Denard Span was away from his cellphone early Friday morning in his offseason home of Tampa, but when he returned to it, he checked Twitter. The center fielder saw a flood of news about the Washington Nationals’ intention to hire Matt Williams, the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as the team’s new manager. He had read before that Williams was a serious candidate for the position so he wasn’t at all surprised that the Nationals were indeed headed that direction.
Span has never met Williams and only knows him by his reputation as a third baseman for the Diamondbacks in the early 2000s. Like many other players, Span was more familiar with bench coach Randy Knorr and wanted to see the longtime Nationals instructor promoted to manager, but he said he is looking forward to getting to know Williams.
“I trust that [General Manager] Mike Rizzo and the Nationals went through all the options and that Matt Williams is the best guy for the job,” Span said in a telephone interview Friday. “I’m excited. He’s a younger guy.”
Williams, 47, won’t have a chance to meet all of his players until spring training, but some of them know a little about him already. Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus, a northern California native, has never met Williams either. Williams, who has no major-league managerial experience, has been a major league coach for the past four seasons. But Mattheus grew up a San Francisco Giants fan and has fond memories of watching Williams patrol third base for them in the 1990s.
“I don’t know much about him or from a personality standpoint and how he’s going to go about running a ballclub,” Mattheus said in a telephone interview on Friday. “But it’s kinda funny for me that he’s going to manage me. He’s a player I looked up to and imitated in the back yard. It’s kind weird how things come full circle. . . . He’s had so much success and everything I’ve heard he’s a grinder. I’m excited.”
Friday’s news was bittersweet for some players. Knorr has been in the organization since he was a catcher with the Montreal Expos in 2001 and then managed at every level of the minor leagues. He was former manager Davey Johnson’s bench coach for the past two seasons and has close relationships with several homegrown players. Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman have publicly backed Knorr.
Knorr said Friday that he wants to remain in Washington. The presence of both men, one as the other’s superior, may create an unusual dynamic, especially among players who backed Knorr.
“I know a lot of guys who were hoping that Randy Knorr got it, and I hope he sticks around,” Span said. “I think he needs to.”
Added Mattheus: “At some point, he’s going to want to manage. And you can’t blame if he goes elsewhere. But from a selfish standout and what our team is about, I would love to have him around.”
Williams and the Nationals will need to decide how to build his coaching staff. The fate of the rest of the Nationals’ current coaching staff remains unknown. Pitchers have spoken in favor of keeping pitching coach Steve McCatty, the longest-tenured coach.
“Obviously, that’s where I want to be,” McCatty said. “Would I like to be with the Nationals? Who wouldn’t? You’ve been around these guys a long time. You know how good this team can be. I love all the guys. I’d love to be there.”
Hitting coach Rick Schu served as a Diamondbacks coach from 2007 through 2009 and got to know Williams then. Rizzo wants Schu to return as hitting coach, and even if Williams has another hitting coach in mind, Schu will remain with the organization in some capacity.
With Williams, players said there will certainly be an adjustment period, but they are excited to get started.
“It’s definitely going to take some time,” Span said. “You just hope that with spring training and early part of the season that we can get acclimated with Matt and get on one accord and be able to take off and reach our potential. There’s no question there’s going to be a transition. It’s all going to depend on how he handles the team. If he’s accountable, which I’m sure he will be, I don’t think it will take long to gravitate to that and want to play hard for him.”
Adam Kilgore contributed to this report.
More on the Nationals:
Boswell: A leap of faith worth taking
DC Sports Bog: Williams’s grandfather played for Senators