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Rizzo defends Williams, himself

Sep 29, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT

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With the team he constructed fresh off being eliminated from playoff contention, with his manager under fire and his team in the national spotlight for a public brawl featuring the best player in baseball, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo took the podium after Monday’s game to a barrage of camera flashes, ready to answer as to why the Nats had found themselves in one of the more embarrassing baseball moments in recent years.

Rizzo fiddled with the microphone as he did his best to explain how Jonathan Papelbon, the closer he acquired just days before the trade deadline, had turned the Nationals’ home dugout into a UFC octagon just 24 hours prior. He gave his personal opinion on the unfathomable decision to put Papelbon back into the game after he grabbed one of the game’s brightest young stars by the throat and slammed him into a wall on live television.

And then the conversation took a sharp turn, as questions of not only Matt Williams’ job performance arose, so did queries about the man at the podium, the brilliant baseball architect whose deal to bring Papelbon to Washington has arguably turned into one of the more colossal mistakes made by a baseball front office in recent memory.

The job security of Rizzo has not seriously come into question publicly, but the future of the manager he hand-picked before the 2014 season certainly has. Rizzo was asked point blank of Williams will be back with the Nationals in 2016.

“We’re going to make 2016 decisions after we finish 2015. He’s under contract to be the manager next year,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo then explained why he thinks Williams has struggled to keep the Nationals afloat this season:

“I think Matt has persevered through a lot of different injuries, a lot of different ebbs and flows of the season. He’s had to juggle maybe as many different lineups as any manager has in baseball and many injuries at different times and groups of players coming off the disabled list at the same time.”

Multiple outlets including CBS Sports and The Washington Post have reported on a rift within the Nats’ clubhouse, some suggesting Williams has lost the support of key players. Rizzo would not respond to those accusations directly.

“If I knew who that person was, I would respond to it. When it’s some blind accusation from an unnamed source, I don’t react to those,” he said.

But Rizzo would give a direct defense of his own job performance, keying in on preseason predictions which have become a sore subject for the team as a whole.

“I could say that the roster we put together in preseason, we felt it was a strong roster. You guys felt it was a strong roster. I think 17 of 18 of you picked us to win the World Series. So, I think you guys thought we created ourselves a good, balanced, high-character and high-quality lineup,” he explained.

“A lot of things went wrong. When things go wrong, you find out where your deficiencies are. Things went wrong quickly and they went wrong very often. Probably, I would say that, looking back at the season, when I look back at it, I’ll probably see some things that I should have done different, things that I didn’t do. Everything rolls down from the general manager and the president of baseball operations’ office. I take full responsibility for the quality of players that we put on the field. That goes from the 2009 season, when I took over, to after today’s win.”

Rizzo won’t have to wait much longer to look back at the Nats’ season, as it will be over in a matter of days. Then, he will have to make the difficult decision of whether to give Williams another chance.

  1. stoatva - Sep 29, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    Ultimately it’s what he does, not what he says, that matters. But the Papelbon situation cannot be allowed to fester too long. Nats fans will never accept Papelbon even if he and Harper somehow smile and make nice for the cameras.

    The feeling that Williams must also be gone isn’t as universally held, but I think most feel that it’s time to move beyond someone who is consistently half a step slow for his position.

    • naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:12 PM

      -$11 Mil

    • ArVAFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:31 PM

      Agree on the “not letting things fester too long.” If they don’t take decisive action right after the season (2-3 days, long enough to deal with the contractual issues), it will look as if they’re either ignoring the issue and hope it goes away, or that they’ve lost control of the process–neither of which will look good to the fans/media/other players/free agents.

      I mean seriously, if you’re a free agent, would you want to come here with Pap in the dugout? You’d need to wear body armor!

  2. NationalAnthem - Sep 29, 2015 at 12:46 PM

    Quick Quiz

    With the upcoming release of Matt Williams, which Nationals skipper has recorded the most games coached?

    (Hint: it’s not Matt Williams)

    • knoxvillenat - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:24 PM

      Frank Robinson

  3. naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 12:54 PM

    Manny!
    is it time to bring him back?

    • naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:01 PM

      Actually I guess it is Davey Johnson by a nose

  4. naterialguy - Sep 29, 2015 at 12:56 PM

    I say bring back the mgr with the highest winning % John McLaren

    • ArVAFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:07 PM

      +1

    • natsfan1a - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:27 PM

      lol, well played.

  5. moozystar - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    Anybody know where Bo Porter went after his stint in Houston? He certainly knows how to stand up to a bully like Pap. Has strong roots with the organization and experience managing.

    Seems to me that the sooner the Nats turn the page on this incident and this season the better. I think that Rizzo has done some great things with the team but has also made some moves that proved to be mistakes, it happens. I don’t think a top down purge is needed. MW made enough mistakes this year that he should probably not return. It’s sad because he seems like a good guy but that is not enough to win.

    It would be nice to start talking about positive change so that we have something to look forward to.

    How long until Pitchers and Catchers report?

    • virginiascopist - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:32 PM

      I believe Bo Porter is 3B coach for the Braves. And, yes, he would have been pulling Pap off Harper for sure. I think I remember him saying he was a boxer in his younger days.

      • stoatva - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:59 PM

        Bo’s tenure with the Astros raises some questions about his in-game ‘strategery’ (as someone once said), but you’re sure right about that point. Might even gone so far as to say that Papelbon wouldn’t even have considered doing what he did if he knew that Bo was in the dugout.

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:11 PM

        I personally am not a Bo Porter fan.His tenure in Houston was a circus on stilts.

    • janebeard - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:36 PM

      I am rooting for it t be Bo. I know lots of folks who want Cal. But we need to be done with people who never managed. When Bo was here, the team was loose and still tight with each other. Of course, we had Michael Morse then and he clearly loosens up any clubhouse he’s in.

  6. JamesFan - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    Rizzo’s press conference poured gasoline on this fire. If they hunker down and expect this to go away and believe that everything will be ok, they are delusional. The Nats will be torched publicly if they try to keep Williams or Papelbon. Fans who have been big supporters of Rizzo are beginning to doubt. The longer this drags on, the more vulnerable Rizzo will become.

  7. moozystar - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    I seem to recall that Porter was popular with players and certainly knows how to get fired up! Like I said, I just want to be able to start looking forward to something positive as soon as possible.

    • Joe Seamhead - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:13 PM

      Porter was popular with players

      I don’t think that you will many players from his Astro tenure that would agree with that sentiment.

  8. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:42 PM

    Matty reminds me of the old Bobcat Goldthwaite routine: “I lost my job. Well, I didn’t lose it — I mean, I know where it is. It’s just that when I go there now, there’s some new guy doing it.”

    Matt seems to have actually lost the team. He doesn’t know where they are.

    “Then I lost my girlfriend. I mean, I didn’t lose her — I know where she is. But when I go there, there’s some new guy doing it.”

  9. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 1:43 PM

    Yes I reported myself, in lieu of an edit. Please just delete that. Thanks.

    • stoatva - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:00 PM

      Well, it was funny while it lasted.

    • Section 222 - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:32 PM

      If only Pap did a little self-editing on Sunday…

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:41 PM

        We’ve all heard the expression “He wishes he could have that one back!”

        Papelbon’s a closer. He doesn’t dwell on the past. I think he feels, to borrow a phrase, “The examined life is not worth living.”

        Socrates he ain’t.

  10. texnat1 - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    A week ago I wouldn’t have even thought about Rizzo losing his job. He seems to be doing everything he can to put himself on the chopping block with Williams.

    I’m starting to doubt that he has the ability to judge his own decisions sufficiently. He seems egotistical and reluctant to admit mistakes. He should have publicly supported Harper in no uncertain terms. Instead, he approves of punishing him and attempts to back Williams. Brain dead move considering Williams has to be gone in a week anyway.

    It seems to me that Rizzo needs supervision at the least. Another set of eyes on his work.

    • ccallahan15 - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:27 PM

      I’m afraid ownership thinks he’s handling this well… If so we’re in trouble.

  11. JayB - Sep 29, 2015 at 2:34 PM

    I agree the more Rizzo defends his moves that clearly have been a destructive bust the worse he looks.

    How hard is it to say I f’ed up and made a major error in judgement on MW and Pap….I am going to fix these errors and learn from them.

    • alexva6 - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:38 PM

      if he says what you want he is throwing a good friend and loyal (albeit incompetent) employee under the bus and lessening any value (albeit very little) he has in the lunatic.

      but if it makes you happy I guess he should

    • phillygirl1807 - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:41 PM

      Agree. It really bothered me that Rizzo didn’t say anything during his press conference to the effect that mistakes were made throughout the season, and certainly on Sunday. He spent the whole press conference defending himself and Williams.

      I was at Sunday’s horror show, saw the fight in the dugout and watched reruns on my phone, and left when Papelbon returned to the mound in the top of the ninth. We NEVER leave before any game is over. We stayed for the entire 18 innings of last season’s disastrous division playoff game that Matt Williams gave away by taking out Jordan Zimmerman with one out to go. But at Sunday’s game, when Williams allowed Papelbon to return to the mound after what he had just done to Harper, that was the last straw. Is Williams blind? Doesn’t he talk to his coaches?

      We need an experienced manager in the dugout – not an uptight, inflexible, stubborn, oblivious, “by the book” zombie. If Mike Rizzo doesn’t fire Williams, then Rizzo needs to go too. We pay too much money for Nats tickets, and invest too much emotion in this team, to be treated with such arrogance and stupidity. And our players deserve better managing, coaching, and training.

      • Section 222 - Sep 29, 2015 at 4:02 PM

        You’re lucky you left when you did. The 9th inning meltdown was almost as ugly as the dugout episode that preceeded it.

        I endorse your final paragraph 100%, and I truly expect Rizzo to do the right thing, much as he probably doesn’t want to.

      • dgourds - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:51 PM

        +1000000!

  12. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    There’s no rush now. They can’t improve anything by firing Matt earlier than the winter. They have already sent Papelbon home, so they can’t improve anything by acting precipitously about that, either. Might as well take a deep breath and figure out how what they can salvage out of this cluster.

    There is some risk, however. They are in a hole, and they need to quit digging. I think that’s what Rizzo is trying to do, but I’m not sure he’s doing it very well. I can’t think of any players, off the top of my head, who did what Papelbon did, and weren’t dropped like a hot rock, publicly and unambiguously. Even Manny Being Manny got old eventually, and Papelbon is no Manny.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:42 PM

      Well said.

    • ccallahan15 - Sep 29, 2015 at 5:28 PM

      You can say that again….

      (Now that looks better)

    • trfwans - Sep 29, 2015 at 6:50 PM

      If they’re going to fire Williams, it needs to be done immediately after the season is over. That way they can turn their attention to who the next manager will be rather than wasting time dithering over MW’s fate. They need a manager in place by the winter meetings at the latest, and they need to take the time to do their due diligence in the manager search and allow the new guy to have a legitimate shot at coaching candidates before they are locked up by other teams.

      Papelbon OTOH can be left to twist in the wind for months. His presence won’t hurt FA prospects at all, since he’s gone after 2016 for sure and any FAs who sign would be for longer than that. As Rizzo attempts to get something back for him, he has until next spring to do that. Pap won’t be anywhere near any potential teammates aka targets before then. Unless he comes to NatsFest, that is – and if he does, that might actually get me to buy a ticket for that!

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:15 PM

        Fair point about Williams, getting started right after the WS. I think that’s what I had in mind by “winter,” but I wasn’t at all clear, so thank you.

  13. Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    There’s no rush now. They can’t improve anything by firing Matt earlier than the winter. They have already sent Papelbon home, so they can’t improve anything by acting precipitously about that, either. Might as well take a deep breath and figure out how what they can salvage out of this cluster.

    There is some risk, however. They are in a hole, and they need to quit digging. I think that’s what Rizzo is trying to do, but I’m not sure he’s doing it very well. I can’t think of any players, off the top of my head, who did what Papelbon did, and weren’t dropped like a hot rock, publicly and unambiguously. Even Manny Being Manny got old eventually, and Papelbon is no Manny.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:33 PM

      I have no idea why that double-posted.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:36 PM

      Of course, reading my [stuff] before I post wouldn’t kill me, I suppose.

      *figure out how much or what they can salvage…

      • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 29, 2015 at 3:42 PM

        That too.

    • Section 222 - Sep 29, 2015 at 4:03 PM

      Well said again.

    • jd - Sep 29, 2015 at 4:41 PM

      Sec 3,

      I am also of the opinion that Paplebon should have been released immediately. I think Rizzo is trying hard to recover any of the $11 mil he can but I hardly think it’s worth it given the hits he is taking for signing him in the 1st place and also the potential for further clubhouse damage is there.

      As far as MW is concerned you are right there is no rush now. I think there was an opportunity to rescue the season at some point perhaps around the end of the California trip but that’s spilled milk now.

      I do however have a nagging fear that MW may in the end be brought back, that would really damper my hopes for next year. I would strongly advise Rizzo against it if only to avoid eroding his own position further.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 29, 2015 at 9:08 PM

        I do not envy Rizzo this job of digging himself out, that’s for sure.

        I can imagine scenarios where they keep Williams as manager, tho it would not be my call (and Matty was one of my favorite players ever; I really wanted him to succeed, and think he still might, elsewhere, someday). I don’t even want to consider scenarios where Papelbon plays here next season. As a former public affairs guy, that would be a colossal blunder, possibly worth firing Rizzo over. Way worse than trading for him in the first place.

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