WASHINGTON -- The Nationals agreeing to a two-year contract extension with Mike Rizzo to remain their general manager and president of baseball operations through 2020 was important for a number of reasons; mainly, it keeps the architect of one of baseball's most successful teams in place.Rizzo's contract was set to
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals agreeing to a two-year contract extension with Mike Rizzo to remain their general manager and president of baseball operations through 2020 was important for a number of reasons; mainly, it keeps the architect of one of baseball's most successful teams in place.
Rizzo's contract was set to expire on Oct. 31, right before the beginning of perhaps the best and most anticipated free-agent class in baseball history -- one that will be headlined by Bryce Harper. The Nationals have ensured that Rizzo will serve as their lead negotiator this offseason as they try to secure Harper to a long-term deal.
"We've made no bones about [the fact] that Harp's a big part of this organization," Rizzo said Thursday morning. "He's a vital cog in what we're trying to do. We've scouted, signed, developed him and watched him blossom into a star at the big league level, so of course we'd love to keep him long term."
Signing Rizzo to an extension almost certainly will have little impact on Harper's decision this winter. It's difficult to say what Harper's top priorities will be, and he shrugged off the notion that Rizzo's unsettled contract situation could have become a distraction for the team. Losing Rizzo and having to search for a general manager right before the start of free agency, however, could have been detrimental to the Nationals' chances in retaining Harper.
Rizzo first met Harper when the slugger was 16 years old, back when the Nationals began scouting him. He made Harper the first overall selection in the 2010 MLB Draft, and the two have developed a relationship in the time they've spent together in the organization.
"Riz is a great guy," Harper said. "Somebody that's going to have your back, each and every night. Somebody that's going to battle for you in the trenches, when you're going bad or going good. I've got a lot of respect for Rizzo."
Rizzo also has a strong working relationship with Harper's agent, Scott Boras, who represents several prominent Nationals including Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. A deal as lucrative as the one Harper will be expected to command will also include ownership, and Rizzo has navigated a few blockbuster contracts along with Boras and the Lerner family, including seven-year deals for Scherzer and Strasburg.
And Rizzo has confidence he can do the same with Harper.
This past offseason, Rizzo went on MLB Network and said Washington will have as good a chance as anybody to sign Harper long term, in part because of the relationship the two have developed.
"He lets guys be themselves," Harper said. "He's great for this organization. Happy to have him at the helm."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.