The dust is yet to settle after yesterday’s fiasco involving Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman and team GM Mike Rizzo, but if the Twittersphere is any gauge, many remain bewildered by the sudden turn of events in the nation’s capital. Few understand why Riggleman had chosen such a boisterous occasion – the Nationals were minutes removed from a walk-off victory that pushed the team over .500 in June for the first time since 2005 – to resign abruptly and leave the organization without a defined managerial presence. The truth appears to be that, as The Nats Blog points out, Riggleman had grown frustrated with what he saw as an unfair contract situation: Rizzo had signed a five-year extension as GM last off-season and had refused to pick up Riggleman’s contract option that would have kept him in place for the 2012 campaign. Frustration mounted for Riggleman throughout this season as it became clear that his job security was still in doubt despite a recent stretch that saw the Nationals play arguably their best baseball in franchise history, winning 11 of 12 games.
I, for one, don’t blame Riggleman for his last-ditch effort to try to latch onto what has the potential to be one of the National League’s long-term surprises. Riggleman didn’t see himself in the future plans for the Nationals although he desperately wanted to be there. So, in an attempt to manufacture leverage and secure a contract extension, he used a common negotiation tactic: establish a concrete time deadline in order to create a sense of urgency. For anyone that watches ABC’s Shark Tank, Mark Cuban has done this effectively throughout his guest appearances when attempting to lock up a deal without being bid up by competing sharks. On more than one occasion, Cuban has given small business owners twenty seconds to decide whether or not they will accept his funding offer, after which the offer expires. Similarly, Riggleman probably figured that after an 8-1 homestand, the proverbial ball was in his court, thus the declaration to Rizzo that he would resign as Nationals manager immediately following yesterday’s game if his contract were not extended. From a bystander’s point-of-view, the percentages were clearly in Riggleman’s favor: would Rizzo truly endure the PR nightmare that would undoubtedly ensue if he were to fire his manager after the best stretch in team history? Unfortunately for Riggleman and Nationals fans, the answer was yes.
What you may not learn in Negotiations 101 is that when time deadlines go awry, they really go awry. Urgency can lead to inefficient outcomes, as was clearly the case for Riggleman and the entire Nationals organization. If Rizzo went home last night and thought of this as a negotiation victory, I urge him to rethink his stance. This was unfortunately a lose-lose for both parties.