Results tagged ‘ Mike Rizzo ’

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Live from the Winter Meetings

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

Hello everybody.

Greetings from the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, where I am on the ground at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings.

I understand everyone back home is dealing with the aftermath of yesterday ice/frozen rain/hail storm and that more snow accumulation could be on the way.

The rumor here is that Central Florida is drenched in bright sunshine with temperatures in the low 80s, but I’d never know it, if not for passing a hotel window every so often. Our work here keeps us inside and the hotel’s layout on the Disney Campus does not present many opportunities to enjoy the warm weather.

Congratulations to Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Could there be any more baseball symmetry than these three gentlemen being inducted together this July in Cooperstown?

Together, Cox, La Russa and Torre combined on 7,558 regular-season victories, eight World Championships and infinite respect from both inside and outside the game.

The trio set the standard for baseball’s modern manager in the dugout and cultivated lasting relationships with the likes of Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in the clubhouse.

Sure, they had great players, but they established programs and team cultures that have lived on well past their departures from the Braves, Cardinals and Yankees. This is truly a fantastic moment for the game of baseball.

  • Matt Williams presserSpeaking of managers, I flew down to Florida with Matt Williams over the weekend. We had another in a long line of fantastic chats. Some dealt with baseball. Some did not. If it is possible, I am even more convinced that Matt was the right hire for our club at the right time.
  • For those who followed his career, preparedness was a big part of Matt’s game. No detail is too small. Well, he seems to have carried this over to his managerial career. For instance, Matt and his staff are in the late stages of scheduling Spring Training workouts. But before Matt signs off on the final schedules, he is driving an hour over to Viera, Fla., so he can lay his own eyes on Space Coast Stadium and the layout at the Washington Nationals Training Complex. In Matt’s 25 or so years in baseball (he was drafted in ’87), he has experienced only one spring in the Grapefruit League. In 1997, Matt spent Spring Training with the Indians in Winter Haven, FL. To the best of Matt’s recollection, he did not travel east that spring to Viera. So, rather than leave workout schedules to chance, Matt will visit Viera for himself on Thursday.
  • Mike Rizzo held his first staff meeting this morning in the team suite. He went over the roster, handed out staff assignments and talked about some of the team’s needs. Matt Williams had his turn at bat and spoke too. This was our scouting staff’s prime opportunity to pick Mike’s mind, compare notes on various players and offer names (internal and external) to keep an eye on. Mike seems pleased with the offseason’s progress to date, but he verbalized that there was more work to be done.
  •  I have to think the primary reason for Mike’s upbeat meeting was last week’s acquisition of Doug Fister. From what I’ve gathered, Doug is a Grade-A individual who just so happens to be 6-foot-8 and throw a heavy 89-90 mph sinker, from an arm angle that gives opposing batters fits. And Fister, unlike recent offseason rotation additions such as Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, will be here for a while. We control his rights for two seasons. Doug’s repertoire should benefit when contrasted with the 95+ mph fastballs of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

Well, that’s it for today. For those battling the elements back in DC, please stay safe, warm and dry.

Mark

As Winter Meetings begin, an inside look back at the Jayson Werth signing

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Amanda Comak

ORLANDO – Even now, three years later, the details are still fresh.

The quietly planned flight that Washington Nationals then-Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo took — along with Managing Principal Owner Ted Lerner, and Principal Owner Mark Lerner — from Florida to California that November day in 2010. The preparation that went into what they were headed to do. The pitch. The deliberations.

And reeling in the biggest free agent in the organization’s history, shocking the baseball world as it descended upon Orlando for that year’s Winter Meetings.

In Case You Missed It: Mike Rizzo On Jayson Werth

The Nationals introduced Jayson Werth at a press conference at Nationals Park, but the announcement of the deal, on the eve of the 2010 Winter Meetings, was one of the most talked about signings of that winter.

Since 2010, the Sunday of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings usually brings about some reminiscing, particularly in the D.C. area. It seems everyone has a story about where they were when they heard the news that the Nationals had called a press conference to announce their seven-year, $126 million pact with Jayson Werth.

For some, it serves as a reminder of when things changed for the Nationals, when they entered “Phase Two” of their plan to construct a championship-caliber team. That part seems to have played out largely as they’d hoped. Two years later, the Nationals barreled through all comers to take the National League East Division title, and have been viewed as contenders ever since.

But even for signature Winter Meetings deals, like Werth’s, there’s often far more that comes before the bombshell drops.

“I think very few deals begin at the Winter Meetings and end at the Winter Meetings,” Rizzo said last week, as he and his staff prepared to head back to Orlando for this year’s gathering.

“There are many more cases where they start at the General Managers Meetings and end at the Winter Meetings. I think you lay foundations early in the offseason, and they either get announced at the Winter Meetings or the final decisions, after really going through the process, end at the Winter Meetings.”

Like Werth’s.

So as the Nationals get set for another Winter Meetings, let’s take an inside look back at how that deal went down.

The pitch

Shortly after the 2010 regular season came to an end, the Nationals honed their list of offseason targets. As Rizzo and his front office team began to put together a detailed plan for ownership of where they saw the team in one, three and five years, they surveyed the big-ticket free agents on the market.

There was third baseman Adrian Beltre, coming off an All-Star season in Boston, outfielder Carl Crawford, set to leave the Tampa Bay Rays, and Werth, who had just put together a career year.

Crawford didn’t fit for the Nationals, but Beltre and Werth intrigued them. At the GM Meetings, Rizzo met with agent Scott Boras, who represents both players. Rizzo expressed the team’s interest in both – and trying to sign both, at least for a short while, appeared to be a possibility. They planned to meet with both players at Boras’ offices in Los Angeles a few days later. They flew directly there after the Owners’ Meetings had wrapped.

The Nationals liked Beltre. Rizzo called their meeting with him “great.” But he didn’t fit perfectly, because acquiring him meant moving a Gold Glove third baseman – either Beltre or Ryan Zimmerman – to first.

Werth, on the other hand, would require no such shuffling. And if the attraction wasn’t mutual at the start, it had begun to feel that way by the meeting’s end.

“We really had a great meeting with Jayson,” Rizzo recalled.

The Nationals laid out for Werth the same plan Rizzo had put together for ownership. They showed him where they expected to be in one year, in three years, and in five years. They broke down future payrolls, told him about young Major Leaguers – like Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond – and how they expected them to develop in a few years, along with the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

“We showed him the future of what we were trying to do here,” Rizzo said. “I think we really sold him on the fact that we wanted him. We were going to make him the center of our franchise. A guy who would teach us how to win, give us a championship pedigree, and really pave the way for other big-time players to come to us. I think the way we mapped it out to him, the way we evaluated it, and the honestly with which we spoke to him (opened his eyes).”

Werth paid close attention.

Late in the 2013 season, Werth was moving a few things at his Virginia home and found some of the notes he’d made during the free agency process. What he’d written down about the Nationals still hit home.

“(I wrote that) we would be good toward the end of my contract,” Werth said.

The success had come sooner than he anticipated at that initial meeting, but the Nationals detailed, long-term plans had made an impact on him.

“I think (being as prepared as we were at that meeting), was one of the main reasons we got him,” Rizzo said. “He had a lot of options.”

The decision

After the meeting at Boras’ Los Angeles offices, Werth and Rizzo took a walk to chat about what the team had put in front of the outfielder. Rizzo spoke then in an unfiltered manner, unloading “both barrels,” honestly. He’d known Werth a long time, so he leveled with him.

“He could’ve easily gone to Boston,” Rizzo said of the Red Sox, who had also courted Werth. “I told him, ‘You can be one of the guys in Boston, or be one of the guys in Philly, or be the guy in Washington.’ I think I appealed to his competitiveness. I knew he was that type of guy.

“It was a risky route to go, but I thought it would appeal to him.”

But the Nationals had a decision of their own to make. They knew Werth was looking for a long-term deal, and, as Rizzo has acknowledged several times, they knew they may have to pay a premium in dollars and years – relative to the more established contenders – to get him.

In that vein, they came away from the meeting impressed as well.

Jayson Werth Game 4 Walk-offThe Lerners found Werth’s meticulous nature – his unique workout regimen, his nutritional awareness and specifications – to be a positive with regard to his ability to be productive over the life of a deal that could span as many as five, six or even seven years. Because Werth detailed for them the way he planned to continue to take care of himself in the future, “We felt as comfortable as we could be about giving a guy a long-term contract,” Rizzo said.

A seventh year, and a no-trade clause were the final sticking points.

“We discussed and deliberated over it,” Rizzo said. “I knew we were losing all ties (with Werth’s other suitors). That was it. The decision was: do we hold the line and negotiate this thing out? Or do we pay and get the player?  And we decided we needed this guy at this time in our franchise, for a bunch of reasons.

“(At the time, having just seen Adam Dunn head to free agency), we had no commitments whatsoever with payroll. We knew we’d have to be careful, we knew Zimmerman’s day was coming, and how many nine-figure players can you have on one roster? Where does it end? You’ve got to make some hard decisions. (But) we really felt the connection with Werth, not only because of the relationship that I had with him going in, but because he appealed to us as a guy who was thinking about, and preparing for, his career down the road. You could see he was really focused in on five, six, seven years down the road.”

No regrets 

When the Nationals unveiled Werth at a press conference at Nationals Park the following week, the man who has become such a part of their identity revealed a little bit about how much he’d bought into the process he was about to help expedite.

“I’ve always been a big fan of an underdog,” Werth said that day. “I’m coming to be a part of something much greater than you’ve seen in this city.”

Three seasons into his contract, Werth and his teammates have already seen a sliver of that success. And a deal that was maligned by some rival executives at the time may be viewed differently now.

Given the fact that he is coming off his age-34 season with the best OPS of his career (.931), and the rising prices on the free agent market, it’s not inconceivable that – if Werth were a free agent – he could be signed to something like a four-year, $72 million contract ($18 million average annual value) this offseason.

And while the overall value of his contract can’t be determined for a few more years, looking back right now, the Nationals have no regrets.

“If we get 130 games of the Jayson Werth we’ve seen the last two years, for the next two or three years — if he’s (offensively) the guy he should be, and plays good right field and leads us in the clubhouse — then he’s exactly what we wanted.

“But I’ll say this: I would do it again, at this point, knowing what we’ve got.”

#NatsWeekOfThanks: DCPS

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

DCPS

'42' ScreeningThe Washington Nationals are grateful to work with partners that are seeking new ways to make a positive impact on youth in our communities. Our  friends at DC Public Schools (DCPS) are dedicated to furthering the education of area students – both in and out of the classroom.

Last May, Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals hosted two private screenings of the movie “42” for 400 D.C. Public School students. Recognizing the social value of educating future generations about Jackie Robinson’s impact beyond the baseball diamond, DCPS jumped at the unique opportunity.

The high school students were able to view the movie free of charge and share their experiences online via Iam42.com. In addition, a panel discussion with Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Mike Rizzo, centerfielder Denard Span and First Base Coach Tony Tarasco followed each screening, where students asked questions about the challenges of being a professional athlete, the impact of Jackie Robinson, and battling racial prejudice, both on and off the field.

We are thanking DCPS as part of our Week of Thanks. For more on #NatsWeekOfThanks, click here.

For more information on DC Public Schools, please visit http://dcps.dc.gov and follow them on Twitter at @dcpublicschools.

Getting to Know Matt Williams

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Noah Frank

When the Nationals arrived in Phoenix at the end of September for their final series of the 2013 season, already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the focus among the press corps had shifted. It was Davey Johnson’s final series as Nationals Manager, and both he and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo recapped the season while looking ahead to 2014.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, and new Manager Matt Williams shared a smile during Williams' introductory press conference.

President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, left, and new Manager Matt Williams shared a smile during Williams’ introductory press conference.

At the same time, in the other dugout, Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson fielded questions about his third base coach, Matt Williams, who was one of the men rumored as a possible candidate for the Nationals’ impending vacancy.

“I think he’d be great,” Gibson said. “He was obviously a good player. We’ve worked closely together since I’ve been a manager. He’s got a good mind for it.”

Gibson has managed the Arizona Diamondbacks the past three-and-a-half seasons, leading them to the 2011 NL West title. Williams was at Gibson’s side throughout his tenure in the desert, moving from first base coach to third base coach upon Gibson’s ascension to the managerial role.

“We’re similar,” Gibson continued. “He’s a fierce competitor. He understands the game. We break it down. He’s a tireless worker and believes in heavy preparation. Never gives in.”

Gibson also noted Williams’ success as a manager in the Arizona Fall League, a training ground for managers as well as players. Williams led the Salt River Rafters to a 17-13 mark in 2012, strong enough for the East Division title. Those Nationals fans that pay attention to the AFL may remember that Washington prospects – including Brian Goodwin, Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole – played on that Salt River squad. That managing experience and first-hand knowledge of players within the organization, along with his shared history with Rizzo in Arizona, no doubt helped Williams’ candidacy.

*          *          * 

There is another side to Williams, though, one which I was able to witness in person as he spoke at a Minor League hot stove dinner hosted by the Fresno Grizzlies (the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate) in February of 2011. Williams was set to appear as the guest of honor, alongside fellow Giants legend Will Clark, following San Francisco’s first-ever World Series title. But Clark was held up by bad weather, and Williams instead shared the stage that night with Sergio Romo – then a young reliever who’d not yet ascended to the Giants’ closer role.

The two entertained the crowd throughout the evening, leading into the live auction, benefiting the Fresno Grizzlies Community Fund.

Following the press conference, Williams answered additional questions in the media huddle.

Following the press conference, Williams answered additional questions in the media huddle.

That auction culminated with a feverish bidding war over the grand prize: a weekend trip to see the Giants in Spring Training. When the auctioneer had reached a tipping point, and one bidder could go no further, Williams unexpectedly stood up and politely interrupted him, asking if he could speak for a moment. He asked the gentleman who had been outbid if he would still be willing to pay for the package at the price he had last offered. When assured that he was, Williams then turned to the dinner organizers to see if two such grand prizes could be procured. When it was determined that they could, Williams turned back to the two bidders to see if each would be agreeable purchasing their respective packages.

The maneuver paid off. Thanks to his ability to think on his feet, Williams helped secure double the donation for the Community Fund.

I relate this story not to suggest anything about Williams’ ability to think on his feet as the next manager of the Nationals. Rather, it underscores his presence of mind to help a good cause, revealing the human side of a man taking on a role where that can all too often be lost.

*          *          *

On the final day of this past Nationals season, after saying my goodbyes and offering well-wishes in the clubhouse following the game, I shuffled out to the elevators to the players’ parking lot at Chase Field. As I stepped through the metal doors, thoughts of another season of baseball the last thing on my mind, one other familiar person stood in front of me, ready to leave the park.

And so, we silently rode the elevator together – Williams and I – before departing on our own paths to Washington.

Thank You From The Lerner Family

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @nationals

Dear Nationals Fans:

Thank you for making our home yours, for bringing NATITUDE to Nationals Park day in and day out, for making this our third straight year of increased attendance, and for establishing the Nation’s Capital as one of the greatest baseball cities in America.

On the field, we saw many first-rate performances this year and expect to spend the offseason getting even better. We are very excited about our new manager Matt Williams. Not only does he bring an impressive wealth of knowledge and on-field experience to the Nationals dugout, but we think he is the right leader for a team that’s ready to compete for a World Series championship. Matt will partner with President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo in the offseason to make sure our squad is ready for the 2014 campaign. While Mike and his scouts may fine-tune the roster in the next few months, we believe we are already very close to competing for a World Series title as we stand today.

In 2013, the Nationals young pitching staff tossed more innings, produced one of the National League’s winningest pitchers in Jordan Zimmermann, and continued to demonstrate that with starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Zimmermann, our pitching corps represents one of the most formidable in the game. Veteran Jayson Werth returned midseason from a hamstring injury to become one of the most dominant hitters in baseball. Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche continued to show leadership, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Denard Span had an amazing 29-game hitting streak and an error-free year in the field. And young players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon made significant statements, in the field and at the plate, that they can be mainstays in the Major Leagues for years to come.

And Nats fans were there to see it all. Our April opener drew the largest regular season crowd in Nationals Park history, while our average attendance improved from even last season’s playoff year, and our broadcast and radio ratings were the highest yet. We are truly seeing our hometown become an ardent baseball city.

In the community, the team and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation were proud to help open the doors for the long-awaited Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex at Children’s National Medical Center, and we anticipate hosting our first student athletes on the fields at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy next Spring. We expect both of these initiatives to have a significant and positive impact on our community for generations to come.

The entire Nationals family is inspired by the intense passion for Major League Baseball and the team that’s growing in the capital area. We believe NATITUDE has made our town an even better community. We look forward to an exciting offseason, and plan to introduce everyone to Matt Williams and show off our talented roster at NatsFest in January. Spring Training won’t be far behind.

Thank you for your support – we believe Opening Day 2014 will be the grandest ever. You won’t want to miss it.

Sincerely,

Theodore N. Lerner Mark D. Lerner Edward L. Cohen Robert K. Tanenbaum
Annette M. Lerner Judy Lenkin Lerner Debra Lerner Cohen Marla Lerner Tanenbaum

Matt Williams Press Conference Transcript

On Friday, November 1, 2013, the Washington Nationals officially introduced Matt Williams as the club’s fifth manager since the team arrived in The District. The following is a transcript of the press conference featuring Williams and President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Mike Rizzo introduces new Nationals Manager Matt Williams.

Opening statements:

Mike Rizzo

Thanks for coming, everybody, I’m going to keep it short and sweet. It’s an exciting, big day here in Washington Nationals land, the introduction of the Matt Williams era into Washington Nationals baseball. We are extremely pleased to have Matt at the helm. I’d like to thank the players and Randy Knorr for coming in today and showing their support. We feel like we’ve got the right man at the right time here in Washington, D.C. He’s a man that brings passion and intensity to the game, but also brings a communication style of eloquence and intelligence. We think he’s got the full package. I’ve known the man for a long time and watched him from afar for a while and then up close and personal for a while. He’s a man that – we’d like to emulate his demeanor and attitude on the field and his leadership qualities in the clubhouse. So, without further ado, our new manager, Matt Williams.

Matt Williams

Thank you, Mike.

First and foremost, I want to express how grateful (my wife) Erika and (daughter) Madison and I are for everybody’s support in welcoming us here, it’s been quite an experience.

I’d like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Lerner and the entire Lerner family for welcoming us into their family. I spent a little bit of time with them and these people have passion for this game, passion for this city and passion for this team. They want to win as badly as anybody, and I am certainly on board with that, as I know Mike is.

It’s not often that you get players to support somebody they don’t really know. So I’d like to thank Tanner (Roark), Ian (Desmond) and Jayson (Werth) for taking time out of their day to be here to experience this with me and I look forward to working with all of them.

There’s a special guy that flew in that was also a candidate for this job. Randy Knorr took the time and got here today to be a part of this. We’re going to spend some time together, for sure. He is going to be someone that I lean on certainly in the beginning and throughout this coming season and hopefully many seasons in the future to make this a winning club. So Randy, thank you for being here, I appreciate it very much. (Randy’s) going to come out and see me next week and we’ll start going on this thing. We can’t wait to get started. Thank you all for being here. I am honored to be the Washington Nationals Manager and I’m ready to go, so thank you very much.

Members of the D.C. media got a chance to meet Matt Williams Friday afternoon.

Members of the D.C. media got a chance to meet Matt Williams Friday afternoon.

Q&A with the D.C. Media:

Matt Williams on why he is the best fit for the Nationals and what kind of manager he expects to be.

I was asked that question in the interview: why you? I think the simple answer for me is that I bring passion to the game that I love. This game has given me a lot and I need to return that. In whatever aspect of the game we find ourselves in, whether it’s offense, defense, pitching, I’m going to approach it with passion, I’m going to approach it with enthusiasm and a sense of work that I hope will make me a good manager and make us a good team.

What kind of manager will I be? I think it will be fluid. I do believe that you bring your glove every day. And I do believe that with this club, and with the incredible young men we have on this club, we have a chance to win if we can do things right. I think it’s evident. Everybody in this room and everybody that’s watching on TV or listening knows this is a very talented group of young men. We’re going to refine some things and we’re going to take those next steps that we need to take to get to where we want to go.

Mike Rizzo on the intangibles that made Matt Williams the right fit for this ballclub.

My interview process started in 1999 when I first met Matt as a player with the Diamondbacks. From afar, I really was watching how he conducted himself. He played on a talented team there in Arizona and there were a lot of veteran leaders on that team. I recognized Matt Williams as a guy that led not only by example, but led vocally and by his performance on the field. He was always prepared as a player and was always a guy that would lead by example. He was more impressed by the name on front of the jersey than on the back. I think that’s the way he approached his work. As time went on, I recognized him as the Arizona Fall League manager. Several of our players loved playing for him and I watched the way he handled pitching staffs and bullpens. And then as a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he really showed the backing he has of his players. The way they were prepared and the way that they got after it.

Matt Williams on when he first thought of managing as a possible career choice.

When I retired, I took some time off. I did the front office thing. I thought it would be nice to be in the front office, on that side of the game. If you know me, I don’t like suits very much. I didn’t like that part of it as much as I thought I would. I became a broadcaster and did some color work for TV and radio. I enjoyed that, but it still wasn’t fulfilling enough for me so I decided to get back on the field.

I was invited to Spring Training by Bob Melvin, the Diamondbacks Manager at that time, and started doing some work with the infielders and doing some work with the rest of the guys and really got the itch back. At that point, I thought, “I’ve played this game my whole life and it’s given me everything I have in my life.”

So at this point I needed to get to where I want to get to ultimately becoming a manager. At that point, I started thinking about it. It’s been an evolution. I’ve done a number of different jobs. The thing that I’ve come to conclude in this whole thing is that if you communicate and you can have a plan, then I think you’re ahead of the game. I hope to impart some of that here and help us on our way to win a championship.

Matt Williams on knowing the job was open since last year and when he started to seriously consider it.

I had a job to do as the Diamondbacks third base coach so I didn’t think about it very much. I knew there would be a possibility. Ultimately, it’s not up to me to decide. I was thankful and grateful to get the call from Mike that he wanted to talk a little baseball with me. During the season, and for the last year, it wasn’t up to me to decide if I wanted to interview or not, it was up to them.

Matt Williams on what needs fixing on this team.

What needs to be fixed? Davey Johnson is a Hall of Fame manager in my book. This is not a situation where you come in and clearly something is broken and needs to be fixed. This is unique, in that Davey decided to go in a different direction – get out of the dugout, do some other things – and the position was open. It’s not like you need to blow it up and start all over again. This is a very talented group of young men that play this game here. This is a great team on the brink of something really special. So, to be fixed? I don’t know, I can’t say anything needs to be fixed. I can say there are some things to refine. I think we can play smarter baseball, I think we can use the tools that are given to us a little better, without going into specifics. I know that one of the things that Ian told me this morning when we first met was, “I’d like to work a little bit harder.” I’m all for that man, let’s go. I think we can take all of those things and become a better baseball team. I’m here to guide that. They’re here to do it. They’re excited about doing it. So is everybody sitting in this room. I hope to be a part of that and guide that in the right direction.

Williams inherits a talented Nationals squad that averaged 92 wins over the past two seasons.

Williams inherits a talented Nationals squad that averaged 92 wins over the past two seasons.

Matt Williams on if he’s talked to Wilson Ramos lately, given an altercation between the two following a home run from a few years ago.

Thanks for that question, I appreciate it (laughs). There’s another guy that’s in this room who was involved in that altercation as well.

I haven’t spoken to Wilson since. But I can tell you this – on any given day, in any given city, at any given time, something like that can happen. I love that Jayson Werth stood up in the opposing dugout and yelled at me, because that means that he competes. I love the fact that Wilson Ramos was upset that a couple of their guys got hit and took exception. I love that fact. Does it mean I don’t like the man? No. That’s competition; that’s baseball; that’s the way we play the game. Just because Jayson’s yelling at me doesn’t mean he doesn’t like me. He plays for the other team. Now, I’m fortunate and I’m pleased that I’m on his team – and we’re going to have a lot of fun.

Matt Williams on if he views his lack of managerial experience as a challenge, and if so, how he plans on overcoming that.

I think there are a lot of different challenges as a manager and frankly as a bench coach, as Randy will attest. There are different things that present themselves every day. We saw it in Game 3 of the World Series ending on an obstruction play. We’ve never seen that. Those challenges, things like that in the course of the game present themselves. I don’t have 20 years of experience. I can’t claim that I do. But I do know I have a bench coach and a group of coaches that know these players and have experience and have had success. I hope to learn from them, I hope that they’ll learn from me, and I hope, collectively, we can go in the right direction here. It’s a really good team. I’m proud to be a part of it, proud to have them as fellow coaches, and I’m itching to go.

Matt Williams on if he plans to bring the whole coaching staff back.

It is our plan, with one exception. We’re going to make a change in the bullpen, and we’re going to add another coach, so we will have seven coaches. That will be Mark Weidemaier. He’s coming from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He is a defensive coordination advance coach, which I believe is really important. I believe preparation is the most important part of this game. He will do the defensive coordination and be our advance coach.

Matt Williams on how his former managers ingratiated themselves in the clubhouse, and how that experience will guide him.

It’s important to understand the player-manager dynamic. These guys go through 162 games during the regular season and 30-plus games of Spring Training. They’re training all year round in hopes that they get to the postseason and get to experience what the Cardinals and Red Sox got to experience. It’s very close to that here. It’s close. My job coming in is to make sure everybody’s prepared, and we need to make sure everybody’s healthy. It’s a new challenge – a new Spring Training, a new city, all of those things for me – but my job is to take care of these guys. I cherish that relationship. I protect these guys. I am the guy that they can come to, and hopefully Ian (Desmond) can come to me and say, “I’m having trouble with my backhand, let’s work on it.” Great, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Jayson can go, “I’m having trouble doing this. Or I’m not driving the ball like I want to.” Here’s a thought. We want to drive a run in, “OK, let’s talk about it.”

I think the fact that I played gives me a little bit of authority, or knowledge, that I’ve been there, I’ve been that guy. I’ve struck out with the bases loaded; I’ve gotten the game-winning hit.  All of those things. I’m here to help them, as is our coaching staff. They’re going to play and they’re going to play well. We’re here to try to guide that and help them reach their capabilities, certainly. And eventually to be Hall of Fame players and be World Champions.

Matt Williams on what it means to have the support of Randy Knorr in attendance at today’s press conference.

As far as Randy goes, it can be a very difficult dynamic. Randy is certainly popular among the players – we’ve seen that they have given him their support during this process. I can’t claim to know them or know this team as much as Randy does, so I’m going to lean on him. And he’s been kind enough to say, “Lean on me, I believe in this franchise, I believe in this team, I believe in our chances and I want to be here.” He doesn’t have to be here. In our conversations, I trust that and I love that fact. I’m going to lean on him heavily. He knows the organization, he knows the game. He is a full-blown managerial candidate, just like all of us (who interviewed); otherwise Mike wouldn’t have interviewed him. He’s probably the biggest part of this staff in getting to know the players moving forward for me.

Matt Williams on his reputation as an aggressive third base coach in Arizona, and if he similarly envisions himself as an aggressive manager.

That’s funny, because I think a couple years ago, I led the league in getting guys thrown out at the plate. Which is good, I think! Now, the fans of Arizona may think differently, and I’ve heard those fans from time to time, but I think if you apply pressure, you have the advantage. That comes in many different forms. I think you can apply pressure defensively. I think if you’re in a bases loaded situation with nobody out, I think you actually can have the advantage defensively. That may be a weird way of thinking, but that’s the way I think. I will be aggressive. My natural tendency is to go. We saw that (when I was) coaching third. So I will rely on Randy to help me with that and the rest of the coaching staff to help me with that. I want to steal second base, I want to hit and run, I want to go first-to-third. Those are important to me. I think we’ve seen that if we can score that extra run, we can be really special. So yes, aggressiveness is key.

Matt Williams on the importance of defensive positioning shifts and scouting.

There’s so much information that is given to us these days and we can find it everywhere. Tendencies – this guy will throw this pitch in this count 25 percent of the time. It’s all out there for us to use as we choose to use it. The philosophy that Kirk, myself, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor and those guys in Arizona put together was, we can do all the shifts we want and play tendencies all we want, but we have to understand what our pitchers are going to throw. How are our pitchers going to attack opposing hitters and what can we do accordingly? Leading the league in fielding percentage is key. We had two guys on the field that won Gold Gloves this last year. That proof is in the pudding in that they are fantastic athletes. But we helped them be in the right spot. We helped them be in a position to make a defensive play that helped us save a run or won us a game. I think that is most important for us.

That being said, one of the reasons I wanted to bring Mark Weidemaier on board was that he’s an expert at that. He’s been an advance scout. He created our defensive advance reports with Arizona. He has scouted both leagues. He spent 175 of the 180 days of the season in a hotel room on the road. He knows what he’s doing. I think that will help us be a better team. We understand that there’s a very fine line between (averaging) 2.5 runs or 3.5 or 4.5 runs. I do understand also, that if we can cut one (run) down during some point of that game, we have a better chance of winning with the type of club we’ve got. That’s important. That’s going to be our focus as a coaching staff, and we’ll let the players know certainly that we expect that to be a focus of theirs moving forward.

Williams signed his contract earlier in the day Friday, officially making him the fifth manager in Nationals history.

Williams signed his contract earlier in the day Friday, officially making him the fifth manager in Nationals history.

Matt Williams on how he knew so much about the Nationals organization going into his interview.

I do have access to the internet (laughs). It’s out there for everybody. But I do know some of the guys because I got to manage them last year (in the Arizona Fall League).. I’m going to get a chance to hang with Randy in Arizona next week and get a little more information. I don’t know everything, but I know this team and this organization has done a fantastic job of scouting. Second, the player development side of this club probably doesn’t get enough credit. They develop these guys to be big league baseball players at the highest level, to become All-Star players. That’s important. The team being put together by Mike and Bryan (Minniti) and everybody at the big league level is phenomenal.

I do have some (first-hand) information, certainly. I was with Adam LaRoche in Arizona. I managed Anthony (Rendon), albeit him being a third baseman at the time. We’ll get a chance to go out and see Matty Skole – we had him last year in the (Arizona) Fall League – and Brian Goodwin. I haven’t seen the younger pitchers as much, but I’ll get a chance to see all of those guys and talk about all of those guys with Randy and get further in tune. There are 25 guys here at the Major League level, but there’s 250 men here that make up this club and make up this organization. We need to make sure we’re accountable for all of them moving forward.

Matt Williams on which of the managers he’s played for influenced him the most, and why.

I think I take a little bit from all of them. Dusty Baker is my mentor. He was my hitting instructor early on with San Francisco and later became the manager. I spent hours and hours in the cage with him. He taught me how to be a professional hitter and he continues to be a great friend of mine. We talk often. In that respect, I try to take from Dusty that he’s the ultimate players’ manager. He communicates so well with the players. You hear it all the time that they’d run through a wall for Dusty. That’s because he understands them and speaks to them as men on the same level. I value Jayson Werth’s opinion on something. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with this club, with these guys. They can come to me with anything and I can go to them with anything, and it’s a conversation between men.

Buck Showalter was probably the most prepared manager I’ve ever played for. Three hours watching the game and everything that leads up to the game, and then another three hours in his office with the door closed watching the game all over again and sleeping at the ballpark at night. (He was) very prepared. I don’t know if I can do that, but I have to take some of that and make sure that on any given day, I’m prepared for what we may face during the game. Again, I have fantastic coaches that I’ll be able to lean on in that regard and say, “Randy, what do you think here?” But I have to be ultimately prepared for what I may face.

I played for Bob Brenly in our championship season in Arizona. He had a really veteran-laden club with guys that knew what they were doing. Frankly, (there were) a lot of guys at the end of their careers who were just trying to make it through and win a World Championship. I learned from Bob that sometimes it’s nice to take the reins off, especially with veteran guys, and allow them to lead that clubhouse. We have some veteran players on this team that have the ability and the willingness to lead this group of men. We need to allow them to do that. (We need to) give everybody a game plan and all of those things that come with it, but allow the veterans on this team to lead. Ultimately, the younger guys will fall in line because those are their peers. Those are the guys I lean on as mentors, and as examples, and try to take a little bit from each one of them.

Matt Williams on using analytics and advanced metrics.

It’s interesting how this is all a part of the game now. It used to be that we’d go out and throw some balls against the soft toss net behind the cage, take some swings, take some grounders and get ready for the game. Spring Training was, “Hey, let’s run through these three bunt plays and we’ll call it a day, then let’s go whack some balls and make sure that we’re ready for tomorrow.” It’s gotten a little more complicated these days.

I want to use all of it, but I want to use all of it in the right way. I want to get an example of what somebody is going to throw Ian on 2-0. Not necessarily how many sliders he throws him, but what he’s going to throw him 2-0, what’s he going to throw him 3-1, so he’s got an idea of what that guy is going to do if he gets ahead in the count. Or, what’s he going to go to if he’s trying to get him out when he’s behind in the count. We can have paralysis by analysis sometimes, so it’s our job as coaches to take all that information in, filter it, and give the guys what they need as opposed to trying to bog them down with too much information. So, I want to use all of it, but I want to present them with the right information on an everyday basis to make them as good as they can be.

Nationals Name Matt Williams Manager

Twitter: @Nationals | Facebook: Nationals | Instagram: @Nationals

by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals named Matt Williams as the team’s field manager on Thursday, agreeing to terms on a multi-year contract with the five-time All-Star and former Arizona Diamondbacks coach. President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

The agreement culminates a thorough process by the Nationals to find a successor to Davey Johnson, whose tenure as the team’s manager came to an end after 2 1/2 seasons.

MW_photo_darker“I am thrilled to welcome Matt to our organization and am confident he is the best choice to lead the Nationals at this time,” Rizzo said. “He is exceptionally prepared for the task. Matt came into the interview process already possessing an extensive knowledge of our organization: our roster, our Minor League system – and our fan base.

“He has genuinely creative, unique ideas on how to increase performance, and on cultivating leadership and team unity.”

Williams, 47, comes to the Nationals after four years on the Diamondbacks’ coaching staff, the last three as their third base coach. A decorated player during his 17-year career, Williams becomes the organization’s fifth manager since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005.

“Matt has a wealth of knowledge and experience as a former player and coach,” said Theodore N. Lerner, Managing Principal Owner of the Nationals. “But what most impresses us is his ability to understand and ably communicate situations and strategies in a disciplined, forthright manner. We think he is the right leader for a Washington Nationals team ready to compete for a World Series championship.”

Williams is a rookie Major League manager, but Rizzo’s relationship with him dates back more than 10 years, to their time together in the Diamondbacks organization – and this is a role in which he long thought Williams could thrive.

“I saw first-hand the leadership qualities he possessed as a player, on the field and in the clubhouse,” said Rizzo, who was a part of the Diamondbacks front office for seven years before joining the Nationals in 2006. “He’s been someone on my radar as a potential manager for years.

“Matt was a great player, but he also understands just how much hard work goes into becoming a great player. In the second phase of his baseball life, he has channeled the intensity he had as a player into becoming an intellectual coach with a calm, confident demeanor.”

Known for his hard-nosed, no-nonsense style as a player, Williams was a career .268 hitter with an .317 on-base percentage, .489 slugging percentage and .805 OPS in 1,866 games. He totaled 378 home runs, including six seasons with 30-plus home runs. Williams earned four Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards as a third baseman.

“I think it’s great,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said of the hire. “He’s a younger guy who was a good player and knows the game. I’m looking forward to getting to know him a little bit… I don’t think we were too far away from where we needed to be, and I think we’re all looking forward to next year.”

A former first-round draft pick, Williams appeared in the top 10 in the Most Valuable Player voting four times in his career, finishing as high as second in 1994, when he clubbed 43 home runs and drove in 96 runs for the San Francisco Giants in the strike-shortened season.

As a player, Williams was no stranger to the postseason. He played on six playoff teams and appeared in the World Series with the Giants (1989), Indians (1997) and Diamondbacks (2001), winning a World Series ring in Arizona. He is the only player in baseball history to hit at least one World Series home run for three different teams.

After retiring from playing in 2003, Williams dabbled in broadcasting for a few years, serving as a color analyst on select Diamondbacks broadcasts from 2005–09, and co-hosting the weekend pregame show for the Diamondbacks with his wife, Erika, in 2007. He joined the Diamondbacks as a first base coach in 2010.

In addition to his coaching duties with the Diamondbacks, Williams managed in the Arizona Fall League in 2012, leading the Salt River Rafters – which included several of the Nationals’ top prospects – to the AFL Championship Game.

From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Hello everyone.

Another summer of Nationals baseball is in the books.

Eighty-six wins and a late-season charge that both captivated and frustrated fans and players alike.

I have been asked by friends and fans how a team with such a talented roster could play sub-.500 baseball for four months – breaking our hearts – and then come back and play so well during the season’s final six weeks?

All I know is there is no ‘sure thing’ in our game and we were certainly reminded of that in 2013. Some might answer that baseball’s true beauty is rooted in its humility. I’m proud of the way this team struggled back to finish the season, going 32-16 in the last seven-plus weeks – giving us back our hope for 2014.

Here are a few of my final thoughts on this season:

  • Congratulations to Ian Desmond on his second consecutive 20-homer, 20-stolen base season. It is a joy to watch a true professional play at his level, day-in and day-out. From my seat, I see that he’s quickly becoming the best shortstop in baseball.
  • Jayson Werth led the Nationals late-season surge.

    Jayson Werth led the Nationals late-season surge.

    Jayson Werth’s stellar season should put him on a short, short list for National League Comeback Player of the Year. His return from last year’s gruesome left wrist injury is simply remarkable. I know from personal experience how seriously and with what care he treats his health – intense rehab and workouts, and near fanatical nutrition.

  • Wilson Ramos is a difference-maker in our lineup. His ironman streak of 24 consecutive starts behind the plate with seven home runs and 24 RBI was one of the major factors in bringing this team up in the standings.
  • It was disappointing that Jordan Zimmermann was not able to capture his 20th win last week at Busch Stadium, but that takes nothing away from a terrific ‘13 season. I would expect Jordan to capture some votes in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
  • While Denard Span’s 29-game hitting streak was memorable, I also think it meant he finally found his comfort level in D.C. and the National League. If you remember, Jayson coped with some of his own transition issues when he joined us in 2011 after a long tenure with the Phillies, but found his groove and became the team contributor that we see today.
  • We had our fair share of injuries and adversity in 2013. I would have loved to see one more month out of Werth, 130 total starts from Ramos, and for Bryce Harper to have avoided that right field wall at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of the season, but those were the cards we were dealt. That said, those injuries afforded Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, Ian Krol and Tanner Roark the opportunity to showcase their talents over the long stretch. Both the team and the players will benefit from those innings on the field.
  • I’d be remiss if I did not thank Davey Johnson for an historic run as our manager. Who will ever forget the summer of 2012, when postseason baseball returned to The Nation’s Capital for the first time since 1933? I know I won’t. Thanks Davey for helping to author memories that will never fade.
  • Lastly, I want to thank not only those reading this blog, but all of our fans that stand behind this team on a daily basis. Attendance was up over 9% this season. TV ratings were fantastic. Your passion for Nats baseball is felt all the way to the clubhouse – I’ve even heard our players talk about it. Your enthusiasm reminds us all why this game matters.  Thank you!
Jordan Zimmerman's 19 wins paced the Nationals staff.

Jordan Zimmermann’s 19 wins paced the Nationals staff.

Mike Rizzo will soon begin interviews to find our next manager. With most of our young talent in place for the next several years, and a strong pitching foundation built around an accomplished rotation, I have to think we have an attractive position to offer. I know Mike has a working list of candidates in mind, but he’s also talking to executives from around the game that he respects. This search will be extensive and we expect he’ll deliver the right man for the job.

It’s my hope that many of you will be able to meet our new skipper at NatsFest in January. We will be rolling out the specifics on our signature offseason event shortly. And MLB’s Winter Meetings (December 9-12 in Orlando, FL) will be here in short time too. Almost time to fire up the Hot Stove.

Yes, I know we all just completed a grueling 162-game season, but my optimism is already on ‘high’ for 2014.

Mark

What to Watch for: 9.29.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Washington Nationals (86-75) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (80-81)

RHP Tanner Roark (7-1, 1.74) vs. LHP Wade Miley (10-10, 3.63) 

The visiting clubhouse at Chase Field was light and boisterous on Sunday, the final day of the 2013 regular season. A half-dozen regular starters, none of whom were penciled into the lineup for the season finale, took in breakfast while they absorbed the first slate of NFL games on the RedZone channel. Hoots and hollers sprung up from the back rooms, where a season-long challenge was determined with a final weigh-in. And for the last time, Davey Johnson huddled with the media in his office, in uniform for one final game.

In typical Davey fashion, he refused to let the moment become too sentimental.

“It’s not like I’m dying tomorrow,” he quipped, after a particularly overwrought question about what it all meant.

He did allow himself a moment of reflection, though, about his five decades in the game.

“I feel melancholy, because this is a great group of guys, a great organization, and the city that made me love baseball, with the Senators,” he said. “My life has come full circle.”

Once a bat boy for the original Nationals, Johnson helped return baseball glory to Washington by guiding the 2012 club to the first postseason in The District since 1933. But despite repeated attempts to cajole his favorite moment from the past two-and-a-half seasons, Johnson played his cards close to the vest.

“Everywhere I go, my goal is always to make the team better,” he explained, saying that he would leave the decision on Washington’s next skipper to the man who appointed him, Mike Rizzo. “Well, the last manager he hired did a good job. I hope.”

Johnson will head back to D.C., then home to Florida, where he says his golf group is already set for Wednesday. He has joked since Spring Training about his impending vacation to Bora Bora, and reiterated that he has no desire to be a Major League manager next season. But the charm of the game still pulls at him.

“When you love the game as much as I love this game, with the competition, you just enjoy it,” he said.

Johnson will return as a senior advisor to Rizzo next season, but what about other opportunities the game might afford him?

“I never say never to anything, I’m always open for new challenges,” he said. “Heck, I’ve already got a job to manage in the Florida Collegiate Summer League next summer.”

And so, just like the season itself, while Davey’s career as manager of the Nationals comes to a close, it does not really end. After all, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in about 19 weeks.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Jeff Kobernus LF

2. Anthony Rendon 2B

3. Scott Hairston RF

4. Tyler Moore 1B

5. Zach Walters SS

6. Steve Lombardozzi 2B

7. Jhonatan Solano C

8. Eury Perez CF

9. Tanner Roark RHP

FINISHING STRONG

Dating to August 9, Washington owns Major League Baseball’s best record (32-15, .680). Over the same span, Washington paces the National League in runs scored (235) and run differential (+70).

3B-SPAN

Denard Span enters the final day of the regular season leading MLB with a career-high 11 triples. No D.C.-based big leaguer has ever led MLB in triples, although 3B Howie Shanks (18 in 1921) and SS Joe Cassidy (19 in 1904) did tie for the MLB lead in three-baggers. In 2009 with the Twins, Span tied Jacoby Ellsbury for the AL lead with 10 triples.

ROAD LESS TRAVELED

The Nationals are 105-94 on the road under Davey Johnson. The corresponding .528 road win percentage in that span ranks third in MLB behind only Texas (.562) and Los Angeles (NL) (.534).

Let It Rain

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

The 2013 season is not yet over. But the dream of defending the National League East crown, of a repeat trip to the postseason has come to an end.

While the end always stings, it did not come as suddenly or unexpectedly as the end of the 2012 season. And while it may have technically ended at the hands of the Cardinals, there wasn’t much of a sense of any connection between the end of last year and the end of this year. It was simply happenstance that the Nationals should make their lone trip to St. Louis at the end of September, after staving off elimination for weeks, and that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should each squeak out runs against inferior opponents just minutes earlier to create such a scenario.

The odds were stacked against Washington as early as April, when Atlanta built a division lead it would never relinquish. They grew longer with injuries to key cogs in the offense and the rotation, and with the way the National League shook out, a high-80s win total was simply not good enough to knock on October’s door this year.

Though Johnson will not be on the bench next season, he will continue to work with Rizzo to improve the ballclub.

Though Johnson will not be on the bench next season, he will continue to work with Rizzo to improve the ballclub.

“It’s tough,” said Davey Johnson after Monday night’s 4-3 defeat. “You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done.”

This will be Johnson’s last year in uniform on the bench for Washington, which surely adds to that emotion. But there is solace in knowing that he will be back in the front office next season, helping President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo as the club looks to improve in 2014 and beyond.

“I’m not worried about the organization,” he expressed. “The organization’s in great shape.”

Ian Desmond, who has been the first to stand up and face the media in the wake of any tough loss this season, concurred in his assessment.

“I couldn’t ask to be in a better place, with a better group of guys,” he said.

Even as the national media has portrayed Jayson Werth as the emotional leader of this club, and continued to focus on Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg as the name-brand stars, it was Desmond who stayed consistently, statistically great the past two seasons, no matter what happened around him.

Ian Desmond's consistency and leadership will only strengthen the Nationals moving forward.

Ian Desmond’s consistency and leadership will only strengthen the Nationals moving forward.

His final 2012 line looked like so: .292/.335/.511 with 60 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases and a team-leading 5.0 fWAR.

With five regular season games remaining in 2013, he’s compiled a .285/.337/.463 line with 61 extra-base hits, 21 steals and a 5.1 fWAR, again best on the club.

“For me personally, I just play the game the way I know how to play the game,” he said Monday night. “I don’t turn the dial up. The dial’s already turned up.”

Desmond’s ability to stay healthy has helped him remain consistent in a year of turbulence. That quality is one that Harper, who remained in his full jersey, sitting at his locker well after the conclusion of the game, looks to draw from heading into the offseason.

“I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night,” Harper said, looking ahead to next season, referencing time missed due to injury this year.

But before all attention turns to 2014, Washington can still make life tough on these Cardinals. With two more games in St. Louis, the Nationals can go a long way toward determining the pecking order in the NL Central, perhaps pushing the Cards into the one-game Wild Card.

“We’ve got an opportunity to rain on their parade a little,” said Desmond, well aware of the situation.

And so, with that, we’ll say the words that baseball people never dare to speak aloud.

Let it rain.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 559 other followers