Following ten seasons as a bench coach in Tampa Bay and Chicago, Davey Martinez finally got his opportunity to manage at the major league level in 2018, leading the Nationals to a second-place, 82-80 finish. It was a disappointing result, but the 54-year-old former major leaguer and the front office in Washington are back at it again this winter, trying to build a roster to compete for the fifth NL East title in the last eight seasons.
“We’re trying to — this year like every other year,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at the Winter Meetings on Monday afternoon, “we’re trying to put a 90-ish-win type of team together and some years those 90-win teams turn into 96-97 wins and some turn into 80-82 wins. We’re confident with the roster we have. We think that we can compete in this division and we’ve won four out of the last seven division titles and we’re looking to regain the title this year.”
What’s differences does the General Manager see in his skipper, who is preparing for the second year of the 3-year/$2.8M deal he signed with the Nationals in October of 2017?
“I just think he’s more comfortable with the personalities of the players,” Rizzo said when he met with reporters in Las Vegas again on Tuesday. “He knows the ability levels of them. He’s much more involved in knowing the type of players they are, and their ability levels, and what they could do on the field, that he has much more input on what he feels could help and how he manages the game and how we can improve on the roster we had last year.”
Martinez’s takeaways from his first season as a manager at any level of the game?
“For me, I learned two things,” he said when he talked at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday.
“As a coach, players would come to you and ask for advice and you communicate, talk.
“When I became a manager, you try to open those lines of communication, but a lot of times I had to go find the players. They’re more apt to kind of sit down.
“I told the story this morning about how I’d walk around the outfield just to talk to players, and as I was walking, a lot of guys would kind of turn away, ‘Uh-oh, here comes the manager, what’s going on?’ Hey, all I’m here is to have a conversation. I want to keep improving my communication skills with players. And really, really hone in on like the every day, what we can do better. That’s as a manager, as a coach, staff, to help our players understand the information that they’re gathering.
“There’s a lot of information out there. How we use it is important. You can’t just give guys information and expect them to understand it. We’ve really got to teach it.”
As for his input on building the roster this time around?
The Nats made quick moves this Winter, adding to the bullpen (Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal), catching corps (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes), and rotation (Patrick Corbin).
Martinez’s take on what’s still left to do this offseason?
“I would like a good left-handed hitter maybe to hit the ball out of the ballpark, a good utility player, and those are pieces that are out there that we’re still looking at,” Martinez said.
“Mike is always trying to improve. So this is not -- this is by far not over, but we had a great head start.”
“We’re going to ... attack the periphery of our roster,” Rizzo said, “the bench and the depth, and the different type of ingredients that help Davey manage the game more effectively, so yeah, I think we’ll be looking for help off the bench. We always like a big left-handed bat, but we’ll see where it takes us. We could go a little bit different this year and go for a more versatile type of bench that could fill in more different types of spots, but there’s a lot of different routes that we could go.”
There have been rumors, in spite of what Rizzo and Martinez have both said about their level of comfort with the options at second base (with Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo, top prospect Carter Kieboom, and Luis Garcia), and the GM said he would consider looking around for the right player if there’s a move to make, and someone who could help the Nationals at multiple positions is an option.
“If there was a definite everyday second baseman that we liked that we thought was an upgrade, we would certainly consider that,” Rizzo explained.
“If it was more of a kind of a hybrid role, we would consider that. We’ve left ourselves open to a lot of different types of options, a lot of different ways to build the bench and the back of the roster.”
Asked how the Nationals would make up for some of the power they’re losing if/when outfielder Bryce Harper signs elsewhere, and with the likes of Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams gone as well, Rizzo said they’ll approach things differently in 2019.
“I’m comfortable with our offense and the ability to score runs and win games,” Rizzo said.
“I like the roster that we have currently,” he added. “I think that we’ll score runs in a different manner, we’ll play the game in a different manner than we did last year, probably, but I still think that the upgrade at different positions and the upgrade in up-the-middle defense will help us play the game a little bit different.”
While some of the early moves this winter might result in an uneventful Winter Meetings for the Nationals, Rizzo said that this remains an important time of the year for the front office.
“I think it’s the most vital part of the General Manager’s season,” he said.
“You’re preparing the roster that’s going to take you through the season. There are often ways during the season to tweak the roster and improve the roster, but this is the bulk of your decisions, really the bulk of the roster that you have Opening Day really takes you through the season and so I think this is a vital part of the offseason.
“It’s the offseason really for the players, it’s the on-season for the front offices.”
So what will they have to do to consider the Winter Meetings experience a success?
“I think we’ve had our Winter Meetings early,” Rizzo said. “We did a lot of the business we were supposed to do. The Winter Meetings are all about conversations and gathering information and nobody cares about winning the offseason, nobody cares about winning the winter, we want to win in the Fall. So we’re trying to put the best roster we can together, and if we leave here Thursday without doing anything at these meetings we still feel good about where we’re at so far in this offseason and once Spring Training comes we’ll be further along in our roster construction and we’re shooting to have the team that we want to have together on Opening Day.”