In a vacuum, what’s not to like?
Bryce Harper is back. So is Max Scherzer, who may again win the National League Cy Young Award this offseason. Stephen Strasburg has reached his peak. Daniel Murphy is around for one more year. Ryan Zimmerman just had a career season. The bullpen, that dreaded rectangular abyss for much of last season, has a clear closer and setup man.
Seemingly, prospective Washington Nationals managers would be consistently knocking on the Lerner family’s door, or at least buzzing the gate. They would be telling Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo how they could vault the team out of the first round of the playoffs, a prerequisite for the position, according to him. They would be sending gifts, flapping their arms for attention, acting with a just-out-of-college willingness for the gig.
Or, they could talk to a handful of baseball men dismissed by those same factions in the last seven years. Winning managers who were not brought back, whose contracts were slow-played during their final seasons, so much so that one, Jim Riggleman, upped and quit in the middle of it all.
Possible managers could read the standard stance from the Nationals: We have a way of doing things, it produces results, you’re here as a good shepherd more than a key cog. The organization is going to hand you 90 wins. You will compete in the downtrodden National League East — where two other managerial positions are open — almost assuring a playoff entrance at the end of the season. After that is when judgment begins.
The Nationals surprised many when they announced Oct. 20 that manager Dusty Baker would not return. The end of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs, resulting in a visiting team’s celebration in Nationals Park for the second consecutive season, did not help Baker’s case for a new contract. Blame, as always, had multiple homes in the losing neighborhood. But, once again, it was heaped on Baker, not his stars who failed to hit, not Scherzer who failed to find a third out in the fifth inning, not Gio Gonzalez who failed twice in the series to produce quality starts, not Jayson Werth, who lost a ball in lights he had been staring at for seven years.
Not bringing back Baker makes the Nationals one of three teams with an open manager’s position. The Boston Red Sox hired Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora on Sunday. The Phillies and Mets are still in a search of a new manager. The Mets are reportedly set to hire Mickey Callaway as their next manager.
Which leaves a bevy of possibilities for Washington:
John Farrell: Like Baker, Farrell was not retained despite his team winning its division to reach the postseason. Unlike Baker, he was fired quickly after his team’s postseason ouster. That put Boston in a position to bring in people like Cora right away. The Nationals will be conducting their search, which Rizzo said Friday would begin “immediately,” from behind because of the delay in their decision about Baker. Farrell is 55 years old. He has won the World Series as a coach and a manager. In his five seasons with Boston, the team won the American League East three times and the championship in 2013. The Red Sox also finished last in the division in back-to-back seasons under Farrell.
Phil Nevin: Nevin, who played 12 major-league seasons, worked his way through the minor leagues as a manager before joining Bruce Bochy’s staff in San Francisco as third base coach. An immediate negative on Nevin’s resume is his lack of experience as a major-league manager. The Nationals pegged that as a requirement in their last managerial search — a mere two years ago — and are unlikely to bring in a rookie manager since Rizzo said division championships alone are not satisfactory.
Brad Ausmus: Ausmus managed the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17. He was touted as a forward-thinking hire who also had 18 years of playing experience to draw from. The Tigers won 90 games his first season, then were swept in the NLDS. He never made it back to the playoffs.
Dave Martinez: The Chicago Cubs bench coach knows what the Nationals are about following the NLDS. Martinez played 16 seasons and has been a finalist for multiple managerial jobs since 2012. Being next to Cubs manager Joe Maddon, both in Tampa Bay and Chicago, gives Martinez a prime view of how an “unorthodox” manager works. However, several moves Maddon made this postseason backfired a year after he guided the Cubs to a World Series victory.
Mike Maddux: This is a longshot since Washington let Maddux’s contract expire, but he was a separate hire from Baker in 2016. Washington’s former pitching coach has not been a manager on any level. Though, he is known as extremely organized and detail-oriented.
Washington’s opening is the most appealing across the league. Its high-priced pitching is intact and delivering, unlike in Boston. Its roster is grown and clear, unlike in New York and Philadelphia. It just needs those unambiguous benefits to diffuse the toxicity of managing in the District. Rizzo made statements Friday that sounded like the stance of George Steinbrenner when he ran the Yankees. No World Series? Find a new line of work. Whomever the next manager is, the seventh full-time one since baseball returned to the District in 2005, he knows what he is getting into, both the good and bad of it.
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