Nationals practice options for Dave Martinez, Mike Rizzo

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Nationals practice options for Dave Martinez, Mike Rizzo

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While the Washington Nationals are haunted by uncertainty — over ownership, the upcoming trade deadline, Juan Soto’s contract negotiations — part of the future was solidified Saturday afternoon: Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez will remain in their positions through 2023.

The Nationals announced ahead of their game against the Miami Marlins that they are exercising next year’s options for both. Rizzo, general manager and president of Nationals baseball operations, has been with the team since 2009. Martinez has been the team’s manager since 2018. According to several people with knowledge, ownership had until July 15 to decide if the couple would come back on their contract terms.

“I tried not to think about it that much, to be honest,” Rizzo said. “We are at work. I just assumed that would be the answer.”

“I know we’ve had a rough road, but I’m seeing some really good things,” Martinez said at the start of his pre-game press conference. “Our young players play much better. … We had a plan for this year so I think we’re in a good place and I think we’re going to get better pretty quickly. I am very stunned. … I’m going to do this for another year, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”

Together, their stellar performance is leading the Nationals to a World Series title in 2019. But in the three seasons since, the Nationals are only 120-182, a departure from competing for division titles for the better part of a decade. The slide included trading Trea Turner, Max Scherzer and six others last July. It also includes Washington’s current bottom spot, 20 games behind the New York Mets at 29-51.

As the July 15 deadline neared, two complicating factors were recent results and the potential change of ownership. Ultimately, however, the Lerner family chose to keep their most high-profile employees. Around 1:15 p.m. Saturday, Alan Gottlieb, the chief operating officer of Lerner Sports, walked out of a conference room in the Nationals clubhouse with Rizzo and Martinez, each carrying a piece of paper. Moments later, handshakes and black slaps could be heard from Martinez’s office.

Gottlieb declined to answer questions about the decision to exercise the options. During his press conference, Martinez admitted players were asked about his status and revealed the unknowns were on their minds.

“It brings some continuity not only to this organization but also to the players, which is nice,” Martinez said. “And also to the coaching staff, the coaching staff. … It’s nice to know that we will be together and that we will continue to work the way we do.”

Did he want to reassure his coaches that their boss still has one more season?

“What was important to me when we hired the coaches was that they all got two-year contracts,” said Martinez, hitting coach Darnell Coles, first base coach Eric Young Jr., third base coach Gary DiSarcina and bullpen coach brought in Ricky Bones last fall. “So they will all be here too.”

For Martinez, the immediate task is managing a roster that is likely to weaken in early August when a handful of key veterans are expected to be treated for more prospects. For Rizzo, next month holds the amateur draft, trade deadline and ongoing discussions with Soto, who said on Friday he was open to a long-term extension. And while that draft and deadline are crucial steps in the rebuild — particularly because the Nationals have the fifth overall pick, their highest since 2010 — Soto remains a big part of the process.

If he signs a long-term deal, Washington will have a superstar to build around. If he fails to sign him, Soto could test a free hand after the 2024 season, which may be the case if the Nationals are ready to turn the corner again. Of course, the numbers for the team and the player, represented in this case by Agent Scott Boras, have to be right. The club has made several efforts beyond the 13 years and $350 million it offered last fall, according to several people familiar with the negotiations. These people added that none of the recent offers included deferred payments, a notable shift in the Lerner family’s typical negotiating style.

But what mattered on Saturday was the reassurance for Martinez, Rizzo and those who worked around them – even as many uncertainties remain.

“The reboot is going very well,” said Rizzo, who has always opted for “reboot” over “rebuild.” “You can see a thriving young major league core developing right before our eyes. Our minor league system has never been better in terms of talent and performance on the field. So we are exactly where we want to be to be fighting for championships in the near future.”

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