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The uncomfortable question of Davey Martinez’s future

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Is first-year manager Davey Martinez already in danger of losing his job amid the Washington Nationals’ struggles?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Nationals won’t actually fire Davey Martinez, will they?

It’s a question that seemed almost improbable 10 months ago, when Washington signed the former Chicago Cubs bench coach to a three-year deal. After employing four different managers over the previous seven seasons, the Nationals hoped Martinez would be a permanent fixture on the top step of the dugout.

“We did not go back and forth on [the length of the deal],” GM Mike Rizzo said at Martinez’s introductory press conference. “We talk about these ‘windows.’ We see the window wide open for a long time to come. And we think this is the right guy to take us in that direction.”

One hundred and twenty-five games of sub-.500 baseball later, optimism is much harder to come by on South Capitol Street. FanGraphs gives Washington a 13.3 percent chance of making the playoffs after the team dug itself into a seven-game-sized hole in the NL East. The Nationals’ window of contention will still remain open beyond this year, but the front office must decide whether or not it envisions Martinez as a key part of that equation.

In all likelihood, the Nationals will give Martinez at least one more season to prove he’s capable of managing a major-league ballclub. Although he’s made several rookie mistakes and has been criticized for his bullpen management by his own relievers, Martinez is still in fact a rookie manager and will likely be given some leeway for figuring out the job.

The media circus that would ensue is probably motivation enough for Washington to keep Martinez around. It would be a pretty bad look to ditch Martinez after deciding not to bring back former skipper Dusty Baker despite winning back-to-back division titles.

Next season is going to be a pivotal one for both the Nationals and their skipper. A slew of expiring contracts will give the ballclub and entirely new look in 2019 (or, a familiar one if a certain face of the franchise elects to stay in the District). That team’s manager will need to right the ship and prove that the Nationals can still hang around in the up-and-coming NL East.

If the team doesn’t live up to expectations under Martinez again next season, it would be much more conceivable for the team to cut ties with him the following winter. He’s signed to a deal that guarantees his tenure through 2020 and includes a team option for 2021, but the base salary is just around $1 million and wouldn’t be a very tough pill to swallow if needed.

Ever since the Lerner family bought the ballclub back in 2006, the Nationals have always attempted to be a St. Louis Cardinals-esque model franchise. They want to be recognized not only for their success, but for getting there by doing things the right way.

Instead, the Nationals’ reputation has been shaped by inconsistency at manager and a lack of postseason victories. The front office believed it could solve the latter issue by turning the managerial carousel one more time. Now the team is just spinning in place with no end in sight.