It was inevitable. Those were the words coming out of the mouth of anyone who had paid any attention to the Nationals season in 2015. Even though Matt Williams had just come off of 96 wins and the manager of the year award, does a lost clubhouse, a team struggling to stay above .500 and an imploding bullpen really beckon for the skipper to come back? Mike Rizzo and the Nationals ownership acted swiftly, after the ship known as the season hurdled towards the dock, torn, battered and nearly destroyed, but in one piece. One piece didn’t matter to them – is it smart to keep the captain of the ship who nearly sinks the vessel? On October 5th, the day after the regular season ended with a 1-0 loss to the NL Champion New York Mets, the Nationals fired manager Matt Williams and his entire staff.
After the initial celebration among the Nationals fan base, and the remorse among the rest of the NL East, the first question on everyone’s mind was screamed from the rooftops; who will be the next manager?
Typically, when a team gets a new manager after firing their last, it’s an overcorrection. Manager refused to change the lineup, ever? Find one who doesn’t write the same one, ever. Manager talked to the clubhouse too much? Find a creature of solitude. It’s a well known practice among the majors, but Matt Williams wasn’t a correction. Yes, there were many issues with Davey Johnson’s final season as manager in 2013, but Matt Williams was not a severe change. The staff was the same, the decisions and the attitude were the same – in a way, he was a younger, yet balder Davey Johnson.
The first candidate in every team’s mind is an in-house candidate. Randy Knorr seemed to be an obvious choice for the job, but after firing the entire staff (including the health and training team, which may be more important than you think), which Knorr would want to bring back, that might start a major league soap opera. Whatever Rizzo’s intentions are, they didn’t involve Knorr, as he is reportedly officially out of the managerial race, according to the Washington Post. And besides, do the Nats really want someone who could’ve been influenced by Williams running the team?
Now, all that’s left are out of house options. This isn’t necessarily an issue – in fact, it’s probably more beneficial than anything. The first few names that popped up were Bud Black and Dusty Baker, as well as Cal Ripken Jr.
The biggest issue with Matt Williams was that, more often than not, he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s why the search is prioritizing managerial experience. But bringing in Cal Ripken Jr., who has no coaching experience, nonetheless managerial experience, would be asking for trouble. And, the Nationals have kept their word; Ripken Jr. has not been contacted.
So now we’re left with the experienced guys. Dusty Baker sounds like a great option, right? Actually, maybe not. Dusty Baker, despite being the ultimate player’s manager, had never led his team past the NLCS, although many might attribute that issue to Steve Bartman. Bud Black is the next guy on the list. Black, despite his 2010 Manager of the Year honors, never led the Padres past the regular season, but in the time he was in San Diego, he was known as a great communicator, something Williams was not, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. And although people may associate him with mediocrity, those were the same associations with Terry Francona when he joined the Red Sox in 2004. Both Black and Baker have been brought in for second interviews.
So there it is. Bud Black, your 2016 manager, at least inside the parameters But sometimes, an exception needs to be made, if there are guys that can succeed outside the parameters. Because there are other guys, like Don Wakamatsu, Dave Martinez or Ron Wotus, all of whom are bench coaches for the top managers of baseball. Wakamatsu managed the Mariners to a winning record in 2009, but was then fired the next season. He now spends his days learning from Ned Yost, who has just led the Royals to their second AL Pennant in two years. Martinez, Joe Maddon’s bench coach, despite never having managed, has seen everything Maddon does, and if you lack faith in Maddon, then please, look at the Cubs’ record in 2014 and then look at this year’s record. Ron Wotus has managed for seven years in the minors, but more importantly? He’s seen Bruce Bochy manage personalities, pitching and big games.
So who’s the right guy for the job?
Bud Black may be the best choice going on Mike Rizzo’s parameters of experience. But, who has killed the Nationals year after year? Who have they struggled to defeat at home or away, and in the playoffs? The San Francisco Giants. And in the 2014 NLDS, the beginning of Matt Williams’ downfall, Williams pushed all the wrong buttons, and Bochy made the right move – every time. And who was there to watch Bochy make those moves, to see exactly what the greatest nemesis the Nationals have faced aside from Freddie Freeman does every game? Ron Wotus. Ron Wotus managed in the minors, and has been on three world series teams, with the best manager in baseball. That’s the man anyone should want leading their team. Having a taste of Bochy on the Nationals would be like a gift from an evil genius – a touch of mad science on a team stuck in the 19th century.
Looking at the tendency to overcorrect, then Wotus may be the right choice. This is the guy who helped Bochy do the opposite of Matt Williams. Isn’t that the epitome of overcorrection, the opposite? Especially when the opposite is genius, every time?
Bud Black is probably the guy who’ll get the gig, because he has managed, and the Nationals are still contenders to a large extent, so they need a manager who knows what he’s doing. But if Mike Rizzo feels like going outside the parameters and not worrying as much about experience? Then Ron Wotus is the man most likely to give DC their first World Series since the days of Walter Johnson.