It's the Diamondback in the room. Matt Williams will be the new manager of the Nationals next year. So what do I think?
Ok, see you tomorrow!
Fine, fine. But let's start at the beginning. How do I feel about letting Davey Johnson go? Necessary, but it's pretty lousy it got to the point where it was necessary. Davey Johnson is one of those rare managers that actually seem to make teams better. Is he an expert on picking the right jobs at the right time? Perhaps. But it felt like there was something there seeing him manage, something that other guys didn't have. He also wasn't a cliche machine, which at least makes the manager interesting for us following the team on a daily basis.
Of course he didn't show that something special in 2013. It was obvious his interest level was not there. For that you have to blame Rizzo. Rizzo had decided before the season started that Davey was out. And Rizzo again, just like with Riggleman, wanted Davey to just coach and thank him for the kick on the ass that sends him through the door. Davey isn't the petulant macho man-child that Riggleman is so he didn't quit, but the idea that the organization is going to fire you no matter what certainly affected his actions (or more precisely inactions this year). Alienate one manager, shame on him. Alienate two managers, shame on Rizzo.
With Davey out the door someone had to be hired. What do we know about Matt Williams the manager? Nothing. He's never managed. After retiring he did some radio and TV work, and some various odd coaching jobs with the D-backs before getting hired by them as a base coach in 2010. But he never managed during this time. The thoughts are he will be a hard driving bad-ass but who knows? Did I mention he's never managed?
I can say I don't like the fact that he was hired mainly because Rizzo liked him. I'd have rather seen a minor league manager with a proven record of winning. But I'm also of the school of thought that the manager doesn't matter too much. He may cost a team at most a handful of games. Does that mean 1-2 games or 4-5, I'm not sure. Either way there are usually a dozen other things you can point to that matter more. Still, for the Nats, ~3 games could be the difference between the division crown and the wild card, or the wild card and sitting home. That's where they find themselves. I can't say it doesn't matter at all.
I don't care that he used steroids. He doesn't have to be a leader on PED morality to control the clubhouse.* The rules are different in 2014. That should be enough.
What I want to see is what happens in the first month. Can he set a decent line-up (does he put Span on top)? Can he really work a bullpen (does he use the non-closer in impt 6th or 7th inning spots)? Does he get bunting (does he limit it to P ABs or times the team needs/wants only one run)? He could show us some heartening traits, or he could show himself a fool that coaches like a dumb manager from the 1980s. Or more likely he could just coach like everyone else does nowadays. (Mostly like that dumb 80s manager, with a whiff of insight here and there.)
Really the only bad thing would be an early obvious inability to do the right thing. Bunting all the time. Overly rigid bullpen roles. No shifting at all. Span and Rendon leading off because they fit the classic mold. I wouldn't blame him, as a rookie manager, for these mistakes. Sometimes you have to learn on the job. But learning on the job would likely cost the Nats those ~3 games next year and leave them in a bad spot.
But again, just to hammer this home, who knows? Matt Williams is a blank slate. He could be great. He could be terrible. He'll likely be average. Average is usually good enough for a manager, especially if he has a very good team behind him. The Nats are likely to be a very good team, so Williams is likely to be good enough.
*FRobby smiled at talk of using greenies. Davey was part of the "hush-hush, we don't want to talk about it, Hank was there" Tom House Braves of the early 70s. I believe this was the first year in a while no member of the Nats minor league organization was punished for PEDs. Williams' history is nothing new.