The Nationals and Bud Black agreed on Wednesday that he would become the sixth manager in the team’s 11 seasons. A formal announcement could come after the World Series. Black will be expected to repair relationships in the clubhouse, improve communication and the team’s play, and, more than anything, guide the Nationals back to the playoffs. Hiring Black is the Nationals’ biggest move of the offseason, but only the first. Much more is to come.
Black edged out Dusty Baker, and his 20 years of managerial experience, for the job. That Baker reached that far in the process is intriguing: During the 2013 managerial search, Baker’s agent reached out to General Manager Mike Rizzo but he wasn’t even interviewed. Baker and Black are the only candidates known to have been interviewed twice.
The Nationals met with both again on Monday and deliberated before a deal was struck with Black on Wednesday. According to people familiar with the situation, Baker impressed the Lerner family and knows some Nationals officials well; Black was liked by some of the front office.
Among Black’s first jobs will be building a coaching staff. Williams’ entire staff, including many long-time Nationals instructors, was dismissed when he was fired. Some of the coaches were told that Rizzo would recommend them to the next manager but, ultimately, Black will make his own choices. And by not interviewing former bench coach Randy Knorr, still beloved by the players, for the managerial vacancy, the Nationals sent a clear sign they want to start anew.
So we delve into some options for Black’s coaching staff. Rick Renteria, a former infielder who was Black’s bench coach in San Diego and went on to manage the Cubs for one season in 2014 before being pushed aside for Joe Maddon, is a frontrunner to be Black’s right-hand man again. His name came up as a bench coach option during the interview process. Renteria, who is fluent in Spanish, wants to manage again, but the Dodgers appear to be the only remaining vacancy. The Marlins (reportedly Don Mattingly), Padres (reportedly Andy Green) and Mariners (Scott Servais) have new managers in place.
Another potential option for bench coach is former Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, a former outfielder and friend of Black’s from their time together with the Angels. After being fired by the Brewers, Roenicke joined the Dodgers as third base coach and could be a managerial candidate there. Dave Roberts is a former outfielder and served as Black’s first base coach and bench coach when Renteria left for Chicago. He filled in for the Padres as manager for one game when Black was fired in June. All three are bench coach or first/third base coach material.
Potential options for pitching coach include Darren Balsley and Charles Nagy. Balsley, a former pitcher, has been the Padres’ pitching coach since 2003 and well-known for helping produce strong staffs. His two-year contract was up after the 2015 season, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Perhaps he could follow Black but Balsley grew up in San Diego and could stay. Nagy, a former all-star pitcher, is friends with Black, served as the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach from 2011 to 2013 and has been working in Cleveland’s front office. Rangers longtime pitching coach Mike Maddux, Greg’s brother, is also available.
It is unclear if the Nationals will bring back any of their former coaches but hitting coach Rick Schu could be an option. Black, a former pitcher himself, had five hitting coaches during eight and a half seasons in San Diego. Washington finished third in the NL in runs scored each of the past two years under Schu, who has deep connections with many Nationals players since the minor leagues.
All three former catchers on the Nationals coaching staff last year — Knorr, Bobby Henley and Matt LeCroy — took jobs working with the minor leagues within the organization. It is unclear where former first base/outfielders coach Tony Tarasco (known for his work with Bryce Harper, Michael A. Taylor, Tyler Moore and others), pitching coach Steve McCatty (reportedly on a short list for the same job in Detroit but lost out) and advance coach/defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier (the only coach Williams brought with him) will end up.
Aside from determining a coaching staff, the Nationals have many roster decisions looming. The qualifying offers must go out within five days of the World Series’ end. The bullpen, a strength of Black’s past teams, must be re-done, and the futures of Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon determined. The middle infield questions (Danny Espinosa where? Yunel Escobar where?) must be sorted out and the bench tweaked. Rizzo has always improved the roster the best way the front office sees fit but with some feedback from the manager.
Black must also get to know his players — the key to building relationships, as he is known to do well — but that won’t happen in earnest until spring training. He and Stephen Strasburg are both San Diego State alums so there’s one connection already. Oddly enough, Black, born in California but raised in Washington state, has at least one tie to the D.C. area: One of his daughters, Jessie, is a Maryland alum and was a gymnast there.