WASHINGTON — The Nationals officially announced the hiring of Dave Martinez as their new manager Monday, reportedly to a three-year deal with a fourth-year option, the longest contract the Nats have ever given a manager.
As a rookie manager with solid experience as a coach for winning teams, Martinez is exactly the kind of manager teams look for when trying to instill a culture change and build toward a competitive window — which makes him a good long-term hire for Washington, but something of a head-scratcher given the statements from the organization last week.
After letting Dusty Baker walk on the heels of two straight division championships, Nats GM Mike Rizzo was emphatic that the decision was about one thing and one thing only: winning the World Series.
“Our expectations have grown to the fact that winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough. Our goal is to win a world championship,” he told reporters.
All we can do is take Rizzo at his word, but his words from last week and those from Monday’s release aren’t exactly in lock step. Let’s dissect his quote about the hire, which is instructive.
“As we went through this process it became clear the type of manager we were looking for — someone who is progressive, someone who can connect with and communicate well with our players, and someone who embraces the analytical side of the game. We came away from the process feeling like there was absolutely no one better suited — who matched up to what this organization needs right now — than Dave.”
There’s good reason to believe the analytics side of the front office would be happy with Martinez, who has worked under Joe Maddon in both Tampa and Chicago. He will no doubt bring more of a new-school approach than his predecessors.
But as far as matching up to what this organization needs right now, per Rizzo’s own words from last week — that is, winning the World Series next year, while the team still has Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madson and Daniel Murphy under contract?
There were two managers available who have actual track records of coming in and winning a World Series early in their tenure. Joe Girardi joined the New York Yankees in 2008 and won 103 games and the title his very next season in 2009. John Farrell went from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Boston Red Sox in 2013 and won the World Series his very first year in Beantown. If titles are the end-all, be-all, why not hire one of those two?
But then again — why in the world did you hire Baker in the first place? He had a track record of playoff failure and an old-school managing style that continued to be ineffective in big spots. Furthermore, how was that lesson not learned through Matt Williams?
How many years of this rapidly closing competitive window have been already wasted? And how is it fair to lay the pressure of winning next year at the feet of someone who you’re charging with changing the culture and approach?
I have no reason to believe Martinez won’t be good at his job. I have no reason to believe his approach won’t help the Nationals optimize their production. I hope he has the freedom to platoon position players and pinch-hit at will, and double-switch regulars, and use relievers in nontraditional roles according to leverage instead of prescribed, rote roles. I hope the front office backs him in these decisions, which can be unpopular among players, especially entrenched veterans not used to this style.
But if this was always about changing the culture for the long-term future, why not just say so? Sure, Martinez may lead the Nats — who should enter 2018 as one of the favorites to win it all once again — to a title next year. But hiring someone of his background with no managerial experience and then expecting such results seems foolhardy.
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