It hasn't really been a well-kept secret, with reports of Washington's choice leaking out for about a week. However, protocol dictates that teams wait until the season is over before announcing such things, and the Red Sox's victory opened the doors for the Nationals to make the announcement on Thursday afternoon, with at a press conference in Washington today. He has been our third-base coach for the past four seasons, but this will be his first shot as a major-league manager: indeed, his sole experiences of the responsibility at any level, are a stint as an injury replacement for Mobile, and taking the helm of the Salt River Rafters in last year's Arizona Fall League.
There were at least four other candidates who were interviewed for the position: the team also spoke to Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, first base coach Trent Jewett, Padres front office official Brad Ausmus and Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale. Said Washington GM (and another former Arizona employee) Mike Rizzo, "Matt’s performance, first of all his presentation, his communication skills, his knowledge of the ball club, the league, the division, his presence and some of the character traits he possesses were really the difference between he and the other very qualified candidates."
He'll get to keep his #9 jersey, since no-one has worn that number for the Nationals since Bernie Castro in 2006. The move leaves the Diamondbacks needing to replace most of their coaching staff this winter. Along with Williams, hitting coach Don Baylor also accepted another position, with the Angels, while hitting coach Charles Nagy and first-base coach Eric Young were not invited to return. There were thoughts long-time bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock might also go with Williams to Washington, but that no longer appears to be the case. He will, however, be taking Mark Weidemaier, as the team’s defensive coordination advance coach; Weidemaier was our advance scout.
While I doubt many fans will miss Windmill Williams sending runners to die at home-plate, our players were saying all the right things about him last week. Said Willie Bloomquist, "As far as just baseball smarts, he's just very, very knowledgeable about the game. In all facets and all areas of it, he's extremely knowledgeable... He anticipates things and has an idea about what's going to happen and is just a smart baseball guy... He's very smart and very good at what he does, and this is just the next step to become manager. He's ready for it. In my mind, he's going to be an outstanding manager."
With the Nationals' failing to live up to expectations last season, he's going to be looking for improvement from his roster in 2014. With the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg on the team, there's no shortage of talent, but will Williams' old-school style be able to get the most from them? I also wonder if Williams will have to divest himself of his Diamondbacks' shares to take the position, because it seems an obvious conflict of interest to have the manager of one National League team, a part owner of another.
There have been some interesting names thrown around as possible candidates for our open coaching spots, but I think we'll leave those for another post.