The Washington Nationals might seem like a team everyone would want to manage, with their elite roster. Not so fast.
The Washington Nationals have been a very successful regular season team over the past six seasons. They’ve won four National League East titles during that span, and in each season they won the division, they posted at least 95 wins. The other two seasons, they posted at least 83 wins.
To top it all off, the Nationals are bringing back a majority of the same roster that just won 97 games. And they didn’t even have their second best outfielder, Adam Eaton, for well over 100 games. Despite having offensive dead weights at catcher and losing MVP candidate Bryce Harper for 50 games, the Nationals still won 96 games. That shows their depth.
However, Washington hasn’t won a playoff series. The last time the Nationals franchise did, they were the Expos. Whether it’s fair or not, manager Dusty Baker became the scapegoat for the past two first-round exits after he was brought in to help the Nationals win a World Series. Baker did a tremendous job helping a clubhouse still seeking for its identity find one and win two division titles in the process.
But he didn’t win the title. And in baseball, if a team underachieves, the easiest thing to do is fire the manager. It’s far easier to make a change in the dugout than it is to make a significant change to a roster — especially if you’re a “win now” team like the Nationals and you’re running out of ideas of changes to make to the roster.
Assuming the Nats can find a good replacement, maybe a change could be a positive thing this time around. And who wouldn’t want to manage the Nationals, right? You get to manage Harper and blossoming star Anthony Rendon. Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg allow you to rest your bullpen twice every five games. The Nationals have a talented roster, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a ton of candidates begging for the job, right?
Not so fast. There are several reasons why the Nationals job isn’t as covetable as it might seem. First of all, there’s the pressure involved. 2018 is a MUST win year for the Nationals, with Harper hitting free agency after the season, and it’s far from a guarantee he’ll be sticking around in the nation’s capital. There will be no time for “getting used to the roster.” The Nationals are going to be demanding results from day one, and nothing short of a World Series will be tolerated.
Some people love that pressure. But a lot of people probably don’t want that, especially considering the next Nationals manager will be their eighth since 2005. Even Cleveland Browns quarterbacks are impressed with that turn-around rate.
Which brings us to the next factor: ownership. Ted Lerner is the majority owner of the Nationals. He is among the wealthiest MLB owners, despite a less than optimal television broadcast contract. Most of the time, Lerner isn’t afraid to use their financial power. He’s not afraid to spend on players to make the roster better, which makes Lerner’s stingy attitude towards managers baffling.
Bud Black knows this all too well. Back in 2015, he was the initial favorite to replace the incumbent manager, Matt Williams. All signs pointed toward a deal. But then the Nationals backed out and hired Baker. Manny Acta and Davey Johnson are the only Nats managers to last longer than two seasons. The former got fired 87 games into his third season, while the latter got hired midway through the 2011 season and left after the 2013 season.
Finally, there’s the uncertainty surrounding the Nationals’ future. In 2018, they’re going to be serious contenders to win the World Series. But after that? It’s anyone’s guess, especially if the Nationals don’t keep Harper.
The job might be attractive to someone like Tony La Russa, who might be the perfect candidate to take over the “win or bust” Nats. Maybe it’s attractive to someone like Dave Martinez, who is long overdue for a chance. But considering the other jobs out there, the Nationals might struggle to find a new manager. And whoever they hire, he probably won’t be as perfect for the Nats as Baker.