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Washington Nationals' decision-making process in firing Matt Williams, hiring new manager

Rumors of Matt Williams' impending dismissal circulated for weeks before the announcement was made on Monday. Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo explained how the decision-making process worked when he spoke to reporters.

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While Matt Williams was referred to often as Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo's "hand-picked" successor to Davey Johnson on the bench in the nation's capital, as Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga noted last month, the decision to hire Williams in 2013, "didn’t just fall to [Rizzo].":

"Yes, Rizzo liked Williams. But the highest levels of ownership – from Ted Lerner to his son and daughters and their husbands – were involved in the interview process. Everyone signed off on Williams."

Two years later, after Williams led the Nationals to a disappointing second-place finish in the NL East in a drama and injury-filled campaign, that same group of people made the decision to relieve the second-year skipper of his duties on the bench in D.C.

Rizzo, in a conversation with reporters after Williams' firing was announced, said the decision was ultimately his, but the ownership group at 1500 South Capitol Street was a part of the decision-making process as always.

"I think that there was a lot more trials and tribulations this year. You look at the roster that we had in the winter here and going into spring training was a roster that many, many people felt was a championship-caliber roster." -Mike Rizzo on what went wrong for Matt Williams this season

"Ownership has a role in every major decision that we make," Rizzo explained. "It’s the process that we have here with the Washington Nationals. The Board of Directors, which consists of the owners and I, are in daily discussions about all sorts of business that is the Washington Nationals.

"Ultimately they're my decisions on baseball operations and they're my decisions to carry out."

Rizzo also sought out opinions from the Nationals' players and took their opinions into consideration.

"We have input from several of the players. I did not talk to them this morning, but had ample time to talk to them over the last couple of days. Always important to get input from a variety of different people within the organization, and certainly the players’ opinions and talking to the players is an important part of it."

Asked if anyone stood up or lobbied for Williams to stay, Rizzo said that he would not share the contents of those conversations.

"Of course, a discussion I have with the player is going to stay between the player and myself."

Williams led the Nationals to an NL East crown and an NLDS loss in his first full season as a manager at any level of the game, though he did manage for a short time in the minors at one point and managed in the Arizona Fall League as well.

After his first season on the bench with the Nationals, his option for the 2016 season was picked up, a sign Rizzo said at the time, of the team's confidence in his abilities as a leader.

"We are happy to pick up Matt’s option for the 2016 season," he said in a press release.

"It shows the great confidence we have in Matt to continue to lead this team on the field.

"During his rookie season, he helped us navigate through injuries and led us to our second NL East Division title in three years. His leadership has earned him the respect of our players, coaches and his colleagues around the league."

So what changed between the time they made the decision to pick up Williams' option last winter and Monday morning when they informed the 49-year-old former major leaguer he was being fired?

"I think that there was a lot more trials and tribulations this year," Rizzo said.

"You look at the roster that we had in the winter here and going into spring training was a roster that many, many people felt was a championship-caliber roster. With that said, you go into spring training and leave spring training with five of your everyday players that did not have much of a spring training. A lot of injuries that came into play, a lot of lineups that we had to adapt and make up as the season went along, so Matt had to navigate a lot of rough waters and a lot of trials and tribulations that maybe he didn’t have to in the previous season."

Rumors of Williams' impending dismissal circulated for weeks before the decision was finally announced less than twenty-four hours after the season came to an end.

As Rizzo explained, they wanted to make the decision as quickly as possible so they could move on and begin the process finding their next manager, but didn't want to do so until the season was over.

"We’ve put together scouting and player development staff that we believe is second-to-none. And I think the proof is in the pudding. From 2012 we've had a lot of success not only on the major league level, but on the minor league level." -Mike Rizzo on state of the Nationals as an organization

"I wanted to give the manager the benefit of the doubt for his full body of work," he said.

"With all the struggles that we incurred this year with injuries and so on and so forth, we had to balance that with the successes that he had last year. I don’t think there was any one tipping point... that said this was the reason.

"It was after the season, looking at the full body of work and making the judgment that going forward, what’s going to give us the best chance of having ourselves the championship-caliber franchise the fan base deserves?"

Looking back on Williams' tenure, Rizzo was asked, what were his strengths, and what if anything could he have done differently?

"I think Matt had a steadiness to him, a calmness to him, that I thought was one of his strengths," Rizzo said.

"He led by example. He was an extremely hard worker. Nobody outworked him. Nobody got to the ballpark earlier or stayed later or cared more. Those were his strengths, and that's what I think will aid him in his future endeavors as a baseball man, coach or manager."

Though he didn't specify anything that Williams could have done differently, he did list the qualities that the Nationals would be looking for in their next manager.

"As we go through the laundry list of things that we look for in our manager and a perfect leader of the ballclub on the field, leadership qualities, knowledge of the game, Xs and Os, are all important.

"The communication in the clubhouse, communication within the coaching staff is vital. Experience is always helpful, it always adds a layer of expertise to anybody's resume."

The new manager will also have the opportunity to hire his own coaches, since the Nationals relieved Williams' staff of their duties as well.

Before Williams' dismissal, two members of Rizzo's front office, Special Assistant to the GM Bill Singer and advance scout Bob Johnson were dismissed as well. But will there be more changes coming?

"Like I said up to the end of the season," Rizzo told reporters, "we’re looking from the top of the organization to the bottom of the organization.

"We feel that we’re positioned well with our franchise at this time, but we’re certainly going to look at every aspect of our organization, from major league roster down to our minor leagues to our medical strength and conditioning all the way through the entire organization to find what’s best for us and what gives us the advantage to go forward in 2016 and beyond."

And Rizzo himself? According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the 54-year-old executive is signed through the 2016 season with a club option for 2017. Was he told anything about the status of his own job within the organization?

"I think that they recognize the big picture," he said.

"We feel like we’re one of the really stable and good organizations and franchises in baseball. We’ve won a lot of games over the last four or five years. We’ve got a process in place that makes decisions well. We’ve put together scouting and player development staff that we believe is second-to-none. And I think the proof is in the pudding. From 2012 we've had a lot of success not only on the major league level, but on the minor league level.

"We have a good, working relationship with the President of Baseball Operations — myself — and the ownership group. We have a trust for each other, and they are an ownership group that’s family orientated that we work very well together."

The Lerner family posted a message of thanks for Nationals fans this afternoon for sticking with the team throughout a season that had its highs and lows: :