Before Matt Williams was hired as the Nationals’ new manager, he and Randy Knorr had limited interactions. Their playing careers overlapped some and they came across each other on the field. But now, they are on the same coaching staff after both interviewed for the Nationals’ vacant managerial position and Williams was chosen but still asked Knorr to stay on as his bench coach because of his intimate knowledge of the system and players. The two now just need time to get to know each other.
So last week, Knorr flew from Tampa, where he spends the offseason, to Phoenix, where Williams lives, to do just that. He spent four days with Williams, watching Nationals prospects compete in the Arizona Fall League and just learning more about each other. Knorr flew in on Wednesday, watched three games with Williams, spent time at his house and flew home on Saturday.
“It was good,” Knorr said. “We had a good time. Just hung out and talked about the game. I told him my thoughts and he told me about his. We went over a few players. He wanted to know about the positives and negatives of last year’s season and how he could help.”
Because the Arizona Fall League games are during the middle of the day, Williams, 47, and Knorr, 45, watched the players take batting practice together in the morning and then sat together during the games. Williams was the manager of the Salt River Rafters last season and managed Nationals prospects such as Matt Skole, Brian Goodwin and Anthony Rendon. Williams caught up with both Skole and Goodwin, who are both playing in the Arizona Fall League again, and Knorr noticed the players’ reaction to Williams.
“They seem to respond to him pretty good,” Knorr said. “I think the [big league] guys are going to like him.”
After one game, Williams took Knorr to his house around 5 p.m. to keep talking about the Nationals and baseball. They lost track of time, and when Knorr checked his watch it was already 11 p.m. “I told Matt, ‘Oh, you got kids. Let me get out of here.’”
The conversations were light on technical baseball matters and focused mostly on the players and the Nationals’ system. “I think there’s going to be a time and place to talk strategy,” Knorr said. “I think he wants to be aggressive, and I think that’s good.”
“It was just really casual,” he said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s go over the bunt play.’ Getting to know each other. He wanted to make sure and see what kind of page I was on. He wanted to know why I thought we won 98 games and then why we came out slow. We talked about the players’ personalities. He wanted to know about the organization, the spring training site, how they take care of coaches. Stuff like that.”
From the outside, the pairing of the top managerial choice and a finalist might seem odd. Williams admitted as much during his introductory press conference. Players, however, have spoken highly of Knorr’s ability to adapt and, according to Knorr, Williams also has an easygoing demeanor off the field.
“It wasn’t uncomfortable by no means,” Knorr said. “It was pretty natural. I played against him. I never played with him. But he’s a pretty mellow guy.”
The two also briefly discussed the third base coach position left vacant after the departure of Trent Jewett for the bench coach position with the Seattle Mariners. Knorr said he would prefer to see the coaching position filled internally for the sake of organizational continuity, but understands the decision is up to General Manager Mike Rizzo and Williams. The replacement won’t come from the Arizona Diamondbacks and appears unlikely to be Class AAA Syracuse Manager Tony Beasley, a former major league third base coach.
There are several potential internal candidates. Brian Daubach (the Class A Potomac Manager), Tripp Keister (Class A Hagerstown Manager), Troy Gingrich (Syracuse hitting coach), Bobby Henley (minor league field coordinator), Jeff Garber (minor league infield coordinator) and Spin Williams (minor league pitching coordinator) are all considered among the system’s best coaches and up-and-comers. But because they have reputations as good instructors, they could likely remain in the minor league to help continue building talent there.