Matt Williams’s first offseason as manager of the Washington Nationals has taken him many places. He has flown into Washington for a season-ticket holder Q&A. He has driven out to the Virginia suburbs and spent an hour at Jayson Werth’s home. (“He is shaggy right now,” Williams said. “That’s a good thing.”) This week, Williams arrived at the winter meetings to both provide input and learn from the organization he has become a representative of.
Most days, Williams’ self-appointed task is simple. He calls it the “fun” part. He sits at home in Arizona and plots the Nationals’ spring training schedule. He has finished the first 25 days, down to the finest detail. He can tell you, right now, in the dead of winter, which coach will throw batting practice to which group of hitters on, say, Feb. 29. As an extra measure, he will visit the Nationals’ facility Thursday, to help him envision where drills will take place.
That shows you something about Williams: He is not just prepared and meticulous. He likes being prepared and meticulous.
“I believe that if you’re prepared, then things happen organically and naturally for your club,” Williams said. “That’s what we plan to do.”
The Nationals are still learning about Williams, and Williams is still learning about the Nationals. At the winter meetings, he has been meeting the Nationals’ staff and providing his input on potential targets.
“I’ve been to the winter meetings before, but as an advisor,” Williams said. “So to get to know everybody, one, because I don’t know everybody, within the organization, all the scouts. It’s been great to get to know those guys. Look at the team, put the team on a board and look at all of the different ways we could go about fielding that team, winning and all that stuff. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed it.
“It’s new because I’ve never really been the manager that was able to speak in that regard. But it’s been great. My opinion is asked. They ask my opinion. They want to know what I think. They want to know how I would have that player play within the team concept. They want to get any thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses and what they can and can’t do. All of those things are important.
“It is a collective effort, though, I’ll tell you that. [GM Mike Rizzo] takes advice from a lot of people, digests it, processes it, and makes sure that he makes the right decision. And he’s done a wonderful job of that.”
Williams has already had a significant impact in how the Nationals have approached their winter. Rizzo shaped his trade and free agent targets, in part, on Williams’s style and how Williams wants to use them.
“You always have to have the input of the guy who’s going to implement the moves you’re going to make,” Rizzo said. “The moves have to fit his personality, his philosophy, what he’s trying to accomplish. It doesn’t make sense to add pieces to the roster when they’re going to be unusable or misused in Matt’s philosophy. What the type of bench he wants, how he’s going to use the guys, what type of skill set he needs for the particular pieces of the roster.”
Williams has used the winter to further integrate himself into the Nationals’ organization. The Nationals overturned almost none of their staff, either on the field or in the front office. At once, Williams is in charge and the new guy.
“I’m the new dude, yeah,” Williams said. “I have tried to let everybody know that, listen, I’m here to learn, as well. So can’t sit here in front of you, like I told you in the press conference, that I’ve got 20 years experience, because I don’t. I need to learn from them. We sit in that suite up there and our scouting staff has hundreds of years of experience in the game.
“So we’ve spent long hours in the last two days talking generalities of baseball, specifics of players, organization, certainly our guys that we have that are ready to come to the big leagues. Our guys that are going to be in the big leagues. I’m learning from them, which is a really refreshing thing.
“Now, I’m going to go out there and be the manager, okay? That’s great. But it’s going to take all of us to get to where we want to get to. And I’ve tried to let them know that that’s important to me. And it’s important to me to have everybody’s input. And allow them to give their input I think is important, too. It’s been refreshing.
“Now, there will be more of it over the next day and a half. And hopefully I leave here and head down to Viera on Thursday with that knowledge and a good sense of everybody and what we want to accomplish.”
Rizzo praised Williams’s ability to soak in information. He said Matt has fit in comfortably with the baseball conversation that goes on at the Nationals’ meetings, able to express his opinion but also allow others to influence his thinking.
“The thing that’s stood out to me is, he’s a good listener,” Rizzo said. “He really absorbs information, filters it, takes his time and gives an assessment of it. He fits in perfectly in the room. His input is concise and articulate. He shows a lot of the same characteristics he did in the interview process, but on a whole new level of specifics, according to how he sees this roster unfolding, how he’s going to utilize it through the season.”