Last spring, at a moment in time when the Washington Nationals had never finished with a winning record, Davey Johnson proclaimed that his general manager could fire him if the Nationals did not win their division. He does not react to expectations; he ratchets them higher than anyone.
And so today, in the dead of winter, Johnson raised the Nationals’ hopes as high as possible. After the Nationals added Dan Haren to their 98-win roster, Johnson declared nothing less than a World Series title would satisfy in 2013.
“World Series or bust,” Johnson said. “That’s probably the slogan this year. But I’m comfortable with that.”
Comfortable? Johnson would not allow any other directive frame his final season as Nationals’ manager. His confidence ensures Johnson will saunter out of the dugout in his own swashbuckling way. He has told Nationals officials not to load up just for one big run, that he can take whatever roster the Nationals give him, with the future in mind, and take it to October.
“If we don’t win, it’ll be my fault,” Johnson said over the weekend. “I want it to be a solid base for a long time. I’m not trying to hold on to all the chips to protect my ass. I don’t worry about my ass. I think we can win with whoever we got.”
So, no, Johnson isn’t hiding from expectations. He’s demanding they be heightened. “If we’re not the favorite this year, I’m going to be embarrassed with all you guys that didn’t pick me,” he said.
With Haren in the fold, the Nationals have their final starter and a roster that is almost set. They have a loaded rotation, an athletic defense and a balanced lineup. They still have some holes in their bullpen, but the roster in general would not be recognizable in comparison to their collection of “talent” two or three seasons ago.
“We’ve had questions in the past, but we don’t have a whole lot of questions,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a year of great experience in the pennant race and a tough playoff series against the Cardinals. But we’re going to be fine next year.
“Actually, from a managing standpoint, I look at the coming year, we’ve got guys that now are going to make it more difficult for me because they’ve earned the right to play more, and that’s a good problem to have. But this is one of the best ball clubs I’ve ever had.”
The only major question remaining is whether the Nationals will re-sign Adam LaRoche. Johnson has advocated strongly for LaRoche to return. He invited LaRoche to his charity golf tournament and, he said today, set LaRoche up with the best foursome. (LaRoche, incredibly, holed a double-eagle from 260 yards during the tournament.) His sales pitch continued at the winter meetings.
“Adam LaRoche is gonna come back,” Johnson said. “I mean, if I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will. I told him.”
The Nationals have held firm on giving LaRoche only a two-year contract, while LaRoche wants a three-year deal after both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2012. Johnson wants them to bridge the gap, to finish his managerial career with LaRoche on the field. If they can’t, Johnson will surely expect a championship, anyway, and he will not be shy about it.
“Shoot, I thought it was my last year 10 years ago,” Johnson said. “But I really like the challenge. And I said at the end of the year in ’11, that I wanted to be around because I thought this ball club, if we do the things I thought we were capable of doing, we could win the pennant.
“We came so far, and I’ve been with clubs where we made progress like the New York Mets when I first came in, and we won 90 games then 98, then 108. I think our organization, we’re primed to take that next step. Normally, it takes longer than the process last year. We made giant steps last year.”