The decision was made in collaboration between Rizzo and ownership, according to another person close to the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement remained pending. Rizzo had been close to Williams since the early 2000s, when Rizzo served as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ scouting director and Williams was finishing his playing career as a power-hitting third baseman. Williams retired as a player in 2003 and has been a coach for the Diamondbacks the past four seasons.
People close to Rizzo believe he had wanted to hire Williams for months. Williams impressed the Lerner family with his commanding presence in an interview, according to a person familiar with the process. Davey Johnson, the man Williams will replace as manager, did not have a role in the choice but still endorsed it.
“I think that’s a good choice,” said Johnson, who remains a front-office adviser after his retirement from managing. “He’s more fiery, like Mike likes. I was probably too laid-back for him. I think it’s good.”
The expected hiring was first reported by Fox Sports.
Williams, 47, played 17 major league seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians and Diamondbacks. He began his post-playing career as a part owner and ambassador for the Diamondbacks. His only managerial experience is a stint in the Arizona Fall League last season.
As a means to provide Williams with institutional knowledge, the Nationals hope to retain popular bench coach Randy Knorr, the leading internal candidate and the choice of many current players. Knorr has been with the franchise since 2001 as a player, minor league manager and coach. Knorr said he had not been informed of Williams’s impending hire but would want to remain in Washington even if he is not promoted to manager.
“I like this team,” Knorr said in a phone conversation. “I don’t ever want to leave this team.”
Knorr was one of at least four other candidates the Nationals interviewed. They also spoke with first base coach Trent Jewett, San Diego Padres front-office official Brad Ausmus and Toronto Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale. None had managed in the majors.
Williams will be charged with taking the Nationals, a team that has won 184 games the past two seasons, to Washington’s first World Series victory since 1924. The Nationals won 86 games and finished second in the National League East this past season, considered a disappointment after they romped to the division title in 2012. Williams will take over a young, talented roster that includes Stephen Strasburg atop the rotation and all-star caliber players Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond in the middle of the lineup.