February 11, 2016

Washington Nationals extend qualifying offers to Desmond, Zimmermann

Shortstop Ian Desmond returned to the lineup - New York Mets v. Washington Nationals, August 17, 2012.  (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Nationals began their player-focused portion of the offseason Friday, extending $15.8 million qualifying offers to shortstop Ian Desmond and starter Jordan Zimmermann, declining to make offers to center fielder Denard Span and starter Doug Fister.

Across the league, a record 20 potential free agents were tendered qualifying offers, including New York Mets playoff hero Daniel Murphy, former Nats starter Marco Estrada (Toronto) and the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke.

Players have until Nov. 13 to accept the offer. In the three previous offseasons of the current collective bargaining agreement, none of the 34 qualifying offers was taken as free agents sought contracts with longer terms. [Read more…]

Washington Nationals officially introduce Dusty Baker as manager

Dusty Baker was formally introduced on Thursday morning with great fanfare as the sixth manager in Washington Nationals history in a press conference at Nationals Park.

Baker, 66, was accompanied by the team’s general manager, Mike Rizzo. The overall mood of the day was one of humor and looking toward the future, with the affable Baker cracking a number of jokes and Rizzo saying that it must be a big day when the occasion calls for him to wear a tie. [Read more…]

Nats Nightly: Nationals announce Dusty Baker as their new manager

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals hiring of Dusty Baker as their new manager and the fiasco with Bud Black being offered the job, then bungling the negotiations.

Nats lose Bud Black over money, turn back to Dusty Baker

Let’s take out of the equation, just for the moment, the idea that Dusty Baker is going to pick at Bud Black’s scraps and probably become the next manager of the Washington Nationals.

According to multiple sources now, the Nats offered Bud Black their managerial job last week during the World Series without mentioning this rate of pay, then over the weekend when they went to do the contract, they offered Black, a veteran manager, a two-year deal for less than $2 million per.

Or did they?

Huh? What?

To compare, the Miami Marlins, with the lowest payroll in all of baseball, offered Don Mattingly a four-year, $10 million deal to become their new skipper.

According to The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, Black was, and rightfully so, “deeply offended.”

From me and @barrysvrluga, via sources: Nats chose Black on Wednesday, first offer left him “deeply offended,” talks crumbled by Saturday.

— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) November 3, 2015

It’s hard to imagine just how dysfunctional this all looks.

The news broke last week that Black had been offered and accepted the job. Then the team goes back and offers him less than they will have to pay Matt Williams to not manage this team next year (Nats are on the hook for the $1 million option of Williams they picked up in the spring for next season).

This is obviously coming from ownership. It’s understandable that they’d be reluctant to have to pay two salaries for one job. But it’s the price of doing business, especially when their GM’s hand-picked lieutenant proved to be an inadequate field manager and less-than-respected in the clubhouse.

Black was the logical choice for the next manager of the Nats. He’s experienced, respected by players and industry folks, a former big leaguer and pitching coach, and has ties to the area (his daughter went to Maryland). It seemed a fait accompli that he’d be guiding the Nats back to the playoffs next year.

Now, all that is up in the air.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Baker, who’s a three-time N.L. manager of the year, was told he didn’t get the job, now he’s looking like the front-runner again. How does any self-respecting person see what the Nats did to Black and decide they still want to be a part of it. And when Baker’s salary (or whoever becomes the next manager) becomes public, we’ll go through all the finger pointing yet again.

And Baker, by the way, is a dinosaur in this business. He’s as old school as they get. He’s the guy that said he didn’t want players drawing walks because all that does is “clog the bases.” He’s the guy that destroyed Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. But there are also studies that he’s very effective at getting the most out of his hitters, though a lot of that has to do with a bunch of guys named Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Sammy Sosa.

It’s an ugly and awkward situation that only gets messier when we’re talking about the amount of money the Nats paid Casey Janssen to buy out his option.

For several years, the Nats organization was the talk of the league. They were going about things “the right way,” building from within through the draft, shrewd trades and generally acting like adults. But the events of the season, the way the Drew Storen/Jonathan Papelbon and Papelbon/Bryce Harper things were handled, then the firing of Williams and now this, it leaves many more questions than answers.

Primary of which, is: Who’s running this show and what’s their motivation?

Washington Nationals: Hiring Bud Black Is A Smart Move At Face Value

Bud Black’s two greatest strengths were Matt Williams’ weaknesses.

An experienced manager with an extensive résumé, Black is known for his ability to manage pitching and maintain strong relationships with his players. In 2015, the downfall of the Washington Nationals came in the mishandling of the pitching staff and the schism in the clubhouse. [Read more…]

Report: Washington Nationals to hire Bud Black as new manager

The Washington Nationals will hire Bud Black to be their new manager, according to James Wagner of The Washington Post.

[Read more…]

Washington Nationals reassign several coaches

Part of the fallout from the Washington Nationals dismissal of manager Matt Williams was the release of his entire coaching staff. On Monday, the Nats announced that several of those coaches, and a minor league manager, were reassigned in the organization.

Former bench coach Randy Knorr, who’s been with the organization in just about every role possible and who was thought to be a managerial candidate (again), was named Senior Assistant to the General manager, Player Development. Third base coach Bobby Henley was appointed Senior Advisor, Player Development. Bullpen coach (and former Nats player) Matt LeCroy will manager AA-Harrisburg, and former Harrisburg skipper Brian Daubach will become hitting coach at AAA-Syracuse.

There was no information on whether the rest of the coaches, including long-time pitching coach Steve McCatty, have been offered other positions in the organization.

It’s presumed that when GM Mike Rizzo appoints a new manager –especially if he comes with experience — he’ll be able to interview and hire his own staff.

The list of candidates is growing by the day. There have been area and national reports tying the Nats to former managers Bud Black, Charlie Manual and Dusty Baker, longtime coaches Phil Nevin, Dave Martinez and Don Wakamatsu and even retired legend Cal Ripken, Jr.

After disappointment, where do Nats go from here?

So, where do they go from here?

The past season for the Washington Nationals couldn’t have been more disappointing. Injuries led to rust, which led to collapse, which led to overcompensation, which led to dysfunction, which ultimately led to clearing house.

Before next season starts, the Nats have a veritable laundry list of things to accomplish (in order of severity): [Read more…]

Nats Nightly: Matt Williams fired as manager

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals dismissal of manager Matt Williams and the entire coaching staff.

Check Out Baseball Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with District Sports Page Nats Nightly on BlogTalkRadio

Washington Nationals fire manager Matt Williams, entire coaching staff

“This is not an easy thing. This is a business and as such requires some very, very tough difficult choices and this certainly was one of them.” — Mike Rizzo


Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced today that field manager Matt Williams was relieved of his duties.

Additionally, bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier have also been informed their contracts will not be renewed.

“A tough day for me personally,” Rizzo said at Monday’s press conference from Nationals Park. “A tough day for our entire organization, but these are the first of the decisions that we felt we needed to make as we meticulously evaluate why the 2015 season didn’t go the way we had hoped.

“As I’ve said, this entire season was a disappointment, not only to myself, but to ownership and to the fan base of Washington, D.C. It was not our best year. It wasn’t Matt’s best year. It wasn’t my best year. As an organization, it wasn’t our best year. All of us, together, feel the disappointment throughout the 2015 season.

“We felt that it was right for us to look at every aspect of the organization and figure out ways that we could work better, getting us back on track to reach our ultimate goal, which of course, is bringing a World Series championship back to D.C. and its fan base.”

Williams, 49, led the Nats to an 83-79 record this season in what has to be one of the most disappointing seasons in MLB in recent memory. The Nats, consensus World Series pick by the national media, failed to make the post-season in Williams’ second season at the helm.

He made the playoffs and was named Manager of the Year last season, but even then, many thought the Nats succeeded despite Williams, not because of him. Williams’ questionable bullpen management was highlighted in the NLDS, especially in Games 2 and 4, when he lifted a cruising Jordan Zimmermann for Drew Storen, then put in Aaron Barrett instead of a rested Tyler Clippard, Storen or even Stephen Strasburg. Both decisions backfired.

During the first half of the this season, the Nats managed to hold first place despite playing with a makeshift lineup with regulars Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman all spending significant portions of the season on the disabled list. Stephen Strasburg joined them for a chunk of the summer and Doug Fister could not replicate his stellar 2014.

Despite all this, the Nats were still in first place in the N.L. East on Aug. 1.

At that point, the walking wounded returned, sending their lesser skilled backups to the bench. But baseball has a long-standing tradition of a month-long spring training for a reason, and Span, Rendon, Werth and Zimmerman all proved to be quite rusty when they returned to the lineup.

The team was swept by the Mets that first weekend in August and limped to a 4-13 record over the first three weeks of the month, turning a 3-game lead in the division to a 4 1/2 game deficit at the conclusion of the 10-game west coast swing.

Through it all, Williams’ bullpen management left much to be desired, repeatedly using relievers in rote roles instead of assessing the situation and utilizing the most appropriate pitcher, and his instance of asking players to sacrifice that had little experience or success with the technique particularly frustrated fans and pundits alike. Yes, the players weren’t performing, but often the manager was not putting them in positions to succeed.

Williams fate seemed to be sealed as the season dwindled, but a series of reports with a week to go in the season by Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga were particularly damning. In one of the reports, Svrluga described an irate Jayson Werth going off on Williams about his poor communications skills and asking Williams during a tirade “When do you think you lost the clubhouse?”

Then, on the next-to-last home game — on Fan Appreciation Day, no less — closer Jonathan Papelbon screamed at Bryce Harper for not running hard enough on a pop-up, then physically attacked the presumptive N.L. MVP, choking Harper and knocking him backwards into the bench. Williams, seemingly unaware of the severity of the incident in his own dugout, then sent Papelbon back out to pitch the next inning.

“He’s our closer,” Williams said about why he sent Papelbon back out after the fight. “That’s all I’m going to say on the matter. He’s our closer. In a tie game, he’s in the ballgame in the ninth inning.” This, despite the fact that the Nats had to acquiesce to Papelbon’s trade request that he pitch only in save situations.

The next day, after Williams had a chance to review the video, he confessed his lack of information about the incident and stated that had he known at the time, he would not have put Papelbon back on the mound.

When Williams was hired, he boasted of a day-to-day plan for spring training and the season and fans fell in love with the idea of his organization skills. But the organization turned into inflexibility, and inflexibility eventually turned into a seemingly tone-deaf manager that had been tuned out by his players and ridiculed in the media.

Williams is certainly not the sole reason for the Nats misfortunes in 2015. He had no control over the injuries, nor the players he had available to replace the starters. He didn’t control the Nats medical staff or their rehab programs. He couldn’t control that four position starters would all return within days of each other, rushed back into a pennant race without proper at bats to regain timing.

But the things that Williams did have control over became increasingly difficult to process and understand. He seemingly made the same mistakes over and over, either unwilling or incapable of making corrections along the way. And his manner with the media suggested a rigid inflexibility and adherence to pre-set roles.

The next Nationals manager will have a strong base to work from, but will inherit a lot of questions as well. The team’s fortune is tied to two aging players that can’t stay healthy and at least four prominent veterans are leaving via free agency. The team will most likely have a raw rookie at shortstop, and could have four new starters in the lineup on opening day from the previous year, plus a completely revamped bullpen.

But the new skipper will also have the reigning MVP in right field, an ace that threw two no-hitters and a one-hitter in the same season, and a second ace that was one of the two or three best starters in the league once he returned healthy from his second stint on the D.L. this year.

The 2015 season, which started with such promise, ended in disappointment and dysfunction. As it happens in so many cases, the field manager paid for that disappointment with his job. Perhaps Matt Williams will be given another chance to manage elsewhere in the big leagues. Maybe he becomes a trusted hitting or bench coach somewhere. But it was clear as the season drew nearer to a close that he was no longer the right fit to manage this group of players.

Sometimes it’s not fair that a manager pays for an underwhelming season by his players. In this case, Williams did more than enough to earn his dismissal.

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