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After a decade of change, time for a long-term manager

Oct 6, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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Few managers are successful and popular enough to remain with one franchise for a truly long-term stay. For every Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Bruce Bochy authoring Hall-of-Fame careers over multiple decades, there are far more John Russells, Trey Hillmans and Mike Quades coming and going with little fanfare and fewer victories on their ledgers.

But every general manager hopes the next guy he hires to run his ballclub is the guy who sticks for a long time. Mike Rizzo hoped Matt Williams would be that guy in Washington, but only two years later, he’s once again looking for another skipper. And he can’t afford to make another mistake.

It has gone mostly unnoticed, but the Nationals have become one of baseball’s biggest merry-go-rounds when it comes to managers. The next man who is tabbed for the job in the coming weeks, incredibly, will be the sixth different man to hold this job in 12 seasons of baseball in the District. And the fifth different manager to work for Rizzo since the latter became GM in 2009.

That’s a whole lot of managerial turnover for any franchise, let alone one that has been owned by the same family for a decade and has employed only two GMs since opening for business in 2005.

In fact, only the Marlins — baseball’s poster children for dysfunction and never-ending change — have had more managers than the Nationals since 2005. Maniacal owner Jeffrey Loria is about to hire his eighth skipper in that timeframe.

And even Miami has been able to keep at least one manager in the dugout for a reasonable amount of time: Fredi Gonzalez made it 3 1/2 seasons in South Florida before getting booted (and subsequently spending the next five seasons in charge of the Braves).

The Nationals? Not one of their managers has held the job more than 2 1/2 seasons. (Yes, Frank Robinson officially managed five years, but the first three of those were in Montreal.)

Actually, there’s a disturbing similarity among the tenures of Washington’s last five skippers: Robinson, Manny Acta, Jim Riggleman, Davey Johnson and Williams. All managed between 312 and 410 games in D.C. That’s not a whole lot of variety.

And that’s why this next managerial hire is going to be the most important decision Rizzo has made in seven seasons as general manager. This next one has to be the right one. This next one has to stick around long enough to manage more games than any from the previous quintet did.

Make no mistake, the pressure is now squarely on Rizzo’s shoulders. His record was practically flawless through his first six years at the helm, with shrewd trades, strong draft classes and mostly smart free-agent signings all coming together to transform a hapless baseball franchise into one of the sport’s most-successful and most-envied organizations.

But Rizzo did more to damage his reputation in 2015 than in the previous six seasons combined. Williams, his handpicked choice to manage a World Series contender despite a serious lack of prior experience or familiarity with this franchise, didn’t work out. Jonathan Papelbon, his only trade deadline acquisition, was a disaster and now may have to be paid $11 million just to go away in 2016. And Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, owners of the second- and third-largest contracts in club history, collectively stepped to the plate only 768 times and posted a collective .235 batting average.

Rizzo can’t afford another season of mistakes like that. He needs to completely remake a bullpen. He needs to adequately replace free agents Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span and Doug Fister. And he needs to hire a manager who is capable of remaining on the job more than 2 1/2 years.

Matt Williams wasn’t that guy, and Rizzo will live to tell the story. But if the next guy isn’t that guy, Rizzo might no longer be the guy entrusted to run this organization.

  1. jfmii - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:00 AM

    It’s a crapshoot. Just win, baby. So much conflicting criteria. Just win, baby.

  2. TimDz - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    I think the Fish and Barves are poor comparables to the Nats, especially using Fredi Gonzalez as the example. If I recall correctly, he was under contract and the teams that have employed him were far too cheap to cut him loose. We should be happy we have ownership willing to support the GM ‘s decision to cut the manager loose base on performance. They won’t like it, but management will do what has to done regarding Papelbon as well.

  3. NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    It’s easy to see where they thought MW was the answer. 2013 was a flop and one can imagine the Lerners and Rizzo and his team evaluating what went wrong, maybe even getting player feedback, and thinking, “we need someone a little more serious than Davey, more disciplined” and THEN Rizzo saying, “I know the perfect guy.”
    When it comes to players, i trust that Rizzo is going to be, not a step ahead, but, like, ten steps ahead of all of us, i cluding the industry. But the manager searches have seemed reactionary. I never got the sense that he had had a true plan for manager in his back pocket, and still dont really. At least now i hope he has enough “lessons learned” to be thorough. At any rate, i will hope for the best. And hope it’s Francona. :). (And at least McCatty and Knorr come back).

    • virginiascopist - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:56 AM

      Francona is an interesting possibility. Does he have an opt-put with the Indians, like Maddon did with the Rays?

      • hersheyman - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:05 AM

        Francona was also a really good OF with the Expos before he hurt his leg making a catch in the OF – I was at that game to see it. He wasn’t the same after that. For Francona, it would be going back to the franchise that drafted him and for whom he played.

        Francona would be my first choice as manager, an easy choice.

      • DaveB - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        I think there is no way Francona is coming to the Nats. He has an opt-out because he had a great relationship with the GM team in Cleveland, and wanted to have the leverage / flexibility to leave if Cleveland replaced them. While Mark Shapiro went to Toronto, Francona has said that he is still very comfortable and happy with the situation with Chris Antonetti (and was pleased that Cleveland let Shapiro take the promotion in Toronto).

    • texnat1 - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:54 AM

      I wouldn’t say there is no way he leaves. He isn’t going to win anything in Cleveland anytime soon.

    • jeffreycbullock - Oct 6, 2015 at 2:47 PM

      McCatty? Are you serious? Almost every pitcher was up this season (notably Roark and later Scherzer) and McCatty had enuff time to correct.

  4. natsguy - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:18 AM

    He does not have an opt out. I’m not sure the Indians would let him break his contract.

  5. JayB - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:22 AM

    It does not seem like other than Jimbo and Acta have ever had a good long term plan with manager hires. I was no Manny fan as you may recall but it made sense….he was just too arrogant and thought he had all the time in the world to get the kids playing well.

    My take is that we do not need the best manager ever with respect to in game decisions but we do need a competent and self confident personality that does not come across to fans, media and players and arrogant SOB like Acta, Riggs, Davey and MW all did to varying degrees with differing groups.

    Like I said I do know something second hand about Ron G. I also think Terry F is a no brainer if you can get him. After that I hope they get it right…..Get someone who will delegate to good coaches and take advice from his staff. Someone who is accessible to players and someone who is not so insecure that he comes across like MW did. I think it could work with a BB Bench Coach or Joe M bench coach because they have lived what we want for many years.

  6. natsfan1a - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:27 AM

    Francona always struck me as a good guy, and he had great success with the Red Sox in reversing the curse of the Bambino and beyond. More recently he’s done well with the Indians. He did also preside over the “beer and chicken” Red Sox. That said, who knows what went on behind the scenes, and what role the front office played.

    • NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:28 AM

      But can he imitate Babe Ruth? 😉

      • natsfan1a - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:41 AM

        *rimshot*

  7. wvpastorphil - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:38 AM

    Good article , Mark. Thanks for the insight.

  8. NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    This is completely off topic, but thought it was awesome:

    • natsfan1a - Oct 6, 2015 at 3:24 PM

      Now, that’s funny.

    • veejh - Oct 6, 2015 at 3:33 PM

      +1

    • virginiascopist - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:45 PM

      That’s also from game 161 when they had that 10-6 lead going into the 9th inning and gave up 5 runs to lose 10-11. Wonder how many jumped off the bandwagon after that. Just kidding.

      • NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 9:07 PM

        Too funny!

    • unkyd59 - Oct 6, 2015 at 9:41 PM

      LOVE IT!!!!

  9. Another_Sam - Oct 6, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    I’m only half kidding here. I hope the next manager has better skills for the baseball press conference and interview. MW was erudite and classy, and as a result left himself open to relentless attacks from us – armchair managers. And I never saw him spit or scratch. Did he ever chew sunflower seeds?

  10. nats788 - Oct 6, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    Bud Black seems like he might fit the bill

    http://navyyardnotes.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-search-begins.html

    • Doc - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      I like Bud Black—he knows pitchers.

  11. natsfan1a - Oct 6, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    All the time, or so it seemed to this armchair tv watcher. 😉

    “Did he ever chew sunflower seeds?”

    • Joe Seamhead - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:03 AM

      Well, at least when he wasn’t chewing gum. Or maybe he was doing them both at the same time?

      • dryw4nats - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        Ewwwww! 🙂

  12. Joe Seamhead - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    Not a huge proponent for Bud Black here and not all for Ron Gardenhire. I doubt they’d go for my dark horse pick because of his checkered past, but I really think the Nats would win with Ron Washington. Francona probably would be terrific, too, but I doubt that he’s really available.

    • texnat1 - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      Do you think a guy like Werth would take direction from Washington? That would be my concern.

      • Joe Seamhead - Oct 6, 2015 at 12:01 PM

        Oh, never mind about Washington. He has too much baggage.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:46 PM

        OOPS. MISFIRE.

        Please ignore the REPORT COMMENT. Sorrr-eee.

  13. JayB - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    It is interesting that we all have strong options about Black, Gardenhire types…..mine is definitely suspect because I have played on teams with two of his ex coaches……..what do you not like about Ron G?

  14. jd - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:35 AM

    I am looking for the following qualities in a manager:

    1) Be a good people person.
    2) Have a logical mind.
    3) Use readily available data when making in game decisions.(in other words don’t be mechanical, don’t always go with righty vs. righty etc.)
    4) Be a leader but not a tyrant.
    5) Work well with the media.
    6) Have a long term view (In other words, sometimes you have to save resources for future games and sometimes this causes you to lose today’s game).
    7) Be media savvy.

    I am leery of the old time managers because I am not sure they are open to innovation. If they are they can be good candidates (Clint Hurdle is an old time manager who has adopted to today’s game very well, Mike Scoscia is stubbornly refusing to be open minded). I like the idea of Dave Martinez because he has worked with Joe Maddon for years and I also like Terry Francona because he has a great personality. Torey Lovulo is interesting to me because he is very into analytics.

  15. npb99 - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    The whole Babe Ruth imitation thing is trivial at this point, but as far as I know, he never held up his part of the bargain. Unimportant, except it highlights how impersonal and rigid he was. He could have done it at some strategic time to loosen up the team, but didn’t have it in him.

    • trfwans - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:35 AM

      Actually the Babe Ruth thing is not trivial at all. In retrospect, it was the first indication that MW checked his personality at the door when he took the manager job. He was too uptight to let his personality show, which is what could have bonded him with his team and this town. He was also too uptight to exhibit any of the qualities that Rizzo praised him for at the introductory press conference. In essence, he put HIMSELF in a locker. As Boswell points out in his column today, no one will succeed in the manager job by doing that. Boswell also points out that Cal Ripken will likely do the very same thing if the Nats make the mistake of hiring him.

      • virginiascopist - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:45 AM

        Totally agree. Every time I think of that, I remind myself that, during the locker room celebration when they clinched the division in Atlanta, MW quoted Robert Frost about “promises to keep” and there he was, reneging on the most public promise he had made since becoming manager.

      • Dave - Oct 6, 2015 at 1:24 PM

        What you said, trfwans. When I was reading Bos’s column, the first thing that popped into my mind was the non-performance of the Babe Ruth thing.

      • sec112 - Oct 6, 2015 at 2:39 PM

        I expressed this view earlier in the season. It’s not so much that not doing the impression was a big problem as that it was evidence of a problem (a leader who was not comfortable enough to loosen up in the interest of strengthening team bonds).

      • npb99 - Oct 6, 2015 at 2:42 PM

        I think we agree here. It revealed a lot about him.

  16. JayB - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    exactly…..so many things he could have done to adjust to the flow of the season but he was too much like a mini Rizzo……I am right and I do not change.

    • DaveB - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:54 AM

      I’m smiling as I try to figure out whether the last part of your post is your opinion of Rizzo / MW or your opinion of yourself 🙂

  17. JayB - Oct 6, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    Rizzo can get away with it because he does not have to manage players and coaches let alone umpires and press on a daily basis.

  18. JayB - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    it is good to be right…..I was right about the lack of leadership and MW killing this team…..from the clubhouse to the field….even though many of you said that I could not know that because I was not there……you just have to know what you are looking for….funny to see some of the clips of players coming back into the dug out and purposefully leaving MW hanging….check out the Max clip….the look on MW face is very telling of what had been going on all year.

    • Dave - Oct 6, 2015 at 1:26 PM

      Yes, yes, JayB, of course you were right. No doubt that you were right all along, nothing you have ever written about Williams or Rizzo could possibly be in any way wrong.

      Can you find a way to give it a rest now?

  19. JamesFan - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    The job has more to do with leading young, sometime insecure young men than analytics. The manager has to have an open leadership style and be a solid, experienced baseball man. Analytics and tactical positioning are a secondary issues. Williams did not lose his job because he didn’t use analytics. He lost it on leadership and bad judgment.

    I’m not big on oldies like Gardy, Black or Washington or celebrity managers like Cal. I would prefer the best, most experienced bench coach who fits the above criteria.

    Managing the Nats is a big market opportunity with a core of excellent or high potential players. It is the most important decision Rizzo and ownership have to make in coming months.

    • veejh - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      Wotus

      • trfwans - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:48 AM

        Opening Day: Uma, Oprah. POTUS, Wotus.

  20. stoatva - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:13 AM

    Wally Backman seems like the “anti-Matt(er)” candidate. Not sure how his schtick would play at the big league level. Uggla loves him.

  21. Doc - Oct 6, 2015 at 12:13 PM

    From all the comments, it may be best if the manager-to-be takes a personality test or two.

    Dave Martinez having worked with Maddon would rate high with me. Joe Maddon is my idea of one of the best managers in the game—mostly of how he works with players.

  22. langleyclub - Oct 6, 2015 at 12:15 PM

    While others will have input, Rizzo will make the final recommendation to the Lerners, and Rizzo knows his job is on the line. We shall see, but it would take monster balls to hire any unproven candidate, given MW failings, as Rizzo know he is toast if this hire flops.

    Not advocating it (I would be fine if Rizzo felt the best candidate was an unknown with no MLB managing experience), but would be surprised if Rizzo did not make as safe as possible of a pick, like Leyland or Gardenhire or a current manager if he came available like Francona).

    The only thing that would frustrate me would be if Rizzo fell back on his AZ Diamondback background again as he seems to do that a lot for his front office andcoaching hires and his player acquisitions, which is so limiting…

    • Sonny G 10 - Oct 7, 2015 at 2:08 AM

      I agree with you on Rizzo leaning too much on his AZ background. I hope he is beyond that nowl

  23. knoxvillenat - Oct 6, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    My two cents on this whole managerial change:

    * Rizzo has never previously allowed his manager to hire an entire coaching staff (not even Johnson) so for him to do this now is a first.

    * Rizzo has almost always gravitated towards selecting people he has worked with in the past for key positions, Riggleman being a noticeable exception. I wonder if he goes in that direction again?

    * Based on what I read in the WaPo from Barry S., Jayson Werth didn’t much care for Williams much like he didn’t care for Riggleman. I wonder if Werth would be inclined to throw Charlie Manuel’s name out to Rizzo as a suggestion? It’s my understanding that he and Manuel were pretty tight in Philly.

    • mythicalmonkey - Oct 6, 2015 at 12:56 PM

      Re: Charlie Manuel. I looked him up. He’s 71+, a year younger than Davey Johnson and a year older than Jim Leyland. Can’t see the Nats going that direction, plus Manuel has turned down offers to leave the Phillies organization. Not to mention the heart attack and the quadruple bypass …

      • knoxvillenat - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:30 PM

        Mind you I’m not calling or suggesting Charlie Manuel, just saying that he is one manager who supposedly Werth had a good relationship with unlike 2 of the last 3 in Washington.

      • letswin3 - Oct 6, 2015 at 6:42 PM

        I’m not picking on you guys for mentioning Manuel, but I don’t think it would be a good idea to listen to Werth or any other player, unless the decision had already been 99% made and Rizzo was looking for some “hand’s on” input about someone who had managed one or more of the current Nats in the past. And frankly, Werth doesn’t look to be all hugs and kisses with anyone anyway. He can be downright condescending sometimes.

    • sec112 - Oct 6, 2015 at 2:50 PM

      Personally, after finding a new manager and dealing with Papelbon and Storen, I think the third biggest issue (bigger than the bullpen in my view) is dealing with the outsized and no longer appropriate influence of Jayson Werth. Tearing up a lineup card and publicly confronting the manager (even if you believe he was a disfunctional manager) is not OK for a guy batting around .200. Imagine if Harper had done that what the media response would be.

      • knoxvillenat - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:33 PM

        And Werth’s behavior in regards to the lineup card and confronting his manager is not the first time he’s pulled that sort of behavior off in his time with the Nstionals.

      • NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:51 PM

        I kind of agree on this. that made me uncomfortable. I know he is a supposed leader and probably has a lot of sway with both players and Rizzo. And i still blame williams for losing the clubhouse. But that whole scene sounded very unprofessional. Like he might be getting a little drunk with his power.

      • naterialguy - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:07 PM

        Thank you. I can’t believe nobody from the press has mentioned the insubordination and they way it must castigate a managers authority. I don’t believe any player should be allowed that locker room behavior.

    • senators5 - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:08 PM

      The only real thing Werth contributed to this year was his pre-season race around 495. Based on his 2015 BB stats, he should be next to last in line to make a manager recommendation, Papalbon being dead l last…literally.

  24. John20784 - Oct 6, 2015 at 1:36 PM

    About time someone wrote this. Only Acta managed three Opening Days in a row. It was good Rizzo axed Acta after three terrible years, but the departures of Riggleman, Johnson, and now Williams all came after above .500 records or Riggleman’s big win streak. Show some patience, Rizzo! I l know the fans in DC are used to revolving door coaches with the Redskins, but even Peter Angelos seems to have learned his lesson.

    And why not give Williams a little credit for Harper’s breakout year? He refused to coddle him from the first month of 2014. And someone (coach, manager?) taught Harper a better batting position and better plate discipline.

  25. edbrinkman - Oct 6, 2015 at 1:48 PM

    Werth should be leading the team instead of killing coaches. He needs to go. Terrible outfielder, and not a very good hitter anymore. The Nats won’t go far with him still in the lineup.

    • npb99 - Oct 6, 2015 at 3:27 PM

      Two more very expensive years. We shuddered when hearing of a 7 year deal and now we’ve got those last two years.

    • jeffreycbullock - Oct 6, 2015 at 3:27 PM

      +10000

    • bowdenball - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:50 PM

      Welcome to Nats fandom! It’s been a rough season, to be sure. However, it hasn’t always been this way. Keep your head up and hopefully things will get better!

      How do I know you’re new to the team, you ask? Well, pretty much every Nationals fan in existence as of March 2013 read this incredible Werth profile by Adam Kilgore which was published during spring training of that year:

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/jayson-werth-has-made-his-presence-felt-throughout-washington-nationals/2013/03/23/16c9bba2-93ae-11e2-a31e-14700e2724e4_story.html

      Since it would be literally impossible to read that article and come away questioning Werth’s leadership and importance to the franchise, I assume you’ve been a fan for, at most, 2.5 years. I suppose it’s also possible, however, that you were out of the country or something then that Kilgore article was published. If so, my apologies!

      • NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:53 PM

        C’mon bowdenball, thats a little condescending dont u think?

  26. mwsmith13 - Oct 6, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    Hmm, a trade then. Francona, Lindor, and Kluber for Turner, Giolito, and Gio. Lol.

    I’d still like Bo Porter to at least be in the interview mix. I know he didn’t leave the Astros under the best of circumstances, but he’s going to come out of dugout and get in some faces when needed.

    Also,please no Dusty Baker.

  27. dgourds - Oct 6, 2015 at 4:56 PM

    I know it will never happen, but I truly believe FP would be a phenomenal manager. I have never come across a more brilliant baseball mind. He’s quick, funny, positive, tough when he needs to be. And that guy knows the Nats–maybe as well as anyone except Rizzo. I believe in him. It’s not unprecedented for a color commentator to become manager. Love the guy. He’s one of the best things about the franchise imo.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 6, 2015 at 6:37 PM

      I worry that his attention span might get in the way, and over time, the game might move pretty fast for him. I could be wrong, of course.

    • naterialguy - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:12 PM

      Ok FP, you can stop with the disguise. We know it’s you.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 6, 2015 at 7:28 PM

        lol

      • NatsNut - Oct 6, 2015 at 9:10 PM

        Too funny!

  28. lesatcsc - Oct 6, 2015 at 11:27 PM

    I don’t really have a favourite for the manager position. I hope that whoever it is will have the sense and courage to tell MR that he is not planning on RZimm or Werth being more than platoon/bench players (albeit hugely well paid), and puts in an order for some guys capable of playing a lot and batting in the middle of the order. Planning on either playing productively for any stretch of time is playing very long odds.

    I’m not going to miss Desi. They already have a guy that can bat .230 with some pop, strikeout 140 times who is both better defensively and a faster baserunner in Espinosa, and that’s only if Trea Turner can’t wrest the starting SS job away. They dodged a bullet on the 100M contract extension. I’m sure Desi is a good guy, just not so sure he is a good fit for the Nats anymore. Use the money saved on Desi for a big time LH 1B or LF.

    There are lots of good pieces to rebuild this team around, but there are lots of problems so MR has his work cut out for him. I think he needs to settle on a manager reasonably soon so they can develop a joint vision for what the Nats will look like and how they will play next year.

  29. nats77 - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    Let’s kill two birds with one stone. Trade Werth(his declining batting and fielding skills) to the AL where he can DH for Francona. Problem solved.

  30. plumbnat - Oct 7, 2015 at 11:52 AM

    I think the Nationals have a very good organization. They need to look at the bench guy at some of the other current very good organizations for the manager. Some examples are Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Boston, Tampa Bay, Texas.

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