In searching for Matt Williams’ replacement, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo intends to place a significant emphasis on candidates with prior experience, particularly in the big leagues.
“Experience is always helpful,” Rizzo said during a conference call Monday afternoon to announce Williams’ firing. “It always adds a layer of expertise to anybody’s resume. We feel that where we’re at in our timetable of winning a championship, we certainly would lean toward someone that has some type of managerial experience, especially at the major-league level. But … we’re going to be open-minded and look for the best candidate that we can that allows us to win a championship here in the very near future.”
This plan comes in stark contrast to the Nationals’ last managerial search, two years ago. Seeking a replacement for the 70-year-old Davey Johnson, Rizzo interviewed at least six candidates, none with prior major-league managerial experience: Randy Knorr, Trent Jewett, Brad Ausmus, DeMarlo Hale, Dave Martinez and Williams.
That won’t be the case this time around, with Rizzo conceding that Williams’ inexperience — he had only managed brief stints in the Arizona Fall League and at Class AA — proved detrimental this season.
There are only a handful of available former big-league managers right now, headlined by Bud Black, Ron Gardenhire and Dusty Baker. All three are likely to be considered by the Nationals; Baker expressed interest in the job two years ago but never formally interviewed. Former Astros manager Bo Porter, a popular member of the Nationals’ staff from 2011-12, is also available, as are former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu and former Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.
Prior major-league managing experience, though, is not a prerequisite for the job, Rizzo insisted, with time spent managing in the minor leagues a valuable trait as well. And significant experience on a major-league coaching staff, particularly as bench coach, also would be seen as a plus for a potential candidate.
That would open the door for the likes of Ron Wotus (longtime Giants bench coach), Martinez (Joe Maddon’s second-hand man with both the Rays and Cubs), Hale (who has managed at Class AAA and been on three big-league coaching staffs) and Wally Backman (long-time minor-league manager, currently with the Mets’ Class AAA affiliate).
“We’re going to bring in a group of people with diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences and diverse skill sets,” Rizzo said. “I think that’s something we did not do last time. Last time we brought in managing candidates with little or no managerial experience. I think that we’ll have a greater pool of manager candidates this year, stemming from very experienced to limited experience, and really go through a process that gets to know the manager personally at first and then professionally and what he does on the field.”
The biggest-name potential candidate is one of the biggest names in baseball history: Cal Ripken Jr. The Hall of Famer spoke to Rizzo about the job two years ago, though he has always loomed as a fringe contender for positions like this, never shooting down the possibility but never diving headfirst into the mix. And given Ripken’s lack of any prior coaching experience at the professional level, he wouldn’t appear to fit Rizzo’s preferred criteria at the moment.
There does remain one in-house candidate in Knorr. Though the Nationals’ bench coach of the last four seasons and a member of the organization since the franchise called Montreal home was told Monday he was not having his contract renewed, Rizzo left open the door for a reunion. Knorr will be considered for the managerial position, and if he doesn’t get it could still remain on either the new manager’s big-league staff or in another position within the organization.
“Randy has been a source for this organization for many, many years,” Rizzo said. “He’s managed in the minor leagues. He’s got a great rapport, not only with the front office but with the players in the clubhouse. He would be a great candidate for anybody’s managerial job. … We have not ruled out Randy Knorr as a guy that we would talk about for the job this year.”