Those of you who have read my posts in the past know that I don't like to hold back. If I go off on a tangent, I'll often keep going for approximately fifteen pages. While it always makes sense to me (and is usually pretty decent upon re-reading it), we're not coming to Federal Baseball to read a book. For this reason, while I have some strong feelings about what the Nats need to do in the coming offseason, I'm going to break it up into a half dozen pieces or so because I'm imposing a ~2,000 word limit on my posts. Today, we're going to look at kind of an overview of what I feel the primary needs are for the ballclub heading into 2014 and take a quick peek at some of the names we can expect to hear (or that I would like to hear) as the Nats look for a new manager.
Actually, I am going to hold back a bit here. I'm not going to name one candidate that I'd like to be Davey's successor as the Nats manager. Why not? Many of the names that we've heard don't have a lot to go on in terms of previous managerial experience.... Heck, in some cases, there's not even a lot to go on in terms of coaching experience at all, so I can't really say how they'd react in certain game situations. Furthermore, I won't be involved in the interview process (shocking, I know), and I have no idea how they'll present their ideas. Still (in no particular order), let's look at some of the guys that the Nats should at least interview for the position.
- Joe Girardi - Obviously, Girardi is the most experienced of the expected candidates for the position, though I sincerely doubt that he will be in the Nats dugout in 2014. He's got a 642-492 career record between his previous managerial jobs with the Marlins and Yankees. This includes four postseason appearances in seven years and a World Series title. He's generally handled his bullpen well in his previous stints as a manager, and while he does occasionally employ smallball tactics (Hey... there's a time and a place, I suppose), he doesn't have a reputation as a bunt-obsessed manager. Most of us remember that there were... umm... philosophical differences between Girardi and Marlins owner Jeff Loria, but given who the differences were with, I actually view that as a plus. Since there's more tangible evidence with Girardi than any of the other legitimate candidates, he'd probably be my top choice. That said, the Yankees aren't going to give him up without a fight, and the Cubs (another organization that Girardi played for in his playing career) just fired Dale Sveum this afternoon. While Sveum's tenure obviously wasn't terrific, I'm not sure they make that move if they weren't planning on making a serious push for Girardi. There's a lot of competition here, but the Nats should definitely do their due diligence.
- Randy Knorr - Knorr is the obvious continuity hire from within the organization. There could be far worse ideas than staying within the organization for the hire. He managed five years in the minors for the Nats (3 at Potomac, 1 at Harrisburg, 1 at Syracuse) as well as serving as the Nats bench coach the past two seasons. No matter who the Nats hire, the new manager isn't going to know the talent that's already on the roster better than Knorr. Many of the core players on the Nats roster came up with him as their minor league manager. He knows their strengths and presumably has a good rapport with the players on the roster. He did lead Potomac to a Carolina League title, so we know he's capable of guiding a winner as well. While his career record (384-380) in the minors isn't anything to write home about, take it with a grain of salt. It's not all about wins and losses in the minor leagues.... it's about developing the players in the organization. I'd say that he did a pretty solid job in the development department.
- Matt Williams - Williams pretty much falls solely in the Rizzo column. He has no ties to the Nats organization apart from the fact that he and GM Mike Rizzo have worked together in the past. He also has little in the way of managerial experience outside of the Arizona Fall League. What Williams does bring to the table is a strong reputation as a fiery leader from both his playing career and his tenure as the third base coach in Arizona. Considered by many to be the front-runner if the Nats go with an outside hire, I'll concede that Williams has a good shot at being the Nats next manager. Without knowing how an interview would go (or his philosophies on bullpen management and [gasp] bunting.... Given that he coached under Gritty Gibby, I fear that he favors the bunt more than I would like), I'd like to see the Nats go after someone more experienced.
- Cal Ripken, Jr. - Surely he's a more interesting candidate for many of you (specifically those who live in the DC/VA/MD area, since I don't) than he is for me. I loved Ripken as a player. Don't get me wrong. To me, there's something to be said about a guy who goes to work and gives his best effort every day, and that's what Ripken is best known for. If it's about accountability, Ripken could be the guy. If it's about X's and O's, I'd like someone with more experience. To my knowledge, Ripken has no coaching experience, much less managerial experience.
- Tim Wallach - Hasn't been mentioned. This is the bluelineswinger choice of guys whose name should be thrown into the hat. He has sixteen years of managerial (minors) and coaching experience, serving as a hitting coach, a third base coach, and a minor league manager. In his final season as a minor league manager (before being promoted back to the big leagues to act as the third base coach), he led his AAA team to a franchise record 80 wins, won the PCL title, and won the PCL manager of the year. He's been through the wringer of the interview process before, and was a prominent candidate last season when the Red Sox were seeking a new manager. Oh... He also played seventeen years in the majors... thirteen of which were in the Nats organization (when they were still the Expos, of course). Successful? Check! Experienced? Check! Ties to the organization? Check! There is absolutely no reason for Wallach to not at least be part of the interview process.
I'm going to stop at five candidates. I would love to see the Nats somehow woo the Astros into letting Bo Porter come back, but that's obviously not going to happen. There are surely other names (Brad Ausmus maybe? Those stellar fielding, ho-hum hitting catchers often tend to make great managers) that should be included, but that's what I've got. I'd probably rank them like this......
But then, who really knows. So much of what should go into a managerial hiring is making sure that the GM and the Manager are on the same page. The interview process and managerial tendencies come into play so much, and we just don't know a whole lot about what some of those guys' (most specifically Williams and Ripken) philosophies are.
What I plan to do with this series is pay specific attention to several different areas of perceived need heading into the 2014 season. I'm planning on breaking them down by position, and while some of them figure to be short bursts, I think that I'm going to have enough to write 1,000+ words on every position when we include bench (and possibly some organizational) depth. I may combine a few into one post... say, corner outfield spots (those seem pretty well set) and the left side of the infield (likewise), but I plan to take an in-depth position by position look at who the Nats have and who I think they should consider acquiring (either via trade or via free agency). For today, since there have been some discussions about some of the bigger names that are going to be out there, I'm going to include a few of them as part of the overview.
- Robinson Cano - Terrific player, and I know that (despite what he says he wants) there's no way he really gets close to the 10 year, $300 million that he says he's seeking. We can't blame the guy for saying that's what he wants, but it doesn't mean he's going to even approach it. If he goes to ten years, I'd say he's going to sign at about $230, and the acquiring club will be disappointed by Year 5. I see him signing somewhere in the 8/$200 range, which is realistic given what he's done so far in his career (and that he's got a few prime years left), but not something I would want to see the Nats spending on him....... unless they think he's the answer at 1b (OK.... even not then).
- Jacoby Ellsbury - I've seen Ellsbury (and the next guy) brought up as guys the Nats should consider going after in a few posts over the past month. Both will be free agents, which means that they at least don't come at the cost of player personnel. I can get behind Ellsbury a bit more than Choo for one reason (and one reason only). He's a legitimate CF, having provided positive Defensive Runs Saved in every season since getting the call except for 2009. He could certainly handle the leadoff duties, and given some of the fragility we've seen from Werth (and Ellsbury, were the Nats to sign him) in the past, paying Span $6.5 million to be a fourth outfielder would be well worth it (in other words, Span would likely see plenty of use). He's going to cost $100 million+ over six or seven years, though. He'd be the threat that the Nats need in the leadoff spot, and does both of the things that I'd like to see a leadoff man do well (.350 career OBP... runs frequently [241 career SB] and at a high rate of success [84%]). He even tosses in a little power, though I think it's unlikely he ever hits 15 HR again.
- Shin-Soo Choo - Offensively, he's a beast. He boasts a .288/.389/.465 career line, and was actually even better than that this season (.285/.423/.462). He's got legitimate home run power (averaged 17 HR per season since becoming a regular) and can be a threat on the basepaths... even if his success percentage is a little lower than I'd like to see. Of course, whatever he may be offensively (and whatever Dusty Baker may think), Choo is not a Center Fielder. If the Nats were to sign Choo, that means that Harper is moving to CF for the next few seasons, which probably puts him at a greater risk of injury and certainly lowers his defensive value. While he's certainly going to get paid, Choo also figures to wind up with the most reasonable salary of the three players we've covered here.
My primary concerns with signing any of these players could involve blocking the Nats better position prospects. Rendon has graduated from prospect status, but a signing of Cano could block him (barring a big headache where Rendon and Zimm both switch positions). Brian Goodwin's numbers at AA this season don't absolutely blow me away, but with a plus glove, decent enough power for a CF, and a strong walk rate, there's some potential for a future leadoff CF within the organization. There aren't very many positions where the Nats can say that. If I had to sign one, I'd go after one of the outfielders (probably Choo if he's realistic with his demands). Let someone else overpay Cano.