With a turbulent season in the rear view mirror, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo immediately begins the task of staging a run back to the postseason in 2016. This morning, Rizzo took a giant first step in firing Matt Williams as manager.
“We’re going to immediately begin the process of the search of the manager,” said Rizzo, wasting no time. “It will start this afternoon here in the front office and continue painstakingly until we have a manager under contract that we think is going to bring us a World Series championship in 2016 and beyond.”
Despite having little managerial experience and none in the big leagues, Williams was Rizzo’s choice to take over an experienced club that was only one season removed from 98 wins and a National League East title. He was the opposite of Davey Johnson, a grizzled veteran of the dugout who had guided the Mets to a World Series way back in 1984 in one of his 17 seasons as a major league manager.
Williams was one of the game’s best and most intense players during his career, which crossed over three decades. But whether he was able to communicate effectively as the boss and gain the respect of his players became increasingly questionable over the course of this past trying season.
As a hands-on GM who travels with the team and is around the clubhouse and field before every game, Rizzo observed all of this.
“As we go through the laundry list of things that we look for in our manager and the perfect leader of the ballclub on the field, leadership qualities, knowledge of the game, X’s and O’s are all important,” Rizzo said this afternoon. “Communication in the clubhouse, communication within the coaching staff is vital. Experience is always helpful. It always adds a layer of expertise to anybody’s resume.
“We feel that where we’re at in our timetable of winning a championship, we certainly would lean toward someone that has some type of managerial experience, especially at the major league level. But again, we’re going to be open-minded and look for the best candidate that we can that allows us to win a championship here in the very near future.”
Rizzo indicated his approach on hunting for the next manager will be far different then when Johnson departed in October 2013.
“We’re going to bring in a group of people with diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences and diverse skill sets,” Rizzo said. “I think that’s something we did not do last time. Last time, we brought in managing candidates with little or no managerial experience. I think that we’ll have a greater pool of manager candidates this year, stemming from very experienced to limited experience, and really go through a process that gets to know the manager personally at first and then professionally and what he does on the field.”
Some available veteran managers with major league experience include Bud Black, Dusty Baker, Larry Bowa and Willie Randolph. Cal Ripken Jr.’s name will likely be floated for media fodder, but aside from being a former manager’s son, Ripken has no managerial experience.
A spokesman for Ripken said no one has contacted the Hall of Fame shortstop about the Nats’ managerial opening.
Bench coach Randy Knorr was among the members of Williams’ staff who was let go this morning when Rizzo cleaned house. Knorr, who was a favorite of many players in the Nats clubhouse and managed in the organization’s minor league’s dating back to the Expos days, was interviewed for the job Williams received in 2013.
“We will re-address several candidates that we interviewed last time, we’re going to keep an open mind on them,” Rizzo said.
“If I didn’t make it clear: We have not ruled out Randy Knorr as a guy that we would talk about for the job this year,” Rizzo added.