Oct 6, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
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.
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ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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