Nats manager search: Ripken appears unrealistic; effects of Leyland’s departure

October 21, 2013

Cal Ripken, Jr. does not appear to be a realistic candidate to replace Davey Johnson. (Nick Wass/AP)

With the World Series set to begin Wednesday, the Nationals could name their next manager as soon as this time next week. Major League Baseball prevents teams from announcing major news on the day of World Series games and, barring specific circumstances, prefers they wait until after the Series ends to make announcements.

But the Nationals will continue their close-to-the-vest process this week, sorting through a list of interviewees that includes Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams, bench coach Randy Knorr, Padres front office assistant Brad Ausmus and presumably others. Nationals third base coach Trent Jewett is probably there, too, but that has not been confirmed.

Here’s where things stand on a few fronts:

>>> Despite interest in him from within the clubhouse and plenty of speculation elsewhere, Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken becoming an actual candidate for the job appears to be unrealistic, according to a person close to the situation. Ripken has said he is more curious than ever about a return to the majors, and Washington’s location made the Nationals a logical potential fit. Things could change, but the Nationals probably won’t wait until long after the World Series ends to make a hire and they have not reached out to Ripken about their managerial opening.

We can also cross another high-profile possibility off the list. Former Reds Manager Dusty Baker reached out to the Nationals shortly after he was fired to express interest in Washington’s opening. But the Nationals have not reciprocated that interest and have not asked Baker to interview. In short, Baker may be interested, but he’s not a candidate.

>>> By MLB mandate, the Nationals must interview at least one minority candidate for their managerial opening. It is not clear whether they have or not. In some cases, like when teams have an obvious, in-house successor, the league allows teams to make an immediate hire, in part to avoid sham interviews. But the Nationals’ search does not fit those criteria. If the Nationals do not have a minority candidate on their list, the commissioners will supply a list of options.

>>> The Nationals’ managerial opening had been the clear-cut best job available until this morning, when Tigers Manager Jim Leyland announced he, like Davey Johnson before him, would step aside for a younger replacement.

There could be one way the Tigers’ opening affects the Nationals’ search: Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson grew up in Michigan and became a star with the Tigers. What if the Tigers lure Gibson as Leyland’s successor and the Diamondbacks move to elevate Williams from third base coach to manager?

Even then, assuming the Nationals offer commensurate salary, Washington’s job would have more allure in many respects. The Nationals, at least on paper, have more talent and more recent success than the Diamondbacks. Williams is a legend in Arizona – he literally has his own mascot, which races each game against other mascots dressed as all-time Diamondback greats – so he may prefer to stay. Anyway, that’s all total speculation.

Some candidates may consider the Tigers’ vacancy a more attractive job than the Nationals’, but in that sense it should not affect the Nationals’ search in any significant way. The Nationals’ two leading candidates still appear to be Knorr and Williams. They both have close ties to General Manager Mike Rizzo, and neither have been reportedly tied to other openings, anyway.

The Nationals also interviewed Padres front office assistant Brad Ausmus, whom the Red Sox considered last winter and who could become a candidate in Detroit, too. But it does not seem like the Nationals will need to convince their desired choice to choose them over another team, even the loaded Tigers.

Leyland’s departure does raise an interesting debate: Which job is better?

The Tigers finished two victories shy of winning their second straight American League pennant and will return a roster with some of the game’s very best players, including the AL’s presumptive Cy Young award winner (Max Scherzer) and MVP (Miguel Cabrera). They also have an owner, Mike Illitch, who will spend money at a level approaching desperation as he tries to bring a World Series title to Detroit.

The Tigers may have enjoyed a better season, but the Nationals seem better situated for long-term success. Prince Fielder’s contract figures to become burdensome in coming seasons, and the Tigers’ farm system has been hit by recent trades. And it’s not like the Lerners haven’t shown a willingness to spend, too. Both jobs are good. The Tigers have a slight edge in the short term, perhaps, but the Nationals have a better chance at long-term success.

As an aside: Knorr played one season under Leyland, with the Marlins in 1998. Playing or Leyland and coaching for Johnson – a pretty nice baseball education.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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James Wagner · October 18, 2013

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