With Dusty Baker out as manager after leading the Nationals to back-to-back National League East titles and consecutive first-round playoff departures, one question is on the lips of Nats fans: Who’s next?
Do the Nats turn to a veteran field boss, someone who’s shown a propensity for getting teams deep into the postseason? Do they focus their attentions on someone whose personality is a good match for a star-filled clubhouse? Do they eschew an old-school candidate for someone more cutting edge that’s more intimately acquainted with the game’s increasing reliance on advanced metrics? Is past experience a requirement, or would the Nats turn their built-to-win-now team over to a rookie manager?
These are questions that will have to be answered in the coming days and weeks by ownership and general manager Mike Rizzo, assuming that you buy Rizzo’s proclamation that all major Nationals decisions are made via consensus.
When the Nats last searched for a new manager two winters ago, Rizzo pointedly said that previous experience was the deal-breaker in the search. Mind you, that came after the club went all-in on rookie skipper Matt Williams, who won an NL East title (and lost in the National League Division Series to the Giants) and then lost the clubhouse in spectacular fashion, capped off by saying that he was too busy to notice his closer choking out his star player in the dugout in the season’s waning days.
Even with Ron Gardenhire (who interviewed in D.C. after Williams was fired) introduced today as the new Tigers manager, there is no shortage of candidates to manage the Nationals, even despite the pressure of needing to get past the NLDS right away (or the possible departure of Bryce Harper as a free agent after the 2018 campaign). Who are the Nationals likely to talk to? Here’s a rundown of some possible managerial candidates, in no particular order.
John Farrell: The Red Sox picked up Farrell’s 2018 option before this season, when he won his second straight American League East title, then fired him on Oct. 11 after the Red Sox were dispatched in the American League Division Series. Farrell won a World Series and three division crowns, but also saw him team finish in last place twice. A highly regarded pitching coach before he started managing in 2011 with the Blue Jays, he developed a knack for leaving his starting pitchers in too long. The Red Sox clubhouse was in turmoil this year and the team was punished by Major League Baseball in September for sign-stealing allegations by the Yankees. He’s 55 and wants to manage again. He’s succeeded in the competitive AL East, which works in his favor.
Alex Cora: The former major league infielder and current Astros bench coach ended his career as a utility man with the Nats in 2011. Cora’s name has been linked to every managerial opening this offseason and he’s been interviewing for vacancies. Right now, he’s in line to take over for Farrell for the Red Sox, but nothing’s final until it’s signed, sealed and announced. A longtime general manager for Caguas in the Puerto Rican winter league, Cora is viewed as a strong communicator and teacher with a good eye for talent. Because he’s never managed before in the majors, it’s hard to get a read on his managerial style. At 42, he’s young and he’s coming from an organization that’s drawn high marks for its use of analytics and advanced metrics.
Dave Martinez: Joe Maddon’s longtime bench coach in both Tampa Bay and Chicago, Martinez has long been bandied as a manager-in-waiting. He’s interviewed for openings for several offseasons, but never seems to get the gig. Why? In most cases, teams - especially those with designs on immediate trips to the postseason - seem to go with the known commodity rather than the flavor of the month. The former major league outfielder is 53, and he’s probably learned a lot about tactical managing and motivational tactics from his mentor Maddon. Martinez was an outfielder for 16 major league seasons, including 1989-91 with the Expos.
Mickey Callaway: Not every good pitching coach makes a great manager (see: Ray Miller), but Callaway has drawn the interest of the Mets and Phillies after five seasons as the Indians pitching coach. The 42-year-old has never managed in the majors, but his work with Corey Kluber has opened eyes and he may be ready for a new challenge.
Brad Ausmus: After winning the AL Central in his first season as a major league manager in 2014, but being swept out of the playoffs by the Orioles, Ausmus’ Tigers finished last in two of the next three campaigns and he was handed his walking papers even before finishing 64-98 as a lame duck in 2016. GM Al Avila cited the need for a mew message and messenger as the Tigers rebuild and Ausmus, 48, said he wouldn’t have taken an extension if one were offered because he didn’t deserve it. Ausmus took the fall for a team filled with underperformers and plagued by injuries. Primarily a catcher in his 18-year major league career, he’s an Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth. But his critics point to his rigidity and penchant for giving struggling starting pitchers too long a leash as red flags. Mostly, he had the misfortune of following legendary manager Jim Leyland at the Tigers’ helm.
Sandy Alomar Jr.: A sleeper candidate with a strong baseball lineage, the Indians first base coach has long been viewed as a future major league skipper. Of late, while his name is announced as a possible candidate for vacancies, a flurry of interviews hasn’t been forthcoming. The 51-year-old’s lone major league experience came in six games as interim manager after the Indians fired Manny Acta, during which he went 3-3. Another former major league catcher.
Mike Maddux: Though he’s never skippered a major league club, Maddux may be the only person from Baker’s staff that the Nats might consider. He’s been a successful pitching coach with the Brewers, Rangers and Nats, and he did manager to shepherd Stephen Strasburg through an entire season and into the postseason, with successful results. The Nats pitchers loved working with Maddux, and the feeling was mutual. Several teams are searching for new pitching coaches and Maddux, 56, may prefer to stick with his strength.
Kevin Long: When Terry Collins stepped down as manager of the Mets, it meant an unsure future for Long, who has spent the last three seasons on Collins’ staff and handled the same role for the Yankees from 2007-14. He’s one of this offseason’s hot commodities. He managed and coached in the minors for the Royals and Yankees. Do his skills translate to a major league managerial job, or is he better suited as a dedicated worker bee? The 50-year-old is praised for his communications skills and one-on-one work with hitters.
Bob Geren: Currently bench coach for the World Series-bound Dodgers, Geren previously managed the A’s from 2007-11. He’s a no-nonsense type, though teams seem to like the view of a former big league catcher. He was bench coach for the Mets from 2012-15, but didn’t make the cut for an interview there to succeed Collins. Geren is 56 and wants to manage again.
Jayson Werth: OK, now we’re heading into long shot territory. Werth’s seven-year, $126 million commitment to the Nationals has ended and it’s unclear if he wants to continue playing (though he’d probably have to become a designated hitter in the AL to extend his career). Werth has hedged in the past when asked if he’d like to coach or manage, but the 38-year-old be a popular choice in NatsTown. Trouble is, the last time the Nats went with a rookie manager ...
Mark DeRosa: A National for one season in 2012, DeRosa’s name has been mentioned as a guy who is smart enough to manage in the majors. He played 16 years in the majors, coming up with the Braves during their glory years, and made six trips to the postseason. Another long shot.
Tony La Russa: Speaking of long shots, how about a Hall of Famer who has managed for 33 years and won three World Series? La Russa is 73 and this week announced he was leaving his role as chief baseball analyst for the Diamondbacks after two seasons with the club as chief baseball officer. There’s no hint that La Russa wants to manage again. His last season at the helm was 2011, his final of 16 years with the Cardinals. However, history hasn’t been kind to Hall of Famers lured out of retirement.