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Offseason storyline No. 1: Hire a manager

Oct 1, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

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The Nationals are transitioning into offseason mode, and so are we. Over the next five days, we’ll run through the five biggest storylines of the winter for this club, beginning today with the No. 1 storyline: The search for a new manager to replace Davey Johnson…

Mike Rizzo is no dummy. He knows what needs to be his first priority this offseason.

“First of all, after the season we’re going to start the search for a manager,” Rizzo said Saturday from the dugout at Chase Field in Phoenix. “I think that’s probably job No. 1, because a manager is going to have input on what we do with the roster construction and that type of thing.”

This isn’t the first time Rizzo has found himself selecting a new skipper. He has held the title of Nationals general manager for less than five years, but he already is conducting his third managerial search.

Each featured a unique set of circumstances.

After firing Manny Acta during the 2009 All-Star break, Rizzo promoted bench coach Jim Riggleman to interim manager. After the season ended, he conducted a formal search for a permanent replacement, but Riggleman all along appeared the likely choice and ultimately was given the job full-time.

Two years later, Rizzo found himself scrambling for a skipper after Riggleman abruptly resigned over a contract dispute after his team won for the 10th time in 11 games. With limited time to find a suitable replacement, he summoned Davey Johnson out of the organization and brought him back to a big-league dugout for the first time in 11 years. And after a strong finish to the season, Johnson clearly was the choice to return the following year.

Now Rizzo again finds himself in need of a manager, with the 70-year-old Johnson departing (though not retiring) and leaving behind a talent-laden club that has every reason to believe it can contend for a World Series title in 2014.

It’s a bit of an unusual scenario. Rarely does a team that looks this good on paper need a new manager, and that should make this among the most-attractive openings in baseball. But if indications to this point are accurate, there may not be very names in the mix for this high-profile job.

Rizzo declined to discuss any aspect of the managerial hiring process during his season wrap-up media session on Saturday, but a handful of names have already emerged as the likeliest candidates. And atop that list is a man who has the overwhelming support of the Nationals’ clubhouse: bench coach Randy Knorr.

Knorr, 44, has spent the last nine seasons as either a manager in the Nationals’ farm system or as a member of their big-league coaching staff. He has guided many of the organization’s top prospects through the minor leagues and over the last two years was a key advocate for them as Johnson’s right-hand man.

Knorr is upbeat and folksy, but he’s also not afraid to get in a player’s face when necessary, and in the few opportunities he had to fill-in for Johnson, he showed he’s willing to make bold decisions (ie. pulling closer Rafael Soriano with the lead still intact in the ninth inning).

Because of all that, players wholeheartedly endorse Knorr for a promotion.

“For me to say anybody else but Randy would be a lie,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who first played for Knorr as a 19-year-old at low-Class A Savannah in 2005. “That’s who I want to see as the manager of this ballclub. With that being said, I wouldn’t ever doubt any move that Mike Rizzo made. … He’s done an unbelievable job, and I would respect anybody that he brought in. I would respect his decision, but I as a player think Randy’s probably the best fit for us.”

Knorr may have the support of the clubhouse, but Rizzo made it clear that won’t play a role in this search.

“I don’t think that’s a place for the players to dabble in,” he said. “It’s an organizational decision, and it’s got to be an organizational fit.”

Upon naming Johnson the full-time manager after the 2011 season, Rizzo did suggest he preferred to develop the club’s next skipper from within. He lost one candidate last winter when third base coach Bo Porter left to become Astros manager, but there are other in-house possibilities besides Knorr. Third base coach Trent Jewett has long been considered a potential manager and remains popular with players. Class AAA skipper Tony Beasley, who was with the big-league club in September, also has aspirations of moving up a level.

Rizzo isn’t necessarily committed to an in-house hire, though, and he is expected to interview candidates from other organizations.

At the top of that list is Matt Williams, the Diamondbacks’ third base coach who has long been a favorite of Rizzo. The two were together in Arizona a decade ago, when Williams was a veteran leader on the 2001 World Series champion club that also boasted Rizzo as scouting director.

Williams declined to talk publicly about the job when approached over the weekend during the Nationals’ series with the Diamondbacks, but his interest in the position is no secret. The former big-league infielder would bring credibility both as an accomplished player from the 1990s and as a calm-but-forceful leader who would instantly command respect of his clubhouse.

Those candidates all bring something to the table, but none brings prior experience as a major-league manager. And that could be something Rizzo values, especially for a team that believes it should contend for a championship in 2014.

Problem is, there aren’t many available candidates out there who have done the job before. Rizzo might have had some interest in Ron Gardenhire, but the Twins announced Monday they’ve signed their longtime manager to a new, two-year contract, taking him off the board.

Joe Girardi could be available, and he certainly would bring a wealth of experience to the table, having managed the Yankees the last six seasons. Girardi’s contract is up, but New York is expected to make a major push to keep him. The Cubs, who fired Dale Sveum on Monday, also will be aggressive in pursuing the former catcher, a Chicago native who went to Northwestern.

The only way the Nationals are going to land Girardi is to offer him some serious money; he’s reportedly seeking a significant raise from his current $3 million salary with the Yankees. Nats ownership might well balk at a figure that high.

So, who else does that leave? The only other experienced managers not currently employed are Tony La Russa and Charlie Manuel. Neither has expressed much interest in returning to the dugout at this stage of his life.

What about Cal Ripken Jr.? The Hall of Famer has dropped hints lately he’d be interested in managing, and he’d immediately become the most iconic skipper in baseball. But those who know Ripken well say his ultimate career plans still lie in running an entire organization as GM or team president, not necessarily as manager. He would also command an incredibly high salary, one that Nationals ownership would probably deem too expensive.

  1. Steady Eddie - Oct 1, 2013 at 7:36 AM

    Mark, are your observations about certain candidates likely being too expensive coming from sources in the Nats front-office, or just general press corps speculation? Given how much difference the right manager in the right place can make – look at Terry Francona in Cleveland, or what Joe Maddon can accomplish in Tampa – and how expensive even middle level bench players can be, it seems completely ridiculous to make price at that level be an insuperable obstacle to getting the right manager.

    That’s not to say that either Girardi or Ripken aren’t necessarily the right choices for the Nats – though I think Girardi would be a great choice if we could get him — simply that if we can spend $8 million for Yuniesky Maya to be a net negative over four years, then surely we could spend less than that for the right manager who could take this whole $100+ million roster deep into the postseason.

    • tcostant - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      Agree 100% – see my comment below.

  2. Steady Eddie - Oct 1, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    Meant to write “That’s not to say that either Girardi or Ripken ARE necessarily the right choices for the Nats…”

    Edit function, please WordPress?

  3. Jw - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    They have to do a token interview of a minority who will not get the job. Beasley appears to be the man for that.

  4. Jw - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:15 AM

    Mark, there are LOTS of other experienced managers not currently employed besides TLR and Charlie. Manny Acta, Jim Riggleman, Frank Robinson, Bobby Valentine, Dave Trembley, Mike Hargrove, Ozzie Guillen, to name but a few. But they all have BAD experience.

    • Candide - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:33 AM

      I wouldn’t exactly call Frank Robinson’s experience bad.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:30 AM

      Frank Robinson isn’t a managerial candidate anymore and I certainly wouldn’t afault Frank for any failure to get along with Kasten. I thought Frank did an admirable job and the way he converted Soriano to LF was just one of the measues of respect players had towards him. If the 2005 owners of the Nats (Selig) had shown any interest in bettering the Nats as the season progressed, they could’ve been a playoff contender.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:14 AM

        boo hiss for the 2005 owners (Bud and the rest of them)…jerks…not that I’m bitter or anything :-)

  5. NatsLady - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    Off-topic but–this is cute.

    • naterialguy - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:08 AM

      that was good. How can you not want the pirates?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      Very good. Thanks, NL.

      I just want to be sure the Braves get shamed and lose both the series and any brawls they instigate. If the Pirates can do that, they’re my team.

      Actually, they should be, anyway, unless Cincinnati gets in, and still like Pittsburgh better.

    • Section 222 - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:47 AM

      Brilliant! Thanks NL.

  6. natsfan1a - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Cute. As previously noted, I have the Tribe (for my 90-year-old aunt) and the Bucs (for an aunt who is no longer with us). I could maybe do the A’s, for old geographical times’ sake, although for my bro, it was always the Giants. Not that I’d really be invested in any of the outcomes.

    • therealjohnc - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:31 PM

      I go for the A’s – or as I call them, “Nats West” (Norris, Milone, Suzuki)

  7. JamesFan - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Girardi would be my choice but the Nats have to be careful that he doesn’t use them to drive up his price with the Yankees.

    Knorr does not look ready for prime time to me. The fact that some in the clubhouse love him is not convincing to me. In fact, that may be a negative. A good manager will be respected–liked by some, unliked by others. I would like to see an experienced ML ex-player who has high standards of performance and demands execution of fundamentals.

  8. tcostant - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    If the Nationals are going to deem any manager as “too expensive” then they should just hire Randy Knorr and be done with it. And I’m not sure that would even be a bad choice.

    But if they are going to spend, I rather have a World Series winning manager than a Cal Ripken Jr. I still believe the Angels want to move on from Mike Scioscia and if Rizzo called the Angels they would “trade” Scioscia to the Nationals for a non prospect. What the Angels are moving really is that contract and would not require a good player.

    I still don’t understand this though that the Nationals won’t pay for a good manager. I understood it when they were not a good team, but now they are so close I just don’t believe that ownership would limit Rizzo here. I might be wrong, but I just don’t see it.

    P.S, I reupped my season tickets yesterday, so I’m all in for 2014.

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:55 AM

    There aren’t any unemployed self- 0r otherwise certifiable managerial geniuses who have any tread left on their tires. The best managerial hires are going to be guys like Maddon who have toiled on benches and in the minors. Teams know how to find them — witness Maddon, Farrell, Matheny.

    There are two issues: (1) the Nats’ biggest enemy in 2014 will be complacency, the feeling that 2013 was a minor pothole and 2012 represented the standard of what they are capable of as a team, and that 40-12 against weak opponents is representative of what they expect to do over a full season against everybody in the league; (2) this team has a number of prima donnas (e.g., its 3B, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Soriano and maybe Harper) who need somebody that’s in their grill and yet has a kind of luminescence that will inspire them to follow instead of admiring their swing/pitching mechanics in the mirror.

    I don’t see Knorr as the person who has the ability to both push and inspire. Maybe M. Williams is the right guy but when I see him described as “easy-going” I cringe. I much prefer his boss, who ran J. Upton out of town so he could start building a team around Eaton, Parra and Pollock — and in the long run AZ will be better for it.

    Agree Ripken isn’t right for the job. Apart from salary and long-term ambitions, he’d insist that everything be done “the Ripken way” — which is not bad in and of itself but would chafe some of the PDs into rebellion.

    Whoever it ends up being, I don’t think they’re on the board at the present time.

  10. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    too early for these discussions, no? given that a month of non-Nats baseball is left.

    • Jw - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:18 AM

      Rizzo can and should be interviewing potential managers now and throughout the postseason. There’s no rule against that. Don’t forget that the Astros interviewed and hired Bo Porter last year before the Nats were eliminated.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:23 AM

        Do we know he hasn’t been? I haven’t seen anything mentioned, but he likes to keep out of the light on these things.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:46 AM

        I know there is no rule against it but I prefer talking about baseball postseason more than nats off-season right now. I know this place is called Nats Insider but Mark has catered to non-Nats news before.

      • Jw - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:48 AM

        Typically formal interviews for manager positions are not done on the sly. Especially when there’s not an incumbent interim guy.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Yes, typically, that’s true. So maybe he’s got somebody in mind and is waiting for something else to happen because he couldn’t get permission to interview him? But that’s generally not secret either, is it?

        Of course, if Knorr does have a strong lobby in-house, that might be a reason to keep it under wraps. Just speculating, of course.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:14 AM

        What if Rizzo pulls another Soriano move? No one thought we were going to sign an expensive closer but he brought in Rafi. Now most people think he is gonna go with Knorr (in-house, players like, etc). Another surprise this off-season?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:24 AM

        If, just for instance, IF Rizzo has his eye on somebody who is currently employed, but might become available or might not, then it would pay to wait, and not sour the relationship with, say, Randy Knorr in case he does wind up getting the job. Don’t want him thinking he was the fall-back, beer-goggles hire.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Mark (or Chase) will no doubt post a game thread for the playoffs, too. Plenty of pixels to go around.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:58 AM

        certainly hope so. wassup with picture? does that resemble us Nats fans this off-season or something?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:08 AM

        picture? what picture?
        I can’t see the gravitars on this browser, if that’s it.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:11 AM

        yes, I am referring to your gravatar, the camel picture.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:18 AM

        Ah. That’s for tomorrow.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:38 PM

        lol. Wish we could still see avatars. “Hey, Mark, what day is it?”

        Sec 3, My Sofa – Oct 1, 2013 at 11:18 AM

        Ah. That’s for tomorrow.

  11. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    That last run for the playoff tie, ultimately one game short, might have kept Ron Washington off the “available” list.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      what a drop-off for Rangers though! WS runner ups two years in a row, then a WC knockout by Orioles, and now another knockout game before WC game by Rays. Window of opportunity closing fast?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:20 AM

        Perhaps, although Texas’s problems are more from the front office than the manager. Not Ron’s fault.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        I think they just need to add some talent. All they have been doing is just letting go of talent. Lost Cliff Lee bid, were not interested in signing Hamilton (smart move btw), lost Napoli, did not trade for JUp. 3 names stand out from their everyday lineup: beltre, cruz (who may not come back), and kinsler. that’s it. rest of their lineup is made up of gentry, moreland, andrus, profar (who has not developed into the star they hoped, there is still time though). I think they should trade for Stanton and sign a free agent starting pitcher.

  12. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    They’re going to need somebody who

    is good at developing younger players;
    can [work with/stand up to] Jayson Werth;
    can keep Harper focused on long-term goals;
    the established vets respect;
    manage this collection of serious egos without screwing up their confidence.

    Not taking any crap from the Braves would be a nice bonus.

    I don’t suppose Bobby would un-retire, though.

  13. natsfan1a - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Will be interesting to see what happens on the managerial front.

    On a completely, and totally OT, note, classy move by Todd Helton (imho).

    • Section 222 - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      very classy. A page out of Rick Ankiel’s book, though it was probably done before.

      Fascinating that he mentioned Big Cat and his shadow. That’s a long shadow indeed.

  14. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    Matt Williams would have something FP has mentioned as useful with younger players, and non-star players: an understanding of what it’s like to struggle. He was up and down between AAA (Phoenix in those days) and SF for three years, trying to learn to hit a curve ball, or maybe more accurately, to learn that he could.

    He was a little like Ian Desmond, in that it took him a while longer than the front office may have planned on, to “figure it out,” but once he did, he turned in a solid decade of all-star caliber play.

    • Jw - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      You think Cal never struggled? Dude played 2632 straight games and still couldn’t settle on a batting stance.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:10 AM

        Or Pete Rose — the guy never did have a position, just a utility guy really.

  15. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    The only way the Nationals are going to land Girardi is to offer him some serious money; he’s reportedly seeking a significant raise from his current $3 million salary with the Yankees. Nats ownership might well balk at a figure that high.

    Scoscia is getting about $5MM, so $6MM/a for Girardi doesn’t seem too crazy. They could make that up on a fifth starter alone, or make it back with the right hire for a playoff team.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:32 AM

      Angels may let go of Scoscia. then again if he could not much with Pujols, Hamilton, Trout, how well can he do with Harper and co. but he did not have good pitching to work with.

  16. Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Is Randy Knorr really 44? Knorr rode Bryce real hard and not sure how that will play out if Knorr is Manager. I think it’s between Matt Williams and Knorr. Certainly other candidates like Girardi and Cal make it interesting.

  17. NatsLady - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:32 PM

    I am missing something here. How many WAR do you think a manager is worth–if it’s 5, then he gets $20MM right? Let’s says it’s 3–then $12 MM. Stop messing around and get the right guy (I don’t know who that is, of course). If we had 91 wins we would be in the playoffs… Get the right guy.

  18. philipd763 - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    We can forget Girardi and Larusso, they will cost too much and Rizzo will try to be as frugal as possible. I say it will boil down to Knorr or Williams. Both would be first time major league managers so they would only command a reasonable salary. It’s probably a toss up but remember Rizzo still has a strong preference for dipping into the Diamondback well.

  19. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    I don’t see the argument for Sciosia. He’s got a nice record but he didn’t do very well w/ a lot of high maintenance types last season — though from what has been written Pujols could have spoiled anyone’s lunch. Much as we want to think all the Nats are fine go along-get along fellows there are a number of them who need periodic injections of focus, common sense, team consciousness and/or maturity. And I don’t believe in trading players for managers.

  20. philipd763 - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Regarding Cal Ripken, I would not be surprised if he eventually forms a syndicate to purchase the Orioles from Peter Angelos. Angelos is 84 years old so at some point soon he will likely put the team up for sale. I don’t see Ripken becoming the Nationals manager.

    • Sonny G 10 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      The sooner Angelos is gone, the better I’ll like it.

  21. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    Looking at the list of current M/L managers Sciosia is the only remaining manager w/ a reasonable chance of being fired — except possibly Weiss and Gonzalez. Don’t think we want either of those. Rizzo’s job is to sniff out a truffle.

  22. Sonny G 10 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    I’ve been leaning towards favoring Randy Knorr for manager, but it depends on who else are candidates. I don’t think I would go for Cal Ripken, though. This is going to be one case where I will “in Rizzo I trust”.

  23. sunshinebobby - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Ron Washington might be available if the Rangers sack him, which I think they will. He’s experienced, good with teams with talent, and he’d be a good fit in D.C. I am not buying Knorr. He’s Davey’s guy, and I don’t think Rizzo goes that route.

  24. JamesFan - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    Knorr tried to separate himself from DJ a couple of time this year. I don’t want to see Ripken here. I don’t like the image of an all-star Oriole managing the Nats, and I think he would be a celebrity, not necessarily a good manager, something like Ted Willliams. Also, I’m not impressed with Sciosa. He hasn’t done much with a lot of talent.

    I would like to see a fresh team in the dugout: Mgr, pitching coach, hitting coach….Not Knorr et al.

  25. natsjackinfl - Oct 1, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    Count me as one that would be mildly surprised if it’s anyone other than Knorr.

    Rizzo is a staunch believer in promoting from within if the right candidate has paid his dues and shown the apptitude and I think Knorr has checked both those boxes.





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