The Nationals technically have a managerial vacancy and after Terry Francona’s dramatic split from the Boston Red Sox yesterday, perhaps the most accomplished manager in baseball just became available. My man Dave Sheinin floated the idea of the Nationals maybe wanting to bring Francona in for an interview over at Baseball Insider. It’s not likely to happen, and I think that’s the right call.
Based on conversations with a few people familiar with the Nationals’ thinking, I believe the Nationals will not reach out to Francona and that the job will still be Johnson’s in 2012. General Manager Mike Rizzo did not return a message seeking comment, and since the final decision is ultimately his and ownership’s, that sentiment could change.
I don’t think it will. My sense all year is that the Nationals’ front office and ownership believes in Johnson. As the Nationals were choosing their next manager following Jim Riggleman’s resignation, the Lerner family had some trepidation about Johnson’s age, 68. After Johnson met with ownership personally, they did a 180-degree turn.
Over the final half of the season, Johnson shaped the Nationals’ roster to his style. After some initial bumps, Johnson had the Nationals structured the way he wanted and they finished on a 14-4 tear. He kept them motivated when out of the race and also bent the personnel to best suit his style – it’s not a coincidence they played better the longer Johnson had been in charge. With a new manager for 2012 – a year the Nationals, depending on their offseason moves, may have a shot at contention – they would have to start the process over in spring training.
Sheinin’s point in the Baseball Insider post had as much to do with 2013 and beyond as 2012. If the Nationals don’t try for Francona now, they’ll miss out on the chance to hire someone with his resume after the upcoming season.
That’s a good point. I feel like it’s conceivable that Johnson manages in 2013, since he’s under contract until then. If the Nationals keep improving as they expect, continuity should be a priority. I’d rather go with Johnson now and then someone like Bo Porter or Randy Knorr later. It sounds to odd to say a first-time big league manager like Knorr or Porter is a better choice than Francona, but I’d prefer someone who knows the team from the inside out. That assumes, again, the Nationals don’t tank in 2012 and need a fresh start.
Also, Johnson’s age probably precludes him from being a long-term manager. But, in baseball, does such a thing as “long-term manager” exist? While Francona is much younger, Boston gave him health issues to go with a severe case of burnout. He’s 52, but after eight years in Boston he may as well be 60.
As Sheinin pointed out, teams will be lining up to interview Francona, and with good reason. I think Francona is the best manager in baseball. But the best manager for the Nationals is Davey Johnson.