Nationals Baseball: Did you hear Matt Williams was fired?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Did you hear Matt Williams was fired?

It's true! On Monday the Nats held true to their word and didn't dawdle, firing Matt Williams before lunch on the first day after the season ended. I think Mike Rizzo and the Lerners actually really wanted to keep Williams but were put into an impossible position. Matt Williams helmed the teamed to a disappointing season which alienated fans. Bring him back and you risk the bottom line. Matt Williams apparently lost the respect of the clubhouse. Bring him back and you risk a mutiny.

You can lose games or lose the clubhouse and keep your job if management likes you. You can't do both. Not unless you are a living legend. Matt Williams is not that.

So now we are left with the question of who? From Rizzo's remarks it seems obvious that Matt Williams was hired on gut instinct. He knew him. He felt like he'd be a good manager. They didn't really entertain other candidates. It was Matt Williams job to lose and, he didn't. Well he didn't at the interview stage. This time they are going to do a more thorough job.  I don't exactly buy that that means experience is really going to matter. I think they are going to hire whoever they think is best for the job. However I do think a total outsider, no coaching or managing experience, would have to wow them. In other words, they aren't going to just hand the job to Cal Ripken.

The other thing is I don't expect a new hire to happen real soon. It does have to happen relatively quickly, like by year's end since the whole staff needs to be put together by February. But I wouldn't expect anything to be named this month, because I'd expect the Nats are going to wait out until the playoffs are over or nearly over so they can visit with all the candidates.

Right now the Nats are in a good place, manager search wise. Ventura, Price, Ausmus, Mackanin, and Weiss; all potential fires, are all back. They just gutted the Brewers coaching staff, but kept Counsell, who had come on mid-season. Outside of maaaaaybe Don Mattingly or Terry Collins if there's an embarrassing sweep due to mismanagement, there isn't a playoff manager in danger of being fired. So it's only the Nats, the Marlins and the Padres with open spots, with one strong possibility to join in Lloyd McClendon in Seattle and one outside shot in Fredi. You do not want to go to Miami unless you have to, a place where the owner replaced the manager with the GM midseason. The Mariners haven't kept a manager for more than 3 years since Lou Pinella left in 2002 and reside in a strong division where the top 2 teams not only won more games than the Mariners but have much stronger farm systems. So there should be only a two way fight for any good manager based on organizations. If the Nats can't get their #1 choice, they should get their #2.

Who might that be?  You'll hear Bud Black floated around the most and he's a tempting hire. The Padres never really tanked under him and the Nats love pitching and he's a pitcher who was a pitching coach as well. Black however also never led San Diego to the playoffs and despite the issues with Seattle he is a Washington native who could be lured back there. After that the choices go in all different directions.

Rizzo mentioned winning a WS in the "very near future". So age may be forgiven this time around. Charlie Manuel (a Werth fav) or Jim Leyland?  They both seemed to get the most out of talented teams. Experience managing without a WS? Dusty Baker, Ron Gardenhire have years of experience and above .500 records. Not as long in the tooth? Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, and Ron Roenicke have years and above .500 records too.

If they are serious about major league experience that's probably the list of candidates there. Minor league managers with coaching experience? Randy Knorr is one, as is the always the bridesmaid DeMarlo Hale, and a current hot name being bandied about Roberto Kelly. Just minor league managing success? If you want to burn the Mets fans Wally Backman. Perhaps popular coaches who communicate well for a 360 from Matt Williams? Bo Porter would fit in here. Maybe Dave Martinez who did interview for the job in 2013.

Who do I want? Well honestly, if I were GM I'd take Davey back. Yes he blew that game in the playoffs but he blew A game in the playoffs. Hey, it happens. But they aren't bringing back Davey. So I'd go Leyland if he wants to do it, but he has indicated he doesn't. So Werth wins I guess. Charlie Manuel is the manager. He has an ability to let talented teams just play, which is what this talented team needs. It would end with an ugly divorce a year or two down the road when the team starts to turn over because Charlie doesn't seem to have interest in teaching or adapting. But if you want to win in 2016, and who doesn't. I think Charlie Manuel is your man. Ron Washington might be my next guy but you are gambling on an whole nother set of variables with him.

If you want to avoid an ugly divorce and want a long term guy? DeMarlo Hale is so interesting a pick that I'd wait on him. He's had plenty of good minor league years and is beloved and seems to be a continual almost hire. He is going to get a job somewhere soon.

Bud Black? He's fine. I'm sure he'll do ok, but I'd honestly rather have Ron Roenicke who fits the same "team did as expected based on talent on hand" bill. He at least has proven he could win with a talented team and his teams never really tanked. He took way too much blame for the Brewers mediocrity when really that's should have been expected given the pitching Melvin rostered for him year after year. That is a team primed for long losing streaks if the offense stops hitting because they have nothing like a stopper in the rotation. That's a fine strategy with Fielder and Braun in their prime. Not so much otherwise.

Anyway there you go. Depending on the Nats goals I'd go Manuel (extreme short term), Hale (long term), or Roenicke (a ship steadier who was successful enough in first stint that if he improves in 2nd he'd be really good)


Anonymous said...

What about Dusty? Matt failed because he couldn't teach Rendon to sacrifice bunt. Dusty will.

Anonymous said...

Don't really care who they hire. I just want someone who shows some ability to be flexible according to the situation.

W. Patterson said...

Good post, Harper. I'd like to see Leyland come in if only to see him light up in the back of the dugout. Then again, he's older than dirt and I like the idea of a long-term manager (I grew up a Dodger fan so think everybody should be a Lasorda kind of manager).

Dusty's been the bridesmaid too many times. Wonder if he could remedy that here? Would it be a good fit? Or does that fall into the "easy to make bad into good but difficult to turn good into better" category?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the posting security questions crap is getting outta control. Geesh

Chaz R said...

Good stuff, Harper. What's the risk and downside with Ron Washington? -his personal life stuff?

What about Bobby Valentine?

Anonymous said...

Unless you address the disaster of a bullpen with true relievers instead of rookies and has-beens, who cares who the manager is? It will be deja vu all over again. Without any decent choices to pick from, the manager can either stick with his starter who is struggling or throw the dice and pray that whoever he picks happens to be on that night. We all saw how well that worked out this year.

Josh Higham said...

I like Dusty as a guy, but I don't want him as a manager. He couldn't quite get the job done in SF with Bonds and really only made a good run at it once, so I don't have too much reason to believe he could do it with Bryce (BRYCE, I suppose makes it more likely). Statistically, losing in game 7 isn't so different than winning game 7, but I'm willing to be a bit biased here. Generally, I'm hesitant about an old-school guy. Sac bunting, stealing, etc are enemies of homer happy teams, like any team featuring Bryce is likely to be.

I don't think Manuel is that good, but he'd only be around a short time (age and player development), and Svrluga's columns suggest to me that having Werth in your corner is important as the Nats' manager. Plus, no one available seems that good anyway.

What I'm seeing is that firing the manager sucks. Bummer it had to happen.

Mike said...

There is no way "Chollie" is coming back to the dugout. He's a Phillie for life now. He just got married and has a front office job in Philly. He's comfy there and is beloved by the city. He ain't goin' nowhere.

Anonymous said...

I always find it interesting when the manager either stays with a starter too long or pulls him too soon, he's the one blamed for losing the game. It's never the guy who strikes out constantly in clutch situations or the guy who can't field his position who gets fired. Just the nature of the game.

Gr8day4Bsbll said...

(1) Wally Backman
(2) Billy Gardner Jr.
(3) Anyone else not named Dusty Baker

If these three aren't possibilities, I hear that Jim Zorn is still available...

Oh wait -- he's still under contract with Danny boy...never mind... /snark

Harper said...

Anon/W Patt - I've seen Dusty. I don't like Dusty. I feel he turns 88 win teams into 98 win teams into 93 win teams. He gets talent to maximize itself and then trips them up with his managing. It's a feeling more than anything. Wouldn't be worst, though. They'd probably make the playoffs with him and hey, maybe you get lucky.

Chaz R - Yeah. he might have to walk away at any moment. Bobby Valentine's Boston time was such a disaster that it's very hard for anyone to hire him, despite his success. You'd be gambling on what could be a very quick and bad exit for him and you.

Anon - A better manager can wrangle a couple more wins probably and health could help the Nats bounce back, but you're right that fixing the manager is not priority #1. Had to be done, but other fixes should make bigger impacts.

Josh - I'm iffy on Manuel too but I can't deny that talented teams really flourished under him. Not a rebuilder though, he'll let vets do their thing for good or bad, so after 2016 I don't see his place here

Harper said...

Mike - maybe, but he was tiffed at getting let go and managers have egos and think they should be managing. Comfy takes a back seat to that a lot of the time.

Anon - what's more confusing is that when it works its "well that's how it's supposed to go" and there is nothing positive attributed to that. Bad players get blame once or twice then it's up to the manager to some how not use them when it matters - but there's only so much flexibility they have in doing that.

Gr8 - Backman would be the ultimate troll move to the Mets. Beating them out with Backman while they have Collins? Fanbase would go insane... if it worked.

SM said...

The unanswered--maybe unanswerable--question is whether Rizzo still has sufficient Lerner favour, sufficient organizational juice, to hire a "Rizzo guy."

Jay said...

I'd be ok with most of the people you mentioned. Black makes sense bc supposedly he is good at handling pitchers and bull pens. Plus the last Pads manager to leave and get hired by another team was Bochy. Martinez bc he is Maddon's bench coach. I think Maddon is one of the few universally thought of good managers in the league. Roenicke sounds ok, but I always felt like he was pretty boring and just won with the talent that was there and couldn't really maximize it. Ripken would be fun if it were right and fun to burn up Angelos. Washington did get to a world series, but those Rangers teams were really loaded. Not sure he would help much here. Manuel would be ok but then you're putting a lot of emphasis on Werth being happy. Not sure Werth even has a prominent role on this team in the next year or two. I'm ok with Baker or Leyland, but I think Leyland would never do it. Baker's teams hit. Both in San Fran and in Cinci, but he doesn't handle pitching too well. If the Nats could consistently hit I think that would be a huge improvement. The only person in your list I would be against is Bo Porter. His time in Houston was viewed as comically bad and not just bc the players were bad.

I'll admit I am hopeful. Rizzo went with his gut and more importantly a preconceived notion on the last hire. He seems like a smart guy. I think if he is now open minded and picks who he thinks is the best guy that most likely it will work. Again, he was mentioning Matt Williams as a great example of "team leadership" when Davey was still here.

And I agree with your comment about Davey. If he would come back he gets the job over anyone not name LaRussa. But we know that will never happen. Davey IMO is one of the best ever. Was a Mets fan when I was a kid. I grew up in Virginia near the Mets A ball team at the time and saw Strawberry, Dykstra, and Gooden play A ball. Even as a 7 or 8 yo kid I could tell they were light years better than the other players on the field. Anyway, I rooted for the Mets as Ray Knight scored from 3rd on the Buckner ball. I became an Orioles fan when Davey went there. I gave up on the Orioles when Angelos ran Davey out the door. Became a Nats fan when the moved to DC with F Robinson. I was thrilled when Davey came back to manage them. He's great. MW sure wasn't.

I think Rizzo gets it right this time.

Anonymous said...

Strawberry, Dykstra, and, that was an exciting Mets team to watch. Great players. Strawberry seemed to be extremely clutch. Maybe that's just my selective memory from childhood. He also had the pretty left-handed swing I've ever seen next to Griffey Jr.

ProphetNAT said...

Chaz R, I think Bobby Valentine would make a fine event staff coordinator. I could see him knowing where all the vendors are located in Nats park and be able to guide fans to the ballpark snack of their choice.

blovy8 said...

I hope they give Bo Porter a fair shake, it seems like he got the Riggleman treatment from Houston because it seemed like that team was just starting to play well when they canned him. I don't know how hanging around with Fredi Gonzalez so much can help, though he did tutor under Davey too.

I've nothing against Roenicke in particular, but I feel like he's probably a guy like Eric Wedge or Jim Tracy (who somehow aren't being mentioned at around the same age) who got to the playoffs once, and got several shots at managing for no particular reason other than they've done it before. I suppose there's a real danger of that sort of knee-jerk thing happening here with the some of the apparent options, but even if he didn't have the pitching goods in Milwaukee, you're describing a guy that didn't get those steroid-infused Braun led-Milwaukee teams anyplace. I suspect there's something more appealing about Black since he lasted that long in the job, and left on good terms, even without the obvious success. While there will be some finagling around with keeping achy position players fresh, the immediate turnover in the bullpen makes understanding pitching a priority. You only have to look Black's using Nats' castoff Xavier Cedeno properly to see where he could make a difference. I don't know what to make of Dave Martinez as a possibility, Maddon is so idiosyncratic, I wonder how you could really "learn" how to do his schtick.

Funny that no one ever brings up Cito Gaston - he's as old as Davey, Leyland, and Baker and won two WS. I can't believe he's a Blue Jay for life, I mean, who would be?

I'm glad no one is bringing up Ray Knight.

Anonymous said...

What about F.P. Santangelo-he could sit on the bench and say there goes the no hitter-truly inspiring.

Ric said...

"The Mariners haven't kept a manager for more than 3 years since Lou Pinella left in 2002..."

Well, excluding appointed non-manager Frank Robinson, the Nationals haven't kept a manager for more than 3 years either.

ProphetNAT said...

In looking for our manager, we all should be looking at the path of Joe Torre. No, we won't get Joe as a manager - but look at his managerial career. People forget that he assembled a .471 winning % in 14 seasons with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, without winning a playoff series once. Hardly "pinstripe" material. Then he gets to New York and he's the gold standard manager of his era. It was the right organization for him, and he was the right fit for the organization. Yes, those Yankee teams were talented and full of vets, but those were the same Yankees that couldn't get it done under Buck Showalter (whom many consider to be a great manager). Here's why, Buck is a micro-manager who tends to have success at rebuilding the confidence of cellar-dwelling teams (i.e. Texas, Arizona, and Baltimore). That doesn't work with veterans who "do their thing." But is it no coincidence that Buck left New York and the following year they win a WS? He leaves Arizona and the following year they win a WS, 4 in 5 years? People would argue that he set them up to win, but his intense demeanor was what actually couldn't get them over the hump in my opinion. Like I said, Buck is great and I'm not taking anything away from him. Bob Brenley was a laid back personality, who got the most out of a veteran-laden expansion club in Arizona. Joe Torre, a humble laid back personality that jived well with difficult ownership, media, and fan base. These aren't coincidences.

In all my playing days, from youth to D1, I've had both the drill sergeant and the nice guy. If our team (and culture) was lacking in many areas - the drill sergeant had a way of reviving a dead team walking. Hated playing for him, but appreciated what he was able to get out us. But teams that I was on where we had the talent and just had to "play" - the laid back coach got us to the top of the mountain. After all, baseball is a game, and if it is treated like anything beyond that, it only makes this game more difficult to play. Being a baseball man, I'm assuming Rizzo knows this stuff - just offering a different perspective on not judging guys by past teams they've managed - but rather their personality, if you're fortunate enough to be able to tell.

Anonymous said...

Wally Backman would be an interesting choice, but I don't see it happening. Nobody's given him a shot since he was Arizona's manager for four days. He's also presumably next in line if Terry Collins is replaced.

Dmitri Young said...

One of the biggest challenges the next manager will face is sitting Werth and Zimmerman (and Escobar, maybe) an optimal amount. A big takeaway from the Werth-Williams blow up for me is that Werth wouldn't face reality with his play last year.

I don't blame Williams for sticking with Desmond and Werth, and Zimmerman and Rendon when healthy, because of their track record and the other options. I do blame him for Uggla seeing the field. The question is what kind of manager can get buy-in from experienced players to accept their decline and new roles, and whether Williams's repeated strategic mistakes poisoned the well of player trust or if the players have Mendonza-line dysmorphia.

Jay said...

I agree on the personality thing. I agree that the Nats seem to need a manager that will help them accept pressure and thrive on it. Not sure that guy is out there, but I'm hoping. Also, I think it takes a certain personality GM to get a team from bad to good, but the same guy can't always make the moves to get a good team to great. An example is George McPhee for the Caps. We are finding out right now if Rizzo is capable of going from good team to great or is he George McPhee.

Like I posted earlier, I think Rizzo is a smart guy who usually makes great decisions. I'm hoping now that he is not in love with one particular candidate before he even gets started that he will make another great decision.

SM said...

Mendoza-line dysmorphia?

God, I love this blog.

VI said...

I doubt he'd actually take the job, and that might make Nats mgt. look bad, but it would be a mistake to sell Ripkin short. He may not have actual Manager experience, but he's the definition of a baseball lifer. The backyard of the house he grew up in was completely encased in netting - his back yard was a batting cage. Cal Sr. knew more about baseball than anyone I've had the pleasure of knowing, and I only had the chance to speak with him at several social events He coined the phrase "the Oriole Way," and those 80's teams exemplified how to play complementary baseball with superstars, workhorses, role players and maximum effort every day.

You have to like a guy who has a pedigree, is one of the most organized people on the planet, and brings passion to everything he does. Forbes estimates Ripkin Baseball generates over $30M in revenue and his foundation has a $14M annual budget. So, telling the GM that Werth is through, Harper isn't going to be a 24 and 1 player, and managing a fluid bullpen shouldn't be overly stressful.

The rest of the candidates mentioned, except Davey, have limited appeal and a lot of meh! Davey might just be past the point where he can put in the extended effort. Plus, Davey's original advantage was being first to the table with advanced metrics and analysis. That's been equalized now.

JE34 said...

Ripken also enjoys teaching the game, is as hard a worker as any baseball guy you'll ever know, and really hates losing. Would he stick a fork in Angelos' eye? I for one hope so.

Bryceroni said...

Tbh I hate a lot of those names you threw up, particularly Ron Washington and dusty baker.

My personal list would look like this
1. Terry francona (has opt out) loose clubhouse guy who isn't terrible at bullpen management
2. Dave Martinez : Joe maddon is so good just being around him makes you good
3. Bud black: seems like a high floor type of manager, not gonna kill you, not gonna get you a bunch of wins either.
4. Ripkin: grew up a massive callla ripkinnnnnn fan, I have no idea if he can manage but damnit my heart would explode with excitement

JE34 said...

Please not Dusty Baker... he's the original Matt Williams: Bad decisions and head scratching bullpen use. Ask the Reds about Dusty Baker first, please... then back away slowly.

Max David said...

I'd rather have ole PBN Matt Williams back then see Dusty Baker. Stay, far, far away!

Jay said...

I have to agree on Ripken. He has been around baseball and MLB baseball his entire life. I would be very excited if he took the job. I do wonder if he really wants it though. Always seems it is merely a curiosity for him.

blovy8 said...

How would Ripken deal with having a bunch of guys who are always hurt? That would be pretty funny.

Kenny B. said...

I'm late to the party, but need to note that "Mendoza-line Dysmorphia" is the best phrase uttered on the Internet in a long time. Bravo.

To chime in with my perspective, I like the idea of a pitching-focused guy like Black. I feel like that's where managers have the most impact, and it's an area critical to the success of the Nationals (well it's critical to any team, but the Nats have built that as their strength). That said, I'd be psyched about Ripken for reasons having nothing to do with his perceived managerial ability.

In the end, though, I'm much more interested in who the *players* will be. I'm oddly keyed in on the bullpen (as the team should be as well). If they signed a big time free agent starter or hitter, I feel like I'd go, "yeah, yeah, yeah... Who's eating the innings?!"

Froggy said...

I was calling for Ripkin two years ago, so I pretty much agree with everything. VI said.

Froggy said...

I was calling for Ripkin two years ago, so I pretty much agree with everything. VI said.

Josh Higham said...

Ripken, I think, would be a great hire for a team that was pleasantly surprised to finish a few games over .500, and planned to focus on young player development in the next year or two to make playoff pushes consistently for several years starting 2 or 3 years from now. To recover from the missteps of PBN?

Ex ante, MW seemed like a decent hire. A great player with a lot of grit, who had proved he had a feel for the game as a base coach. Ex post, what were they thinking hiring a rookie manager to take over a WS contender?

If it was a mistake to hire MW to manage a contender (which most people now believe) it is a mistake to hire another great ex player who has not been a manager to get the Nats back into contention. That's not to say Ripken wouldn't be better, but we really have no idea what he would be like as a manager. He's not a known quantity. High upside, great potential for a huge bust, just like MW.

Hiring Ripken would be nearly the same choice as hiring MW was. I think MW might have learned to manage the bullpen and other players better if he hadn't been in a pressure cooker. So don't throw Cal into the same cooker and expect a different result. If Cal is still available in a few years, when this window has closed and the Nats are rebuilding a little bit, then bring him in. Otherwise, let some other team take that gamble.

Really what the Nats need is to shore up the bullpen and outfield with healthy, reliable players and bring in a manager who we can be quite confident won't be awful. The manager doesn't have to be great, if the team is great. MW cost the Nats a few close games, not the whole season. A great manager might win the Nats a few games, but he's not going to win the division with a dreadful bullpen and glass men who have to be healthy for the offense to be any good.

Anonymous said...

As a Met's fan, I'd love to see Ripken take the job. Not sure what qualifies him to manage, but as an egotistical blowhard who always placed "The Streak" ahead of his team's best interests, I'm sure that he'd continue the dysfunction that currently defines the Nats as long as he had the job.

John Schwab said...

THANK YOU! Yes on Charlie! Seems to be the iconic character the Nats have rallied around in the past (like Davey) only with the added benefit of actually WANTING to win games!!!
Am following this closely and praying the owners see the merits of investing more in the one employee who should be a force multiplier for the others.