Normally, an 86-87 win season (depending on today) is not bad. However, the Nationals had all expectations to not only go into the postseason, but win the World Series. Their motto this season was “World Series or Bust.” To most, this is considered a bust since they didn’t go to the postseason, but two things we learned at the tail end of the season.
When the team is healthy, it is one of the best teams in baseball. If this team stayed healthy all year, they would had an additional 5-6 wins, but no team is healthy all season. The bench outperformed last year and expect a dip in production this year, but not only the bench dipped, they plunge to being of the worst benches in baseball.
The second thing is of the SABRmetric projections, the Nationals met expectations for wins. The problem was the 5 teams in the National League outperformed their projections and are heading to the postseason and the Nats are not. Also what hurt the Nationals was that they were 13-31 against teams in the postseason this year.
What to expect next year
After what happened at the end of the season, there will be some tweaking for the bench and get 1-2 lefty relievers. Other than that, the two biggest positions to fill is a 4-5 starter and possibly a backup catcher. Frankly, Rizzo needs to stop doling out $12-13 million contracts to used to be good pitchers or has potential stuff. Just get someone reliable to help an already potent pitching rotation. Now, I mention a backup catcher because it might be likely Ramos get hurt again with his history. Jhonathan Solano might be a backup catcher, but if the Nats are looking for bench help, I would try to sign A.J. Pierzynski. His numbers are very good, but he’ll be turning 37 and it’s likely the Rangers would sign a big time catcher like a Carlos Ruiz or Brian McCann. Pierzynski would play the Pudge Rodriguez role of teaching Ramos to be a better catcher and a great influence in the clubhouse.
Saying all of that, the Nats biggest need is a manager. Davey Johnson did a great job taking this franchise to the next level. Now, the Nats want to go to a bigger level and go to the postseason consistently and go deep. This is probably the best manager job out there right now. Let’s break down who might be available:
Randy Knorr/Tony Beasley: Both came from the Nats minor league system and know the players. Knorr is further ahead by being the bench coach for the Nats the past two seasons. They’re the best internal candidates, but are they the best candidates overall? They were part of Davey’s tree, but that could also be a weakness.
Cal Ripken Jr.: He is Jayson Werth’s leading choice for manager. A baseball legend on and off the field, Ripken would bring pizzazz to the team. Some people will argue that Ripken has no managerial experience and should work his way up to be an MLB manager. I find that as a myth and I’ll give you two names: Larry Dierker and Dale Hunter. After his playing days were over, Dierker went to the broadcast booth for 20 years before accepting the Houston Astros manager job in 1997. During his tenure, the Astros went to the postseason four of the five years. Dale Hunter was a different case as he was interim coach for the Washington Capitals in 2012, coming from the junior hockey ranks and lead the team to the 2nd round of the playoffs (actually closer than Bruce Boudreau if you based on Game 7 scores in the 2nd round). What Dierker and Hunter have in common was they were entrenched with their team before taking the job. Ripken does not have a history with the Nats, so that’s one red flag.
Another red flag: Ripken’s most successful years were with Earl Weaver, Johnny Oates, and Davey Johnson. What those three have in common? They love to play for the 3-run homer. My belief is Ripken is of the same mind. Do we need that since Davey was the manager? I will say this for Ripken: his name will bring respect and people will listen. The nuances of the game worry me about his chances being manager.
Matt Williams: The third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks and is familiar with Mike Rizzo. A hard-nosed player and a players coach who people say can relate to today’s player, which is a good thing. Williams does have a past with Wilson Ramos, although I think it won’t deter his chances. Williams seems to be a baseball-lifer and might be a good thing, but again with Ripken that he knows the nuances of baseball beyond slugging. It seems he is a smart guy and is detail-oriented, but he played second fiddle in Arizona. Let’s see if he can handle the pressure as the main guy.
Mike Scioscia: To me, if he gets fired by the Angels, he would be my top candidate for Nats manager. In a short-attention span world, people will look at his latest stint with the Angels and shaking their head with a big budget, why his teams were struggling. If these same people looked at 2002 when the Angels won the World Series, that was Scioscia at his best. You can argue the Angels were the last pure offensive team to win the title with decent pitching. Scioscia wants athletes, not big boppers, and the Nats fit the mold for him. The question is if he is willing to go to the east coast since he’s lived in the west coast.
Joe Girardi: His contract with the Yankees ends this year and is a free agent. Some people have said that when the Cubs job is open, he would take the job since it’s near his hometown. It is the logical choice for him, but is it the right choice for his career? Right now, you could say the Cubs and Yankees are in the same level and are rebuilding for 2-3 years. The Nationals will have their core group for the next 3-4 years, plus if this helps, Mike Rizzo is a Chicago guy, so he and Girardi could get along. If Rizzo offers Girardi a three-year contract, I think he would accept it, unless the Cubs promised him that they will get key free agents this offseason, Girardi would want to go home first. If there is one bad thing about Girardi, expect a 3.5-4 hour game and people missing the Metro.
Next year will be very interesting how the Nationals will respond after an upsetting season. With Davey gone, do they stay in-house or go for a big name? Will this be the same free-swinging team or do they become a more patient lineup? Mike Rizzo has a lot of choices and he has some good to great ones. We shall see.