Will Washington Nationals' Manager Jim Riggleman be the Nats' Skipper when they make their first playoff run? (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
In a press conference late in the 2010 season, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman, who hadn't had his contract renewed at that point, told reporters the Nationals needed to win more soon to reward the faith fans in the nation's capital have shown during the six (relatively unsuccessful) seasons since baseball returned to Washington, D.C. in 2005. Several weeks later, in late October, the Nationals made the official announcement that the then-57-year old manager (who turned 58 in November) would return for his second full season on the bench after having assumed the managerial duties from Manny Acta in mid-2009 when Acta was removed during his second season as Skipper. When Riggleman's status turned from "interim" to full time in November 2009, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said that it was because the Nats had, "..turned to Jim Riggleman for some stability, to right the ship, and he did what I thought was a masterful job in very trying circumstances, he gaves us a sense of balance, not only in the dugout, but also in the clubhouse."
Mike Rizzo: "We went back to the roots of the game, the fundamentals of efficient play, with a big focus on pitching, defense and playing the game the right way. We thought that we had a...I thought that we had a very efficient, talented manager in-house...After the season, we felt it was our duty to the ballclub, to the fans of Washington, DC to do our due diligence, and look in all venues for a permanent field manager. We did an extensive search and came back to the realization that the best guy for the job we had in-house in Jim Riggleman."
The Nationals' press release on Riggleman's return to the bench in 2011 cited the 10-game improvement the Nats had made under Riggleman's guidance, (which was the 4th best improvement over the previous season amongst MLB teams), going from 59-103 in 2009 to 69-93 last season. The decision to bring Riggleman back was no surprise, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo had given Riggleman a nod of approval earlier in the summer, but the 2-year deal the manager signed the previous season only guaranteed the first year. The Nats could have bought Riggleman out after the 2010 campaign for just $100,000 if they'd chosen to do so, but instead, after he'd led the Nationals to a 102-135 record in a season plus on the bench, the Nats decided Riggleman would stay. The 2-year deal, however contains a club option for 2012? What will Riggleman have to do to earn himself a third season on the Nats' bench? Will another 10-game improvement be enough?
In the days after his return was officially announced this past Fall, Riggleman appeared on 106.7 the FAN's Mike Wise Show with Holden Kushner. As Washington Post writer Dan Steinberg noted at the time in a D.C. Sports Bog post entitled, "Riggleman: Nats will make move by mid-'12",' the Nats' Skipper told the hosts that in his opinion, after a couple of good drafts and with the team's continued improvement, the Nats could be ready to make a move toward competing in the NL East, "by the middle of the year '12." Will Riggleman still be on the bench at that point? YahooSports!.com writer Kevin Haduk (aka 'Duk) placed Riggleman on the managerial hot seat last week, writing in an article entitled, "Who might be joining Jim Leyland on the hot seat this season?", that though, "Riggs is back for another go-round after a disappointing 2010...that option for 2012 won't exercise itself."
But he's essentially been on the hot seat since he started. Will Riggleman be around for the 2012 season? When Rizzo spoke to the press about Riggleman returning in 2011 last summer, he told reporters that he was impressed with the way the manager guided the team through a turbulent 2010 campaign, and MLB.com's Bill Ladson quoted the Nats' General Manager in an article entitled, "Riggleman receives praise from front office", saying that he was also happy with the results Riggleman was getting on the field:
"When it comes to X's and O's, he is as good as anybody. He has worked hard during trying circumstance. He has managed young players who are getting better and learning on the Major League level and have shown improvement on the Major League level."
Is Riggleman going to be able to enjoy the future success of the team he's helping to develop? He lasted a little under two years in San Diego in total. Riggleman managed the Cubs for five seasons, but led the team to just one postseason appearance during his time in Chicago. In Seattle he got a 90-game look before the Mariners moved on. If he remains on the Nats' bench through 54 games this season, it will be his second-longest stint as a major league manager. Is Jim Riggleman the skipper who'll lead the Nats to their first playoff appearance? Will he be long gone by the time that happens? Will he make it through 2011 and get an extension? it's another year of having to prove himself for Jim Riggleman, what will it take to earn a third year in D.C.?