If there’s any added risk in hiring another first-time manager, the Nationals, in tapping Dave Martinez, are embracing whatever pressure that comes with it.
Washington introduced Martinez at Nationals Park Thursday, officially handing the keys of a loaded club built for 2018 to the 53-year-old, their second time going with an inexperienced manager since 2013. The last was Matt Williams, which didn’t end so well, to the extent Washington chose the most proven guy available, in Dusty Baker, to replace Williams in 2015.
Martinez: ‘We’re Here To Win The World Series’
Mike Rizzo, General Manager and President of Baseball Operations, spoke to Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on 106.7 The Fan, trampling the notion that Martinez is in any way unqualified for the position.
Rizzo was asked whether there’s more pressure “giving the keys to a first-time manager” as opposed to someone who’s already proven.
“Well, I think pressure’s a good thing,” Rizzo replied. “We were without pressure here with the Nationals for years. We like the pressure. Pressure means we’re doing things right. Expectations being high means we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, winning as many games as we can, winning championships, winning divisions, and now we need to take it to the next step and win more.”
“Our goal hasn’t changed. We’ve been constant. We want to win the last game of the season,” he said. “You look at it today. [Wednesday] night was the final game of the World Series. There’s one happy team in all of baseball right now: it’s the Houston Astros.
“There’s 29 teams figuring it out how to be the Houston Astros for 2018, and we’re amongst those teams. But as far as excellence since 2012, we all know the statistics, but we’re hellbent on taking this to the next level and, yeah, with that is expectations, and with expectations comes pressure, and with pressure, be in the moment, enjoy the pressure, because we were without pressure for too long back in the day and now we need to embrace it.”
In keeping with the key analogy, Paulsen shot back, “But you’ve got maybe the nicest care in the sport to drive. In hiring a guy who hasn’t managed before, I guess Danny’s point is it might be more risky. Like, John Farrell’s available. He’s won a World Series. However, John Farrell might not be as good a manager. Was your point, ‘I’m gonna hire the number one guy, whether he is experienced or not?’
“Because you guys did the… Matt Williams, as an example — not experienced. I wonder, for you it’s kind of a gutsy move to go back to that well with this good of a team. If you’re just an 81-win team, it’s not as courageous.”
“You’re talking about a guy who’s been next to one of the best managers for 11 seasons,” Rizzo said. “So to call him a rookie or… the only thing he hasn’t had is the title ‘manager’ next to his name. He’s done everything a manager does. He’s done it successfully, and done it well, done it under the guise of one of the best in the business, and a guy that we feel very, very confident that he’s extremely capable and is the right guy for this time for us.”
When the Yankees decided to move on from Joe Girardi, the Nationals still happened to be in the market for a manager. Many casual observers thought Girardi — a proven manager with a World Series ring — might be an ideal fit in Washington. If they were willing to pay.
“Did you guys have a chance to contact Joe Girardi,” Paulsen asked. “Or did he become available too late?”
“Once we got into the process, we were deep into the process when Joe became available,” Rizzo said. “I’ve known Joe since he was playing at Northwestern. We knew exactly the type of guy that we wanted to get, and Dave fulfilled every prerequisite that I wanted in the guy we wanted, and we feel that we got the right guy.”
“So if you didn’t interview him, it’s not because you didn’t want to interview him,” Paulsen said. “It’s because you kind of wanted to go with Dave Martinez?”
“Correct,” Rizzo said.
The next item on Washington’s agenda is to fill out Martinez’s coaching staff. After the interview aired, the Nats announced that they were able to pry Kevin Long away from the Mets to serve as their hitting coach. Long has served in the same role since for the Mets since. For eight seasons prior, he was the Yankees’ hitting coach. He’s credited with rebuilding Daniel Murphy’s swing during Murphy’s final season playing for the Mets.
Asked whether they’ll look to hire a more experienced bench coach for Martinez, Rizzo said, “I’m not gonna close any doors and eliminate any pool of highly achieved candidates.”
“But in a perfect world,” he said, “Davey’s got 11 years of experience as the bench coach, and, you know, co-manager, and has really done everything you need to do in the manager’s seat except for have the title next to him. It would make sense to put a guy next to him that has managed games and can whisper in his ear, and that type of thing. But I don’t want limit us and kind of take out any pool of really good candidates if that’s not the case.”
“We want to get the guys that we’re gonna try and bring in here to compliment Dave Martinez, and to, again, reinforce this championship-caliber franchise and really give us as good a chance as we can to be the team that we want to be,” he said.
“We’ve got to go out and try to get the best and brightest, the guys who fit the best for us here, and go out and get ourselves guys that really can compliment Davey and make him better, and, in essence, make the organization better,” Rizzo added. “Again, our goals haven’t changed. Bringing in the staff will only enhance that and then once we got the staff in place, then we get in, we meet and we find out what we need player-wise and personnel-wise and that type of thing, and attack the offseason like we’ve attacked every one since we’ve been here.”
Because of the manager search, Rizzo has yet to begin the “2017 autopsy,” as he called it, but the process of determining what the Nationals needed, but didn’t have, will soon begin. After which, they can start targeting players to bring in and fill those holes.
“We’re gonna dissect it. We’re gonna do our due diligence and figure out what went right and what went wrong, and how to construct the best roster we can,” Rizzo said. “Some of it is get a call right, and some of it is play fundamentally better and that type of thing.”
“The difference between winning and losing is so thin,” he said. “The difference is razor thin in these playoffs, as you’ve seen. We’re a prime example of that. We’ve been in Game 5s a bunch of times. We’ve outscored the team we’ve lost the series to I think two out of the last three series that we’ve played in. So it’s razor thin, and you’ve got to figure out a way to get that one game at the end of the series to win it and to move on, and that’s often the most difficult. And once you’ve done it, then you’ve done it and then you often take off from there, so that’s what we’re hoping.”