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Williams embraces lofty expectations

Dec 16, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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In the six weeks he’s been on the job, Matt Williams has learned a few things about the Nationals that he didn’t necessarily know before he was named their new manager.

In particular, everyone’s motivation to realize significant success right now.

“What I’ve learned is that this organization is very concerned with winning,” Williams said last week at the Winter Meetings. “There are high expectations, and we all embrace that. You don’t get those high expectations unless you have a team that’s willing to fulfill them or capable of fulfilling them. So all those things and all the pressure that comes along with that is good. We’re embracing that, and I’m excited about that.”

Hmm, the Nationals manager embracing lofty expectations? Haven’t we heard this before?

Don’t worry, there was no “World Series or bust” proclamation from Williams at the Winter Meetings, unlike predecessor Davey Johnson’s ill-advised quote from the previous year.

But make no mistake: Williams knows everyone in the baseball world is expecting big things from the Nationals in 2014. And he’s not going to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Williams came to this conclusion not only based on his own feelings but based off everything he has heard from his players and superiors since taking the job. He has spoken to about seven or eight players so far, and recently had a lengthy sit-down with Jayson Werth at the veteran outfielder’s home.

The rookie manager was struck by Werth, who conveyed the opinion of his teammates about the state of the Nationals in the wake of an 86-win season.

“That this club is very talented, certainly. And they’re a little disappointed in how things went last year, especially,” Williams said when asked to share Werth’s  message. “And again, two years ago, winning more games than anyone else and not making it to where they wanted to get to is disappointing. But they’re even more disappointed in what happened last year. They want to make amends for that. They want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And that’s the players talking, which is great.

“So you sit there as the manager … man, these guys are on it. They’re ready to go. They are itching to get back and start and all of those things. We’re going to have to do things right next year, and all of that, to play well. But they’re looking to get back, which is a really good sign.”

  1. nats128 - Dec 16, 2013 at 6:35 AM

    All you have to do is watch the set of MLB Network for the status of the Nats and the expectation. Read the chatter on the blogs of the other NL East teams and you know they are more worried than last year.

    The Mets have improved even tho they lost Matt Harvey and the Marlins will have a slightly better team. The Phillies look worse just based on age regression and the Braves will be a wait and see on what moves they make this off-season.

  2. Joe Seamhead - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:40 AM

    The starting five, and six and seven for that matter, are a substantial improvement. The bullpen probably is more solid. There won’t be minor league infielders playing the outfield even if one of the starters gets injured. The third baseman looks to be improved, the second baseman isn’t a wide-eyed rookie anymore, and hopefully the first baseman has it in him to regroup to his career norms. Shortstop is rock solid. We’re a bit thin at backup catcher, but I still think Mike Rizzo isn’t finished there.. The overall bench appears to be substantially improved. Luck, as far as general health, will play a part, but there’s no reason to expect anything less then 100 wins and the NL East crown. Just sayin’…

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    I used to say 4.7 runs per game. That’s no longer realistic with R/G dropping overall and where the NL average was exactly 4.00 and the only team in the NL above 4.7 was the Cardinals at 4.83.

    The Nats ended the season at 4.05 and I think 4.30 is a more realistic goal.

  4. sunshinebobby - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    As usual, I stand with you, Mr. Seamhead.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:07 AM

    With the signing of McLouth and the 3 in-house players for the bench (Hairston, TyMo, Espi) and the backup catcher spot where you could pick ‘em from Solano or Leon, is Rizzo done besides AAA filler or does he look to upgrade further on the bench?

    Do you add another lefty bat and a RH defensive outfielder similar to the LH McLouth.

    • NatsLady - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:53 AM

      I think it depends on whether (a) the price goes down on some free agents in January and (b) Rizzo and some other GM find common interest. In other words, I don’t see much urgency on either front (backup catcher or further bench upgrade) at this point. I would expect Rizzo to be turning his attention to extensions and arbitration. But if the phone rings…

    • NatsLady - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      With regard to Solano and Leon, I don’t think they are interchangeable. If Leon can up his defense, I think he could be adequate. In the interest of keeping the Venezuelan catcher pipeline active, I’d like to see a promotion so the Nats show talented kids they will have opportunities in our system. So, if it’s six of one/half-a-dozen of the other, I’d rather promote from within.

    • knoxvillenat - Dec 16, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      I don’t think Rizzo is finished with the bench by any means. I’m not convinced that Hairston, TyMo or Espinosa will be a part of the bench at this point. Hairston has his defensive liabilities, Espi needs to show he can hit a bit and Tyler needs to be much more consistent than previously shown. Would not surprise me at all if none of the 3 were on the major league roster coming out of Viera.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:19 AM

        I agree with NL that Rizzo will wait to see what shakes out in the market. There are still teams that are carrying some extra players who don’t have options and could be tradeable. The Rays have 3 catchers and the Indians have 6 outfielders.

        Knoxville, I’m supporting Espi for the bench. I’ve never liked him as a starter but the kid has all the tools to be a bench player and spot starter. Teams won’t have a scouting report on him that is too current and that should help if he can show patience. If he excels, he becomes a key trade chip.

        Hairston and TyMo are both bleh to me. Neither is an upgrade on defense where Matty will focus. With RZim picking up a Rawlings 1st basemen’s glove, TyMo isn’t needed as Danny can play 3rd in spot duty.

      • sjm308 - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:27 PM

        Agree with Ghost here just about 100% (which is sorta rare).. The more I think about Espinosa, the more I like him as our utility guy IF he can just a little and maybe cut back on the strikeouts. He plays starter quality defense, has great speed, switch hits (again, not well but he does pose problems if he is pinch hitting for the other manager). I also think that if he shows considerable improvement on offense, he becomes a huge trading chip later in the year when we might need a certain piece. To me, Hairston and Moore can either make our club or not and I will not be upset either way.

        Go Nats!!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:14 PM

        And I agree with you 100% SJM.

  6. Section 222 - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    When I watch MLB Network, all I see is the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and sometimes to Cardinals and Dodgers. Oh, and Seattle, since they signed a former Yankee. Whenever the Nats come up, people are high on them, but the amount of coverage is minimal. Not like last year when the combination of our first in baseball W-L record and the Strasburg shutdown made us a regular discussion piece.

    At least Mitch Williams still likes us.

    I’m resigned to Rizzo being done with the bench, though I still think Hairston and TyMo are only average at best, and those putting their eggs in the Espi basket could very easily be disappointed. But we really do need a backup catcher, and I think Rizzo recognizes that. He wasn’t satisfied with Flores, and I doubt he’ll be satisfied with the Onion.

  7. Section 222 - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    NL, given Leon’s horrible showing at the plate last year, what makes you think he’ll be adequate? Career averages and hitting well in Venezuela?

  8. jd - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    222,

    I agree with you that Rizzo won’t go into the season without a veteran backup catcher, not with Ramos injury history and the basic need to have a catcher taken regular days off. You can’t have a major drop off for 50 games.
    Catchers like Torrealba, Buck or even Shopach always seem to find jobs late in the off season.

    I hope we are still in on O’Flaherty.

    • Jw - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:41 AM

      Rizzo probably already has an offer on the table for Suzuki. Once Kurt realizes he’s not going to get a starting job anywhere he’ll take it.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:50 AM

        Jw, is it a realization he won’t be a starter or is it the realization he might have to take a $5 million paycut?

        I think he’s holding out for the best opportunity.

  9. jd - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    I also don’t believe that there won’t be another utility infielder or 2 at ST and I agree that more than likely only one of TyMo or Hairston will make the final cuts.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      jd, agreed and most likely TyMo will be in AAA unless Hairston is traded which won’t be easy.

  10. David Proctor - Dec 16, 2013 at 11:53 AM

    Hairston ain’t going anywhere.

  11. Section 222 - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    DP, you are probably right, unfortunately. Does your comment indicate pleasure at that result or resignation?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      I was going to ask the same. I don’t think Hairston is going anywhere because he isn’t easily tradeable. You just hope he can bounce back to something close to his 2012 OPS. Problem is even with a decent OPS, he’s below average defensively.

      Hairston was brought up as a 2nd baseman and moved to outfield. His range and arm were worse than Lombo.

    • David Proctor - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      I’m indifferent. Hairston isn’t as bad as people act. Power off the bench is important and Hairston has it. I can live with his poor defense in LF once in a blue moon. His 2013 was laughably unlucky (.185 BABIP is just unheard of–and it’s not because of weak contact, his line drive % was still quite good). So I think Hairston will be fine. If we could upgrade him fine, but he’s not that bad.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:36 PM

        True on the BABIP but consider that he’s never been a high BABIP guy in his career (.273). Projection services all believe like most of us he will have a higher BABIP and the projections average around .270 which will put him near a .235 BA with that high K rate. It’s the OPS which is most important as he is given the choice matchups where he can hit for power.

        It’s not like he will be starting against RHPs. He’s a luxury item who has been afforded the primo matchups. That’s why I expect more from Hairston. He only has to worry about hitting LHPs and then control a reasonable BABIP against the RHPs.

      • pdowdy83 - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        Hairston catches a lot of flack and I’m not really understanding why. If you look at his numbers in August/September last year when he was being used properly by Davey he was exactly what he was supposed to be. Over those 2 months he put up a .267/.286/.488 slash line. Yes the OBP is low but the OPS is perfectly acceptable. He hit 2 homers and 3 doubles while driving in 7 runs during that stretch of 41 at bats so that was an extra base hit every 8 at bats which is also the type of punch you want off your bench.

        He slugged .483 last year against lefties even during a terrible season. He isn’t expected to play the outfield much at this point with the acquisition of McLouth so his defense is a bit irrelevant for the number of innings he will play. This team made the playoffs with Morse playing in the outfield full time and it didn’t kill them so when you are talking about a guy who may play 200 innings in the field total next season being a defensive liability I don’t really buy into it. If multiple significant OF injuries happen I would expect the team to do what they have over the last couple of years and call someone up like Goodwin or Souza instead of letting Hairston play every day.

      • Joe Seamhead - Dec 16, 2013 at 5:18 PM

        If you are a Craig Stamman, or Blevins,etc. you might not feel like you “can live with his poor defense in LF”

      • David Proctor - Dec 16, 2013 at 5:53 PM

        They dealt with Morse, Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, etc. and won 98 games. They’ll survive for the few Hairston plays the field.

  12. sjm308 - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Dueces: I actually like that we are not being talked about all the time. I still cringe when I see fans like Seamhead talking about 100+ wins or that article awhile back where Mark and Chase talked about who would be starting in the playoffs.

    Yes, I want to see us win a World Series
    Yes, I want to see us win 100 games

    But, I am not going to have that huge depression that occured last year as fans clamored, “Relax, we got this” on our way to a truly disappointing season. Winning 86 games should not be disappointing and yet it was.

    For me, its one game at a time this season. No high expectations and in fact, I will not participate in guessing the number of wins when that little game comes around on here. I think we will be very good, I think we will pitch better, catch the ball better, be put in a position to catch the ball better and hopefully hit better as well. But I am not going to trust any of the “experts” to tell me how great we are. I also think the “experts” were mostly burned by our performance last year as well so they will not be chirping quite so much. So lets just fly under the radar a little in the beginning, play solid baseball and see what happens.

    Go Nats!!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:50 PM

      +1

    • unterp - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      I prognosticated 99 wins last season and that was the extent of my prediction but when it appeared the Nationals weren’t going to win 90 or make the playoffs well before the season was closing to an end when they were a couple of games below .500, I just hoped they would avoid 80 loses, which meant winning 83 games. I wasn’t that disappointed. And was satisfied with the 86 wins. Baseball is much different to me than any of the other pro sports. And I’m taking it also from a historical point of view. I live the hype like everyone else but winning it all in baseball is not the same as winning it all say in football. Winning the pennant in the senior circuit was more important than winning the WS at one time, well like 115 years ago. Also, having grown up with the Senators and just having a team, and actually having back to back winning seasons was huge to me. (See the Pirates who had not had a winning season in 20 years until the past season). That said, I expect them to win 99 in 2014…

    • jd - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:23 PM

      I agree 100%. I think 86 wins was a disappointment to me not because of the predictions but rather because I thought the team was a 95 win team which under preformed starting with the man in charge.

    • natsfan1a - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:52 PM

      +4 (double or nothing) :-)

      • natsfan1a - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:53 PM

        Dang. That was supposed to go under Ghost’s comment on sjm”s comment.

    • letswin3 - Dec 16, 2013 at 4:03 PM

      I might as well make it +3. I hated it last year when many kept saying “it’s early, it’s early” … until, guess what, it was too late. There is no value whatever in boasting about big win numbers …. let’s just play the games. I’m satisfied that we have improved in virtually every offensive and defensive category, and management looks to be in good hands too. A little more tinkering with the bench wouldn’t hurt my feelings, but overall there is improvement. Of course I worry about first base and Danny’s bat, but it looks like that’s what we’re gonna have to live with, unless Walters breaks loose in ST or an unexpected trade presents itself.

      • letswin3 - Dec 16, 2013 at 4:07 PM

        This was supposed to go under SJM’s 12:37 post.

  13. Another_Sam - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    308 — optimism is boundless in the spring, and now. so you’d cringe if you could read my mind. LOL. BTW, was it you that commented a few days ago about how you liked Montreal as a city? So do we; we’ve vacationed there a number of times. It’s very, very cool, IMHO. As you suggested, European. and if you like Montreal, try Tremblant.

    • sjm308 - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:23 PM

      Will do!

  14. David Proctor - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    stealing from Boz’s chat:

    Fun fact: Jayson Werth batted just .211/.318/.352 in his first 92 games with the Nationals but is .300/.384/.485 in his 268 games since.

  15. Section 222 - Dec 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    With McLouth on board, we shouldn’t have to see Hairston or Moore in the outfield much at all. Which is a good thing.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      Hairston’s the bench righthanded outfielder. That’s settling if you ask me regarding your comment. If you are starting a bench RH outfielder at least 30 times a season for matchups, that should be the goal with 2 lefty starting outfielders as you face LHP starters on average 2 times a week.

  16. Sonny G 10 - Dec 16, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Mr. Williams, these are the Nats, Nats fans, and Nats owners. Of course we have high expectations. What were you thinking before you came to this conclusion?

  17. Section 222 - Dec 16, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Ghost, not sure what your comment means. I don’t think there is a RH hitting 5th outfielder out there, even if we could get him, who Williams would start 30 times this year for matchups. Not when your two lefties are Harper and Span. Now, for injuries maybe, but even there McLouth is going to be the go to guy because he’s a pretty decent outfielder.

    30 starts means, essentially, that one out of every two games where we see a lefty starter, Hairston (or his replacement) would play instead of Span or Harper. I just don’t see that happening, do you?

    • nats128 - Dec 16, 2013 at 3:19 PM

      Im not sure the point either unless its getting back to an emphasis that Rizzo had after letting Dunn walk which was athletic players who could play defensive and hit. If thats the point then these Matt Stairs and Chad Tracy and Hairston acquisitions must be strategic in other ways.

      No way you start Hairston 30 games however if you had a McLouth type who was right-handed and could play some CF and LF then yes, that would make sense. Who do you suggest?

      • Section 222 - Dec 16, 2013 at 3:46 PM

        I would guess Bryce is the backup CF. Some others have suggested Jeff Baker would be a good alternative to Hairston. He crushes lefties and is pretty versatile in the field. That sounds worth a shot to me.

  18. David Proctor - Dec 16, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    Orioles signed Chris Marrero. That’ll put them over the top.

    • nats128 - Dec 16, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      Yep, came on to post that. What a joke! Nats take McLouth and the Orioles take Chris Marrero!

  19. letswin3 - Dec 16, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    Question: What does Danny have to do in ST to be the bench infielder? Obviously I mean offensively, because we all know he has a glove to be proud of. Your answers will be interesting, since he has no serious competitors yet.

  20. Matt Weyrich - Dec 16, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    I don’t think high expectations are that much of a stretch for the Nats this season. An improved and experienced rotation with the sky as the limit will be one of the best in the league. A more solidified and established bullpen will absolutely contribute towards shortening games, although I do not believe Rizzo is done with it just yet. The lineup is already solid at SS, RF, and 3B. Harper’s stats will depend on his ability to stay healthy. Span will be a decent leadoff man as long as he is able to carry over some of his magic from the end of last season. Rendon is no longer the rookie call-up with no experience. Look for him to make some major contributions with his bat along the way. LaRoche struggled for most of lay season, but he is in his contract year, and will be giving it his best effort to show what talent he has left to showcase himself to other teams. Ramos may be one of the most explosive no. 8 hitters in the league, and rounds up a pretty complete order. Our bench was dreadful last year, but with Tracy, Bernadina, and Lombardozzi out of the mix, there is a group of new faces ready to pinch hit late in games. I personally love Matt Williams’ coaching style, I think his aggressive approach to the game will be great for young players like Harper and Desmond to use their skills to the best of their abilities. I think the NL East crown is certainly feasible, and a playoff bye may not be too unimaginable either.

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