November 29, 2015

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: 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.

Report: Matt Williams to be fired as Washington Nationals manager

The Washington Nationals will fire Matt Williams as the team’s manager at the end of the season, according to CBS Sports.

The move comes as an expected beginning to a crucial and surely eventual offseason for the organization. 2015 saw preseason talk of a World Series title give way to an 81-78 record (at press time) and the face of the franchise, Bryce Harper, get choked in the dugout in the season’s penultimate home game by closer and trade deadline acquisition Jonathan Papelbon. [Read more…]

More off-field drama for Nationals in aftermath of Papelbon-Harper altercation

It’s unacceptable.

There are ways to let a teammate know you think he isn’t playing the game “the right way.” And then, there’s what Jonathan Papelbon did Sunday afternoon.

As if the Washington Nationals needed any more drama heading into the off-season after missing the playoffs in a season they started out as near-unanimous World Series picks.

You’ve seen it by now. Bryce Harper, everyone’s N.L. MVP, didn’t bust his hump on a pop-up in the bottom of the eighth inning in what was still a 4-4 game. Papelbon jaws at Harper the entire way off the field, then once Harper is in the dugout, below Papelbon’s vantage, Papelbon goes for Harper’s throat and the two have to be separated.

Here’s the entirety, if you missed it.

Papelbon is clearly in the wrong, on all accounts. It’s not his duty to police Harper’s actions, especially from the top of the dugout in front of his teammates and within view of national television cameras. It’s especially wrong to continue the confrontation in a physical manner.

This, on the heels of Papelbon awaiting a hearing for his three-game suspension for throwing at Manny Machado last week. It’s twice in a week Papelbon has resorted to violence to enforce his view of baseball’s unwritten rules. He’s a dangerous menace.

After the exchange, manager Matt Williams inexplicably allowed Papelbon to go out and pitch the ninth, in which the Phillies proceeded to score eight runs.

Williams was obviously asked about the incident in his post-game press conference. Here was the exchange:

Q: What was behind your decision to send Papelbon back out for the ninth?

A: At the time, it’s a tie game.

Q: But given what happened?

A: He’s our closer.

Q: It appeared [Papelbon] put his hands on [Harper’s] throat?

A: He’s our closer. 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.

Let’s forget, for an instance, that Papelbon only agreed to the trade to D.C. because the Nats acquiesced to his demand that he only pitch in save situations, the reason he only pitched four time in the first 18 days he wore the uniform.

The idea that the manager can allow any player, but especially the pitcher, to go back onto the field into a tied game after an altercation in the dugout — which, by the way, that player instigated — is simply incredible.

After the game, Papelbon told reporters that he apologized to Harper, that he was “in the wrong.” Harper said it was like brothers fighting, and he was concentrating on the remaining games on the schedule. The players tried to say the right things and de-escalate the situation.

But actions speak louder than words. Papelbon has a long and inglorious history of this type of behavior and absolutely nothing good has happened since the Nats traded for him at the deadline.

As for Williams, his words in the press conference continue to reinforce the idea of his tone-deafness and inability to deviate from his set plan.

Describing the incident as a “family issue” that would be handled internally is akin to brushing it off. He essentially once again acquiesced to Papelbon, tacitly backing him as opposed to standing up for the team’s MVP in an altercation that luckily got no one hurt.

And all the while, Mike Rizzo says nothing, allowing the situation to linger and cast a pall on what little baseball is left.

Instead of celebrating Harper’s MVP season, instead of sending impending free agents Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond off in style, we’re left with this: watching the worst trade deadline acquisition of the season — maybe of all time — choke out the team and league’s MVP in the dugout of a tied game, then allowed back onto the field while the manager sits idly.

It’s been a long season. The offseason promises lots of turnover. Some of it was by design. Some of it now will be out of necessity. The turmoil surrounding the Nats is palpable. What just a few months ago seemed a model franchise is now under scrutiny for dysfunction.

Before Aug. 1, the play on the field wasn’t what everyone wanted, but they were still in first place. Since the trade for Papelbon, it’s all gone to hell — on the field and off. The trade was a mistake at the time, and now will prove infinitely more so.

I wrote in my piece yesterday the Nats wasted another year of Harper and Stephen Strasburg in their primes. How they handle this altercation could hasten their departure from D.C.

A season ends: Nationals eliminated, Williams ridiculed in media

The New York Mets made official what we’ve known around here for the better part of two months: the Washington Nationals aren’t going to the playoffs.

The Nats were doomed by starting the month of August in a 4-13 slump — a period where they went from three games up in the division to 4 1/2 games back. They’ve never recovered, as a five-game losing streak — three to these very Mets — early in September further reinforced the idea that the Nats just didn’t have “it” this year. [Read more…]

MLB Trade Deadline: Nationals reportedly add Jonathan Papelbon


According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals made a bold and controversial move on Tuesday, sending AA pitcher Nick Pivetta — the Nats No. 12 prospect — to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for closer Jonathan Papelbon. The deal is contingent on the Nats committing to Papelbon as the closer, and the team picking up his option for 2016 for $11 million, according to the reports. The teams had not announced the deal at the time of this posting.

Papelbon, 34, is 2-1 with 17 saves (in 17 tries) with a 1.59 ERA and 0.983 WHIP this season, with a 9.1 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, some of his best work in his illustrious career. He’s saved 342 games in 11 seasons at an 88.6 percent success rate, elite for a closer with his mileage.

The biggest drawback to taking on Papelbon is, frankly, his attitude. He’s always been seen as a “me-first” guy, and his insistence on being the nominal “closer” for accepting a trade of any sort is the type of behavior that has been commonplace in Papelbon’s career.

A search for “Papelbon jerk” on any search engine gives a litany of the sort of behavior that makes it difficult to root for the player.

GM Mike Rizzo has been very careful over the past several seasons to acquire quality people in addition to quality players, but this deal is about filling a very big hole in what should otherwise be a championship-contending roster, now that the walking wounded are returning to the lineup.

In Tuesday night’s lineup, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman joined Anthony Rendon in the batting order, Werth for the first time this season. Only Denard Span remains on the disabled list. If Ian Desmond has turned a corner hitting-wise, the additions of Werth and Zimmerman (if they can return to pre-injury production) give the Nats a very solid batting order.

The bullpen, however, has been a source of concern all season long. Really, since the day Rizzo traded Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar. Anticipated set-up man Blake Treinen was sent to the minors because he can’t get left-handed hitters out, Tanner Roark has been spotty in any role in the pen this season, and dumpster-diving acquisition David Carpenter ended up on the disabled list.

The only constant in the pen has been at the very back end, in Drew Storen. Storen has put up All-Star caliber numbers this season, with a 1.73 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. He’s been, simply, excellent. It seems the Nats have continually been looking for ways to replace Storen at the back end, and he just continues to play good teammate. It seems a shame that Storen is the one to get demoted in this deal, though all he’s done is his job all season long.

It’s a dicey situation all around. Papelbon is a quality pitcher that makes the bullpen longer and stronger, but at the same time, he’s a divisive personality that has been difficult to root for at every stop in his career. Add in the fact that his acquisition means a reduction in service for a fan favorite, and it makes for a tough situation.

The team gets better by adding a divisive personality and demoting a fan favorite. It’s more than wins and losses — fans need a vested interest in players to root for, unless your personality is such that all you care about is the bottom line and you root for the laundry, no matter who’s in it.

The big question now is can the Nats rehabilitate Papelbon so that fans can get behind the deal? That will take a LOT of work in certain circles, and may not be possible for some — even if the move brings a World Series Championship.

MLB Trade Deadline: Nats all-in on Kimbrel?

The Washington Nationals have been linked to talks with the San Diego Padres on closer Craig Kimbrel. In fact, by the time you read this the deal may have been done. Kimbrel is owed $11M in 2016 and $13M in 2017, with a team option for $13M in 2018.

Now, the Nats already have a pretty good closer (whom they used a first round pick on), but they seem to want to replace him at any chance they can get.

It strikes me strange that GM Mike Rizzo would be willing to assume $24 million over the next two seasons on a redundant part, especially since he can’t have any idea what he’s going to get health or performance-wise from his aging and injury-prone left fielder and first baseman, if and when they take the field.

Thus far, Rizzo has been very judicial in how he’s managed the Lerner’s money. He’s willing to allow Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Denard Span to walk at the end of the season. He traded Tyler Clippard instead of paying him. The only big contracts he’s doled out were Jayson Werth’s original deal (when the Nats were still a very bad team), Ryan Zimmerman’s extension, and Max Scherzer this off-season.

Trading for a closer still on the hook for $24 million over two years, when they already have an affordable one on the roster, just seems, to me, counter to how Rizzo’s managed this roster thus far.

But it’s not just about the money, either. National baseball writers had the Padres asking for Trea Turner back in a deal for Kimbrel. Rizzo will balk at that, but that’s the level of prospect the Padres want, and they’ll want more than one. Can the Nats afford to deal one top-flight prospect and a couple of lesser ones with the holes this roster is going to have over the next season or two with free agents moving on?

Of course, if Rizzo thinks Werth and Zimmerman return to their pre-injury production down the stretch and Kimbrel is the last piece of the puzzle, then we’ll have to reserve judgment and see how things play out. But color me skeptical on any of those three propositions being fulfilled.

Washington Nationals Game 21 Review: Cole pounded, but Nats complete miracle comeback


With Max Scherzer’s regular spot in the rotation skipped due to his bruised thumb, the Washington Nationals called upon No. 2 pitching prospect A.J. Cole to temporarily fill his spot through the rotation, hoping the player making his MLB debut could play stopper of a six-game losing streak.

It didn’t happen.

Cole was pounded, allowing nine runs — though just four were earned due to yet another error  — and the Nats were in a 9-1 hole after two innings.

But they still play nine. And the Nats used all of them. Dan Uggla’s three-run home run in top of the ninth off Atlanta Braves closer Jason Grilli completed a stunning comeback, and the Nats snapped the losing streak in the most incredible of ways, winning 13-12 in front of a small and incredulous crowd at Turner Field. [Read more…]

OPINION: Nationals Have Options as Opening Day Approaches

The Nationals’ roster for Opening Day is starting to come into focus, and there are some surprises as compared with a month ago. With Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span expected to start their seasons in rehab assignments, the Nats find themselves looking at some additional bench slots, as players on the roster shift around to fill the gaps. Here’s a look at a few of the swaps fans will likely see come April 6th.

Michael Taylor has had quite a spring, including a pair of home runs against Justin Verlander, and is well-positioned to find himself both the CF for Opening Day and the lead off man for Matt Williams. The 24 year old rookie has plus speed and a solid glove, but will likely be back at Syracuse once Span returns barring a miracle. It will be worth it to catch the coming attractions while they’re here, Nats fans, Taylor may well be your Opening Day Center Fielder in 2016, as well.

Danny Espinosa will likely find himself at the hot corner until Anthony Rendon’s knee has fully recovered, which could be until May. Now righty-only, Espinosa has seen some good at-bats this spring against right-handed pitching but his whole season is predicated upon a return to the hitting of his rookie season. Many have praised his approach this spring, but it’s safe to say his career with the Nats hangs in the balance.

Tyler Moore will likely be your starting left fielder on April 6th, and the perennial bench favorite has earned the opportunity his spring with a slash line of .320/.327/.580. While no one will confuse Moore for Jayson Werth and his luxurious beard, that the Nationals can find replacements for three core bats speaks volumes about the depth of the roster right now. For that, Mike Rizzo should be applauded.

What this will do to the bench bats for Matt Williams, though, is a little less clear. I would argue that it is likely to be Kevin Frandsen, a rejuvenated Dan Uggla, the recently acquired Matt den Dekker, and Tony Gwynn Jr., who’s found his swing again. That is definitely not the bench anyone was predicting in February – rather, if you were, please drop me an email with proof and I’ll buy you a beer. It is entirely possible that recently acquired Reed Johnson might displace recently acquired den Dekker in the final roster spot, but I suspect we’ll see a fierce battle with the two of them each getting substantial playing time over the next five days.

This isn’t the Opening Day Roster that Mike Rizzo wanted to run out there; the injuries this spring could conceivably cost this team as many as 4-5 wins this season, though I suspect that’s a worst case estimate. Before you start, fair reader, don’t go blaming these events on a Sports Illustrated curse — curses are silly, and you’re better than that — but do look at the current roster options and rest a bit easier, Nats fans. There’s a lot of depth here, and the prognoses for May returns for Rendon, Werth and Span all bode well for the Nationals.

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