To the surprise of no one, the Washington Nationals have fired manager Matt Williams.
Widely expected not only to run away with the NL East, but a favorite to win the World Series, the Nationals went 83-79 in 2015 finishing 7 games back of the New York Mets.
After winning NL Manager of the Year in 2014, Williams began to come under fire for his use of the bullpen in the 2014 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. He did not learn from those mistakes this season, was ineffective in communicating with his players and did not see reliever Jonathan Papelbon try to choke likely NL MVP Bryce Harper in the dugout just over a week ago.
Although I think the Nats made the right decision in firing Williams, the Lerners should also reliever GM Mike Rizzo of his duties as well. It was Rizzo who made the genius decision to acquire Papelbon from the Phillies even though Drew Storen was having an effective season as their closer. I didn’t understand the deal then and I still don’t understand it now. Indeed, as I wrote at the time, “Methinks he (Rizzo) will rue this trade.”
Matt Williams can be blamed for many things that went wrong with the Nats in 2015. Acquiring Papelbon isn’t one of them. If Rizzo doesn’t trade for Papelbon, Papelbon doesn’t try to choke Bryce Harper. If that isn’t a firable offense then I don’t know what is. But it looks like Rizzo is staying.
If I were looking for a new skipper, Torey Lovullo would be at the top of my list. But he has recommitted to returning as the Red Sox bench coach after doing an admirable job as Red Sox interim manager while John Farrell was treated for lymphoma.
My other candidates would include former Red Sox player Brian Daubach who currently manages the Nats’ Double-AA affiliate in Harrisburg who has familiarity with some of the Nats’ players including Bryce Harper. Former White Sox and Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen is another possibility. Yes, he has baggage, but he could light a much needed fire under this team. One out of the box possibility would be Torii Hunter. It’s not clear if he will retire. If he does, the Nats should consider him. As one of the most respected players in the game, Hunter would have instant credibility with the team. But Williams was hired without any previous managerial experience and I suspect they would be more likely to turn to an established manager. Could the Nats lure former Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers manager Jim Leyland out of retirement?
If Rizzo can pick the right manager, he could redeem himself for the Papelbon trade.