington was able to sign its first 20 picks, including pitchers Ross Detwiler and Jack McGeary and outfielder Michael Burgess. Detwiler has already spent time in the big leagues.
"I feel great with what we have been trying to do with the Nationals. It's coming together, better than I even expected," Rizzo said. "I see great things on the horizon with the Nationals. It all starts at the top. The Lerner family, along with [team president] Stan Kasten and [general manager] Jim Bowden, have given us all the resources that you could possibly ask for to do the job that you need to do."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.