NatsTown is prepared for a new manager, and one should be named during the first week of November. But whether general manager Mike Rizzo decides to turn the managerial reins over to an in-house candidate or picks someone from outside the organization to succeed Davey Johnson, there will likely be a ripple effect that changes the makeup of the Nationals coaching staff.
A new manager will want the latitude to assemble his own staff. Obviously, if either current third base coach Trent Jewett or bench coach Randy Knorr gets the gig, there’s a better chance that there won’t be major changes among the coaches. If Knorr gets the gig, he’ll need to name a new bench coach, and if Jewett is the choice, that will create an opening in the third base coaching box. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jewett could serve as Knorr’s bench coach or vice versa, but it’s more likely that an inexperienced manager might benefit from an experienced right-hand man. But it’s looking less and less likely that the Nationals will stay in-house to fill their managerial vacancy.
That fact could make some members of the current coaching staff, whose contracts run through the end of the month, a little uneasy. Some could come back, some might be offered other jobs in the organization and others might want to get a head start on tweaking their resumes for an offseason job hunt. What happens to those members of Johnson’s staff if the Nats opt for Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams, Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus, Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale or another external candidate?
Knorr and Jewett, despite their position as the top in-house options, might have the most to lose. Even though they have been trusted organizational guys, they currently occupy the coaching roles that most new managers want to pick themselves. One or both might be held over because of their history in the organization and their popularity with players - particularly those they managed in the minor leagues - but that might not be enough to guarantee continued employment.
Knorr was Johnson’s choice as a successor, and that could weigh against him if an external candidate is selected. A new guy might not want to have someone who was strongly considered for that job on his staff. It’s doubtful Knorr would want to go back to manage in the minors, something he’s already proven he can do. Jewett could face a similar dilemma if he’s asked to take another position in the organization. Simply put, guys who have proven their abilities managing in the minors who rise to major league coaching staffs don’t always like the notion of starting over again.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty is on firmer ground. While it’s important for a manager to be able to mesh with his pitching coach philosophically, McCatty has gotten rave reviews for his work with the pitching staff - particularly with ace Stephen Strasburg - since taking over for Randy St. Claire two months into the 2009 campaign. How teams handle pitchers has become part of organizational philosophy, and a trusted organizational guy in that structure is important. Regardless of who is picked as the next manager, expect McCatty to stay put.
Hitting coach Rick Schu enhanced his chances of returning by turning around the Nationals offense after he replaced the fired Rick Eckstein in late July, but he stands a better chance if either Knorr or Jewett is in the manager’s chair. Otherwise, a hitting coach and a manager have to share similar philosophies. This could be trickier with Williams, a pretty decent hitter during his 17 major league seasons, than with Ausmus, a catcher whose strength was game-calling and helping manage a pitching staff. Even if he doesn’t return, Schu would likely be offered the opportunity to return to another job in the Nats system; remember, he was a minor league hitting instructor before being promoted at midseason. Some teams have added a second hitting coach, and that’s a possibility in D.C., especially if the staff is remade.
First base coach Tony Tarasco also works with Nationals outfielders and is the team’s baserunning guru, so he has responsibilities other than pointing toward second base and collecting elbow pads. Bryce Harper credits Tarasco with helping him make the transition from junior college catcher to All-Star outfielder, and that can’t be overlooked. To some, a team’s first base coach is the most innocuous position on the diamond, but Tarasco’s other responsibilities might help keep him around. If not, he’s all but assured another job in the organization.
Bullpen coach Jim Lett survived Jim Riggleman’s surprise resignation in June 2011 and flourished under Johnson. He’s a question mark, as likely to be handed his walking papers as he is to be included on a new manager’s staff. If he’s not asked back, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lett remain in the system in some other capacity.
Keep in mind that assembling a coaching staff isn’t as easy as designating who’s the first base coach, who’s the pitching coach and so on. Someone has to be able to work with the infielders, a task that fell to former All-Star second baseman Johnson, and someone has to work with the catchers, a responsibility that fell to Knorr and Jewett, who logged time behind the plate in the majors and minors, respectively. If Tarasco goes, someone has to tutor outfielders and baserunners. Nobody has just one responsibility; everyone multitasks, no matter what their job description might suggest to the untrained eye.
If Williams, Ausmus or Hale is the choice, an experienced coaching staff becomes even more critical, especially in the bench coach role. Rookie managers sometimes need some time to grow into the position, and veteran coaches can ease that transition to the point of making it appear seamless.
If you’re the new Nats manager, do you remake the coaching staff? Are there any holdovers? Who deserves to come back and why? Who’s most at risk of losing a job?