As we continue our journey down the "What If" alternate reality for the Nationals, there's one major change that could've happened almost four years ago, that likely would have altered the trajectory of the franchise forever.
Yes, back in October 2016, it was at least a possibility according to ESPN's Jim Bowden:
"According to a source close to the Diamondbacks ownership ....Mike Rizzo the Nationals GM is at the top of their list to be their next President of Baseball Operations and plan on asking permission from the Nationals at the conclusion of the Nationals post-season."
Can you imagine a world where Rizzo had left, three seasons before finishing his build of a World Series champ? I shudder at the thought, and so should you.
Three days after that report, the Nationals and Dodgers faced each other in Game 5 of the NLDS, and if you remember, it all looked promising until the top of the seventh inning when disaster struck, and they used a single-inning record, six pitchers. The Nats would eventually lose the game, the series, and see another early offseason engulf them, and it could've been a perfect time for Rizzo to take on a fresh start somewhere else if he wanted to.
Maybe in this cruel alternate universe, they hire someone from within. Rizzo has certainly worked with a great staff, sure. Maybe it's an outside hire. Either way, Rizzo has been the most important piece to this Nationals era of success, and no, the risk of "new eyes" just isn't appealing, even then.
It hasn't always been "do what you want Mike" when it came to building these teams. He's worked around some serious restrictions at times to build a title contender.
You likely would've seen the organization clean house from Dusty Baker down, with Rizzo not there to at least vouch for Dusty to get one more season. Maybe they'd try again with Bud Black. They would've had to offer him more money, but who knows, it could've been a feeling of desperation for ownership. Maybe they go hire a rookie manager, anything was possible when it came to that job during that stretch.
This could've also brought the feeling of ownership needing a bigger splash that offseason, and Chris Sale would've been the perfect cannonball to cause it. Getting Sale means no Adam Eaton, but weirdly enough you'd get a similar return to Chicago with Victor Robles, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez likely back in return (pitcher Dane Dunning went to the Sox instead of Lopez in the Eaton trade).
Fast forward to Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS against the Cubs, and maybe you get a better outcome. Or maybe they don't even make the postseason. Heck, maybe the new guy in Rizzo's chair decides to sell at the deadline and build up their farm system in that alternate reality. Yuck.
In our playoffs reality timeline though, you could have Black as the manager, who decides to start Max Scherzer on short rest instead of Gio Gonzalez, who was shaky at best in that final game of the series. Then, the would-be third strike turned passed ball and throw away at first base by Matt Wieters never happens (something the umps screwed up when it was all said and done anyway), and the Nationals hold on to their lead and go on to exercise those playoff demons two years earlier knocking out Chicago.
The Nationals proceed to beat the Dodgers in the NLCS, and face (gasp!) the cheating 2017 Astros in the World Series. They were able to beat those trash can banging chumps this past fall, maybe they handle that in 2017 as well.
They could also lose that World Series and all of Washington hates the Astros more because they stole a World Series from the Nats instead of the Dodgers in 2017.
Or again, they're not even in the postseason, which is a reality none of us would like, and they're still rebuilding two years later.
All I know is this, if you told me back in 2016 we had two options, lose Rizzo and see what the new guy can do, or keep him, and continue down the path he was taking them, the answer is Rizzo ten times out of ten.
Luckily, a World Series title is now in the Nationals reality, and that's the only timeline we need to worry about.
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What if Mike Rizzo had left the Nationals for Arizona in 2016? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington