Today is a continuation of evaluating Nationals front office and coaching personnel.
Tuesday was general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo. Today is manager Davey Martinez.
The easiest way to evaluate a manager’s performance is by the team’s record. In 2022, the Nats posted the worst record in the major leagues and the worst record in club history at 55-107.
The team understood what they were getting themselves into when they started this rebuilding process at the 2021 trade deadline. Expectations were not high for this season.
Were they expecting to be this bad? Probably not. But coming into the year, they probably were not also expecting to trade 24-year-old superstar Juan Soto and Josh Bell in perhaps the biggest deal in the sport’s history.
That set them on the path toward the bottom of the barrel. They finished five games behind the next worst team in the Athletics and were the only team to not win at least 60 games.
But the poor performance cannot be put solely on Martinez’s shoulders. He could only do his best with the cards he was dealt.
I’ve always found it hard to evaluate a baseball manager outside of team record. I think the manager does less in the way of direct coaching of players than any other “head coach” in professional sports.
That’s not to say Martinez doesn’t help his players. He is very hands-on for a manager. But a lot of the daily coaching comes from the positional coaches, who of course Martinez appoints and oversees.
It does often seem like a thankless job. Managers don’t get enough praise when the team does well and they get all the blame when the team does poorly. That should be included in the job description.
The Nationals’ focus during this rebuild is the development of the young players and prospects. Martinez doesn’t have a lot of impact on that, except for those young players on his roster. He doesn’t get to work with the top prospects in the minor leagues on a daily basis. That falls to Rizzo and the player development staff.
Martinez’s only opportunity to work with the young players is during spring training and when they make it to the big leagues. But will he still be the Nats manager when they break through?
Like Rizzo, Martinez had his contract option for next year selected over the summer. It will be his sixth season at the helm of the Nationals, the longest tenure for a manager in club history.
But also like Rizzo, his future with the organization beyond 2023 is up in the air as the team’s ownership situation gets sorted.
So what does Martinez have to do next year to show he should stay with the Nats for the long haul?
Improving on the 55-107 record is an obvious starting point. But again, he can only do so much with what he has. The roster isn’t expected to improve too much over the offseason, and Martinez won’t have half a season of Soto and Bell next year.
Some players would have to take huge leaps in development for the Nats to improve their record next year. Could that be attributed to Martinez? Again, it’s hard to say. But it will be up to him to put those players in the best position to succeed every day.
Is Martinez’s track record enough to prove he should see this rebuild through?
Martinez is 321-387 (.453) over five seasons as the Nationals manager. Outside of going 93-69 in 2019, he is 228-318 (.418). (For what it’s worth: Martinez has a 52.2 win percentage in challenging umpires' calls over his five seasons.)
But he did go 12-5 and outclassed some of the best skippers in the game during the 2019 postseason run to a World Series championship.
He’s the only manager in Nats history to win a playoff series, not to mention multiple. But he only made the playoffs that one time.
Maybe the biggest thing Martinez has going for him is the support from the players. They love him. You’ll be hard pressed to find any player who has come through the Nats clubhouse over the past five years and didn’t immediately enjoy Martinez’s positivity, honesty and support.
Outside of the team’s record, it will be harder to track Martinez’s success than Rizzo’s next year.
In terms of their futures with the club, it may boil down to whether or not the organization wants consistent leadership through this rebuild and back into contention.
That’s where the possibility of new ownership comes into play. Some teams find success sticking with the same general manager and skipper throughout. Others find it best to clean house and start fresh.
But as we head into the second full year of this project, would it be a major step backward if they move forward without Rizzo and Martinez?
"We'll get there," Martinez said in September about watching this young group develop into the next contending Nats team. "I really believe that we're going to get there, especially with the young group that we got, because we're very talented and got a lot of energy when they play. We got some young guys that can do a lot of different, special things. So I'm really excited about moving forward.”