Monday, August 05, 2013

Washington Post Sports Watch: Mike Rizzo was extended. Did Any of the Columnists Notice?

The Washington Nationals gave Mike Rizzo a contract extension and promotion on Thursday evening about 9 p.m. As I write this, more than three days later, no Post sports columnist has yet written a word about it. Which raises the question: What's the point of having sports columnists if they're not going to weigh in on an important local sports story like this one?

Sure, it wasn't particularly surprising that Rizzo got the contract extension--although making him one of the five highest-paid general managers in baseball was somewhat eye-raising. The team is certainly in better shape now than when he was given the job four years ago (and although one can say that a primary reason they're better is because they were bad enough to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper back-to-back, certainly the Gio Gonzalez and Wilson Ramos trades, among other moves, were key as well.)

But it also was announced at a very strange time--the day after the Nats had been beaten 11-1 and dropped to 11 games back of the division-leading Braves in a season where they picked as World Series favorites, and just a few days after one of the team's top relief pitchers had publicly ripped the team for its treatment of a teammate. Oh, and two players who this time last year were seen as key pieces of the team's next few years--Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen--are now in the minors, while most of Rizzo's moves in the offseason have turned out anywhere from disappointing to awful.

Yes, the Post's preeminent baseball columnist, Tom Boswell, is on vacation. And I know what some of you are now thinking--none of the other columnists know as much about baseball as Boz, so why would we want to hear what they have to say, anyway? Even if that's true, it's beside the point. They are all columnists at a major newspaper in a city with a baseball team--their job is to write with knowledge and perspective about the local sports teams. If they can 't do that, then they shouldn't be sports columnists. And it's not like the other Post columnists haven't written about the Nats this spring and summer--just last week, they faced off over the Storen situation, and Wise, to his credit, identified the Drew Storen issue a couple weeks before Tyler Clippard made it public.

So do the Post columnists just not have anything interesting to say about the Rizzo signing? Or do they just not consider the Rizzo signing an important story? I really don't have an answer to that. But here's a suggestion on a angle they can take if they want to finally get their act together. Buried in Adam Kilgore's Friday follow-up blog post to the Rizzo signing is this:

The Nationals’ underachievement remains baffling to Rizzo. He believed the roster he built was going to continue their success from last season. Even in the face of steady losing, he has not lost that belief. 
“I’m surprised it’s been sputtering,” Rizzo said. “You look at the roster we have out there. You look at the track record of 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 career norms, we should have a really good ballclub. For a player to struggle and not have a good season is understandable. It happens. But to have a group of players struggling at the same time and not have the continuity is a little bit puzzling.
Is it a good sign when the GM is "baffled" about why his ballclub is underperforming, especially one who just got a promotion and a contract extension? I don't think so. And that his only explanation, that "a group of players" are struggling, isn't even really true? (Excluding the bench, the only  regular players currently on the team that one could really say are having a bad year are Dan Haren and Adam LaRoche--everyone else is having seasons that are either better, in line or only slightly below their career norms.) Isn't there a column here?

Championship teams aren't just about having players play well. They're also about general managers putting the right talent on the field, and sports columnists should be looking just as critically at their work as they do at the players playing the games. When are the Post sports columnists going to do that?


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