Martinez has right pedigree, but Nats are taking a chance

Anyone the Nationals has ever hired to be their manager had some kind of uncertainty surrounding him.

Manny Acta had worked his way up the coaching and managerial ladder for 20 years, but had never done it on the big stage before the Nats gave him his opportunity. Jim Riggleman was a good X's and O's guy during a ballgame, but wasn't known for being a strong presence in the clubhouse. Davey Johnson had won a World Series, but that was 25 years earlier and he hadn't been in a major league dugout for a decade. Matt Williams had zero managerial experience of substance when he got the job. And Dusty Baker, while beloved by players over two decades, had been out of work for two years and was deemed by some to be too beholden to outdated strategy.

And so it is that the next manager of the Nationals, Dave Martinez, takes this job with quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding him. The 53-year-old has a strong pedigree, having served as bench coach for one of the game's best managers for the last decade. He's been well regarded everywhere he's ever played or coached. He's adept at new-school philosophy and strategy. He's bilingual and gets along with players from a wide variety of backgrounds.

But he's never managed before. And now he's being handed the keys to a franchise that has won four division titles in the last six years, will be under immense pressure not only to win another one of those next year, but more importantly to advance in the postseason for the first time in club history and may well lose two of its biggest stars to free agency 12 months from now.

How can anyone say for sure they know Martinez will do the job well?

Rizzo and Lerner spring.jpgThey can't. Mike Rizzo can't say it, even though he's watched Martinez throughout both his playing and coaching careers. Ted Lerner and the rest of his family can't say it, even though they've now twice interviewed Martinez for their managerial position and finally decided he was the man to earn the first three-year contract this ownership group has ever offered someone in his position.

All they can go on is what they've seen with their eyes, what they've heard with their ears and what those who know Martinez best have said about him for years. And nobody has had more complimentary words about Martinez than the guy who made him his right-hand man 10 years ago.

Joe Maddon may have taken some criticism this month for his decision-making, both in beating the Nationals in the National League Division Series and then in losing to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, but he remains one of the most widely praised managers in baseball. And he has raved about Martinez for years, touting him as worthy of his first managerial gig for some time now.

There's no guarantee, of course, that Martinez will ever match Maddon's pedigree as a manager, but if you're going to go with a first-timer, might as well go with one who has learned from one of the best for the last decade.

Then again, if Martinez was such a slam-dunk candidate, why hadn't he been hired by anybody else yet? He had interviewed for several jobs over the years, including the Nationals in October 2013. How come it took this long for someone to take the plunge and offer him a job?

Come to think of it, how different might Nationals history be had the club hired Martinez instead of Williams back then? We'll never know, but we're about to find out if the former might have been a better choice all along.

First-time managers are risky, there's no getting around that. Many of them fail, though many of those go on to have success in their second go-around. (Hello, A.J. Hinch!)

But some win right away. Dave Roberts won a division title and a playoff series in his first season with the Dodgers. And in his second, he won another division title, two playoff series and now is trying to win a World Series.

Does Martinez have the goods to do something comparable? He's stepping into both a goldmine and a landmine, a roster loaded with talent and experience that doesn't need much tweaking this winter to contend for a championship next season, yet a clubhouse full of veterans weary of this franchise's constant managerial changes and still upset about the guy who was just let go. The new guy will need to win over that group in short order.

But if Martinez can take what he learned during 16 seasons as a big league player and 10 seasons as a big league bench coach alongside a cutting-edge manager, if he can thread the delicate needle between staying out of the way of a talented roster while still injecting his own personal style into the clubhouse, if he can make the right in-game decisions when they matter most, the Nationals could finally have themselves one key ingredient they've been sorely lacking throughout their existence in D.C.: a manager who's here for the long haul.

Nationals name Dave Martinez field manager
Source: Nationals have three-year deal with Dave M...
 

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