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Rizzo on Williams: “The best candidate available”

Oct 31, 2013, 11:25 AM EDT

Photo courtesy Washington Nationals Photo courtesy Washington Nationals

Updated at 1:25 p.m.

Mike Rizzo had known Matt Williams for roughly 14 years and for much of that time had considered the All-Star third baseman a “manager-in-training.”

But Rizzo insists he didn’t settle on Williams as the Nationals’ new manager until after the 47-year-old Diamondbacks coach formally interviewed for the job earlier this month and impressed him (and ownership) beyond expectations.

“A lot of the candidates we interviewed, I had a relationship with. Matt was one of them,” Rizzo said today after the Nationals officially announced Williams’ hiring. “I’ve known him for a long time. We were together in Arizona, obviously. But I wouldn’t consider him, going into this, a favorite. I knew a lot of the candidates, and … they were all terrific interviews and the process went great. It was a very difficult decision. But Matt, we felt, possessed all the characteristics of a successful manager and a guy that we think could take us to the next level.”

Williams will be tasked with elevating a Nationals club that won its first NL East title in 2012 but stumbled to an 86-76 record in Davey Johnson’s final year as manager to a World Series champion. Despite no previous managerial experience beyond a short stint last year in the Arizona Fall League, Rizzo is confident Williams is the right man for the job, selecting him from a pool of five finalists that included two strong in-house candidates and two intriguing external possibilities.

All five candidates — the others were Nationals coaches Randy Knorr and Trent Jewett, Blue Jays coach DeMarlo Hale and Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus — interviewed for the job earlier this month. Rizzo made his decision late last week, but the club couldn’t formally announce anything until after completion of the World Series, per Major League Baseball’s instructions. Once the Red Sox finished off the Cardinals in Game 6 Wednesday night, the Nationals were able to proceed with their announcement.

Williams will be introduced at 2 p.m. Friday during a news conference at Nationals Park.

“I feel privileged and honored to be a part of this team,” he said in a statement. “It’s a wonderful group of guys and a great organization. I’m simply here to help take us to the next level.”

A five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove third baseman, Williams was known as one of the game’s most-intense competitors during his playing days but has mellowed somewhat since becoming a Diamondbacks coach in 2010. (He spent the last three seasons as their third base coach.) His relationship with Rizzo, though, dates back to 1999, when he played for Arizona and Rizzo served as the club’s scouting director.

Rizzo, who left the Diamondbacks to join the Nationals’ front office in 2006 and then ascended to the GM position in 2009, kept tabs on Williams throughout but truly became convinced he deserved the manager’s job during this month’s interview.

“What struck me about Matt Williams that maybe I didn’t realize as much is: He’s extremely intellectual,” Rizzo said. “He’s extremely articulate. He communicates in a manner that is extremely effective. His knowledge of our organization — of our roster and even our minor league system — was impeccable. He was extremely prepared, extremely articulate in his interview process. I think that was something that went into the selection process.”

Rizzo said Williams’ hiring was a joint decision made with ownership, which was involved throughout the interview process.

“Matt has a wealth of knowledge and experience as a former player and coach,” managing principal owner Ted Lerner said in a statement. “But what most impresses us is his ability to understand and ably communicate situations and strategies in a disciplined, forthright manner. We think he is the right leader for a Washington Nationals team ready to compete for a World Series championship.”

Among the topics Williams had to address with the Nationals before his hiring was his past connection to performance enhancing drugs. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2007 that Williams bought $11,600 worth of steroids and human growth hormone from a Florida clinic in 2002, while he still played for the Diamondbacks. He was named later that year in the Mitchell Report, MLB’s official investigation of PED use in the sport.

Williams, who acknowledged at the time he tried HGH to recover from an ankle injury, is the first admitted PED user to become a big-league manager.

“In the interview process, we asked about it,” Rizzo said. “As you know, we’re big on accountability here. To me, the three most important aspects are accountability, performance and excellence. That’s something that we strive for here with the Nationals. Matt was extremely candid about the Mitchell Report and owned up to it. He certainly showed accountability for it. He wants to only be judged by his coaching and managing going forward.”

As is the case for most first-time managers, Williams won’t be bringing in an entire staff of coaches familiar to him. Rizzo said most of the Nationals’ 2013 staff will return next season, though he couldn’t announce anything yet. All members of the current staff have contracts that expire at the end of the night.

Knorr, the man who appeared to be Williams’ strongest competition for the job and was openly championed by a majority of the Nationals’ clubhouse and Johnson himself, is likely to return as bench coach.

“I’ve had a lot of these players and would love to be here when we play in the World Series,” Knorr said last week after learning he wasn’t getting the managerial job.

Steve McCatty, who has served as the Nationals’ pitching coach since 2009 and survived two previous managerial changes, also is expected to return. Rick Schu, who took over as hitting coach in July and previously worked with Williams in Arizona, figures to remain as well.

  1. originalnatsfan - Oct 31, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    welcome aboard, Matt
    here’s hoping you can lead us to the promised land

  2. NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Congrats and good luck, Mr. Williams. Looking forward to the 2014 season with a lot of optimism.

    Don’t let expectations bite you!

    Top 5 odds to win 2014 WS, acc’g to bovada.lv:
    Dodgers 7/1
    Tigers 9/1
    Red Sox 10/1
    Cardinals 10/1
    Nationals 10/1

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 31, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    Yah, not a well kept secret. What Nats fans will find out is that Matt Williams knows a thing or 2 about Gold Glove defense. Read what I wrote yesterday morning in the Gold Glove story.

  4. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Not even 12 hours after a rookie manager takes a disappointing team to the World Series, the Nats hire a rookie manager to do the same thing. No pressure or anything though.

    • natsjackinfl - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      John Farrell would be suprised his stint at Toronto didn’t count.

      • David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:09 PM

        Whoops, you are correct. It was so forgettable that I forgot.

  5. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Randy Knorr is returning.

    • NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:01 PM

      As he should. If the Nats go deep in the postseason, he will be a hot commodity for a managerial job elsewhere. If by some chance Williams stubbs his toe midseason, Knorr will replace him. Win-win situation.

      • David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:02 PM

        I don’t see any scenario where Williams doesn’t at least finish out the season.

  6. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Also sounds like Mike Rizzo’s conference call will be broadcast on 106.7 at 12:30.

  7. naterialguy - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Please Nationals officials, let’s not talk about World Series this off season and once the season begins I would recommend waiting until October if we are still in the running, before uttering those words.

  8. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    On 106.7 radio in DC, Mike Rizzo says Matt Williams will “implement sabermetrics and be aware of positioning and trends.”

  9. #4 - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Completely off topic… The Dominican government has certainly made MLB life’s more difficult. The ruling described below will make half the “Dominican” players in pro ball stateless. Many trace their ancestry to Haiti and come out of the bateys described in the article. Lord knows how they will get visas to play in this country now.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/24/world/americas/dominicans-of-haitian-descent-cast-into-legal-limbo-by-court.html?_r=0

  10. NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    RIzzo, “Matt was candid, he was accountable for it, he doesn’t take it lightly, we don’t take it lightly. He wants to be judged on his coaching and managerial career going forward…”

  11. NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    If you missed the 12:30 interview, Rizzo will be on 980 at 1:30 (today).

  12. tcostant - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:35 PM

    I have two questions:

    1 – Was his ownership interest in the D-Backs address?

    2 – I keep hearing this “…no previous managerial experience beyond a short stint last year in the Arizona Fall League”, but my understanding he also was interm manager in AA for loong than the Arizona Fall League gig. Is this correct???

    • David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      1. No, but it will have to be sold if it wasn’t already.

      2. You are correct, he managed in AA for a few months.

  13. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    Bill Ladson reporting that Steve McCatty is also coming back. So that leaves Jim Lett, Tony Tarasco, Trent Jewett and Rick Schu as the unknowns?

    • NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:03 PM

      Rizzo already said Schu will be back, if not as hitting coach, then in some other capacity. Williams might bring his bullpen coach from Arizona, they are reported to be good friends, and he might want a second opinion–at least until he learns to trust McCatty. McCatty and Davey had some knock-down drag-outs at first, if I recall.

  14. NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    Asked about coaching chances (Knorr and McCatty specifically), Rizzo said Knorr will be back and that he doesn’t anticipate many changes but he can’t announce anything because they haven’t finished with contracts. Sounds to me like McCatty will return.

  15. jd - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    I am optimistic about 2014 mainly because I think Davey had a poor year in 2013 and as you all saw in Boston; managers matter.In hindsight I think it’s a bad idea to have a coach or manager announce and plan ahead of time that this is the last year. The tendency to slip into ‘retirement’ ahead of schedule is there.

    I don’t know if Matt Williams will be a good manager, no one does. I only hope he is a good people manager, insists on solid fundamental baseball and is smart enough to use data to his advantage.

  16. jd - Oct 31, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    On the coaches I think this will be a big year for Mc.Catty; Strasburg in particular must take a large step forward, Gio needs to improve his efficiency and Drew Store simply must be fixed (if he’s still on the team). In addition there may well be a rookie or 2 trying to take a permanent rotation spot and the biggest project of all may well be Ross Detwiler, I think he is at the crossroads now in his career and it’s yet to be determined if he’s a true no. 3 or simply John Lannan.

    I think Jewet is likely not to be retained along with the bullpen coach (whose name escapes me).

  17. Eugene in Oregon - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    I’m quite comfortable with the selection of Matt Williams as manager. From afar, the 2013 Nats appeared to lack intensity or focus (or something of that sort) during the first 2/3’s of the season. Maybe that’s unfair or simplistic, but that’s how it seemed to me (and I think to many of us who commented on this website). From what I’ve seen, Mr. Williams will not let the 2014 Nats lose focus.

    And whether or not they had anything to do with that lack of intensity, Randy Knorr and Trent Jewett were so closely associated with the 2013 Nats that they had to overcome the presumption that they shared some of the responsibility. In essence, Mike Rizzo had to reach outside of the organization.

  18. tcostant - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    I’m excited for 2014.

    I have three spots left in my 2014 season tickets in Sec. 202.

    If anyone is interested, I was able to renew my BTGT (BUy Two Get Two) tickets, so the 10 game / 4 ticket block are quite affordable, which is at cost for anyone interested. Email me at my id at hotmail dot com, if you want more info.

    • Section 222 - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:10 PM

      Feel free to put this info on the NIDO Spreadsheet Bulletin Board. Go to this link:

      http://prettyfrickenbueno.wordpress.com/whos-going/his-her-ni-bbs/

      Click on the link there and put your info,including your contact info if you wish. Then you can just use the link to remind people about it in the future, and remove the info whenever you like.

      Cheers.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 31, 2013 at 8:39 PM

        Which reminds me, we need to do a revised edition for 2014.

      • Section 222 - Nov 3, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        Good point. I’m thinking the best and easiest approach would be to leave everything intact, except for substituting in the 2014 schedule in the “Who’s Going?” tab, updating the Viera schedule, and either starting a new 2014 drinks owed sheet, or just cleaning out the entries on the old one. Probably best to do all this prior to spring training. Maybe after the first of the year. Let me know if you have other thoughts via email if you like. Make sure to copy Candide and 1a too.

        Nice new avatar by the way.

  19. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    Bill Ladson reporting that bullpen coach Jim Lett won’t be back. Not so surprising, I guess.

  20. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    Hot stove season has already begun. CBS reporting that the Nationals are interested in Ellsbury. I’ll eat my hat if we dish out the $120MM that Ellsbury wants. No chance. This wreaks of Boras trying to create a bidding war. The more teams that are perceived to be interested, the more he can drive up the price.

    But we’ll be linked to absolutely every big-name free agent this offseason.

    • NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:58 PM

      Mark Ellis was released by the Dodgers. Some team could pick him up as a full-time 2B, but if not, strikes me he’s a lot better than Lombo on the bench, a defensive whiz and better hitter.

      • David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:00 PM

        I saw that. It’s an interesting option for sure. The thing against him is he’s not versatile. He’s pretty much strictly a 2B.

      • NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        Lombo isn’t very versatile, either. Can’t play SS at all or 3B very well, and LF??? I think the hope for him being a “super-utility” guy are not going to work out unless he improves. Don’t get me wrong, I like his “grit.” He can bunt, but he doesn’t walk, and he isn’t really that fast.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 31, 2013 at 8:42 PM

      I reckon it reeks no matter who wrought it or wrecked it.

  21. NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:34 PM

    Lucas Giolito is dressing as a smurf for Halloween. I figure he’ll fit right in.

    Lucas Giolito ‏@LGio27 7m
    The halloween fit. Smurfin it tonight #thiscostumeisserious #nojokes http://instagram.com/p/gJZhz0OkKm/

  22. jd - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    David,

    What position would he play?

    • David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:58 PM

      Ellsbury? He’d play center and we’d have to move Span. But it’s not going to happen.

      • NatsLady - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:20 PM

        I wonder how far away Brian Goodwin is. He seems to be doing pretty well in the AFL.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      1st base?

  23. Section 222 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    A couple of random thoughts now that playoffs and World Series are over. I’d be interested in what others think about these issues.

    1. Remember when lots of folks called for Espi to hit right handed only? And others responded that asking a switch hitter to bat righty against RH pitching was beyond the pale. The NIDO Glossry includes an entry (line 38) on this, quoting one of our regulars:
    “You can’t ask someone who probably hasn’t seen right-handed pitching from the right side since he was in underoos to start doing it several years into his professional career. It’s basically impossible, which is why nobody ever does it with a switch-hitter regardless of their splits.

    So I guess we now know it’s not true that nobody ever does it. (Actually, we knew that Nook Logan did it, but that doesn’t count because he was a terrible hitter a righty as well.) But late in the season Shane Victorino did it and he was very successful:

    As LHB vs. RHP — 229 PA, 3 HR .274/.317/.389/.706
    As RHB vs. RHP – – 115 PA, 6 HR .300/.386/.510/.896

    And we know what he did in the playoffs. Both his grand slam against the Tigers in Game 6 and his bases clearing double in Game 6 of the Series came off of RH pitchers.

    So why was Victorino able to make the switch successfully? Espi was terrible this year batting right handed too, so that may not be the answer for him anyway. But should he consider making the change?

    2. Two of the big revelations and surprise starts in the playoffs were pitchers who had very few starts in the regular season . Sonny Gray started just 10 games for the A’s this year, all in August and September. He then pitched a gem against the Tigers in the ALDS and was picked to start Game 5 over Colon. And Michael Wacha started three games for the Cards in May/June, went back to the minors, then came up in August and pitched in 6 games in relief. He then started five games for the Cards down the stretch before the playoffs. In his first four starts in the postseason, he was nearly unhittable.

    Not every team has the luxury of keeping a young star in the minors for much of the season. But Is it possible that this will become a common strategic decision by teams that are in the playoff hunt from the get go and have great pitching depth in their systems — grooming a young starter for playoff stardom by keeping him in the minors until late in the year, thereby assuring that the teams you face in the playoffs have never faced him before? Could that be in Giolito’s or Purke’s future?

    • drazthegr8 - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:04 PM

      Great thoughts here IMO. I’d like to see top prospects who are not “ready” get a shot later in the end of the season during DL stints or guys being sent down to give them a taste and see what they’ve got. This year Karns got that shot and while he wasn’t great, it had to be great experience. Meanwhile, T.Jordan did thrive. I’d like to see Cole, Giolio, Purke and Solis given a shot in ’14 in the bullpen, rotation, or whatever. Let’s see Goodwin and Souza in the OF when Werth has his yearly DL-stint.

  24. Section 222 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    Gee, if we could sign Ellsbury, Span might bring a pretty good pitcher in a trade. Or at least a prospect. I hear that the Twins have this big tall kid Alex Meyer. He was a first round pick back in 2011.

  25. David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    NatsLady, I think we should expect to see Goodwin in 2015. It wouldn’t be surprising at all for the Nats to decline Span’s 2015 option. That’s dependent on Goodwin having a very good year in AA/AAA though.

  26. Joe Seamhead - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:29 PM

    I thought it was said on here that Billy Burns had passed Goodwin on the Nats outfielding prospect charts. Burns doesn’t have any long ball game, but he is a near phenom base runner, gets on base consistently, and is said to be a better defender than Goodwin.

  27. Joe Seamhead - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:40 PM

    Burns is also a switch hitter that in 540 plate appearances he only had 54 K’s. Minor league stats are only worth so much, but his are very impressive, none the less.

    • David Proctor - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:53 PM

      Burns is very promising and he was actually a better basestealer than Billy Hamilton. Needs to continue to progress though.

  28. natsfan1a - Nov 1, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    Looks like the presser will be carried on MASN at 2 p.m.

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MIAMI 53 54 6.0
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FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
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