The Washington Nationals have agreed to a deal with Chicago Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez to become their next manager. The team is finalizing a three-year contract with an option for a fourth, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Martinez has served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Chicago and Tampa Bay for a decade but will be a first-time manager.
Martinez was considered the front-runner to replace Dusty Baker since the Nationals parted ways with the veteran manager last week. The club received permission to discuss the job with him Monday and he interviewed in Washington on Thursday, a lengthy process that included dinner with ownership. The Nationals also interviewed former Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell on Friday and were also granted permission to speak with New York Mets hitting coach Kevin Long. It is unclear whether the team actually interviewed Long, however.
The Nationals reached out to Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who was already closing in on a deal to become the next manager of the Red Sox at the time, and also made at least a cursory inquiry about former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, according to a person with knowledge of the process, but the two sides never met or scheduled an interview.
Martinez, 53, represents a stark departure from Baker, who was the winningest active manager when his Nationals tenure ended. Martinez will be the Nationals’ second rookie manager in five seasons; Matt Williams won the National League manager of the year award and took the Nationals to the playoffs in 2014 but things fell apart in his second season and he was fired after missing the playoffs in 2015.
The last rookie manager to lead a team to a World Series title was Bob Brenly with the Diamondbacks in 2001. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was the scouting director for Arizona at the time.
Martinez experienced a decade-long education under Maddon, who is considered one of baseball’s most forward-thinking managers with a willingness to buck baseball tradition when needed. Exactly how much of Maddon has rubbed off on Martinez remains to be seen, but the Nationals’ new manager does have a history of playoff success. The Rays won the American League pennant in 2008, and he was a part of the Cubs’ curse-smashing World Series victory a year ago. The Cubs advanced to the National League Championship Series in Martinez’s other two seasons with Maddon in Chicago.
Martinez gives the Nationals a different look — a fresher face than Baker or Davey Johnson, but a more relaxed leader than Williams. He is fluent in Spanish, well-versed in advanced analytics and multiple Nationals players have spoken highly of him. Martinez is the third Latino manager in baseball, joining Rick Renteria and Cora. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts is the only African American manager remaining.
Martinez has been interviewed by multiple organizations for their managerial positions since 2010, including when he was considered a finalist to replace Johnson with the Nationals in 2013. Washington hired Williams instead. After Williams was fired, the Nationals selected Bud Black to replace him but negotiations broke down and the job went to Baker instead. Baker was let go despite posting seasons of 95 and 97 wins but failing to advance past the NL Division Series. The Nationals lost decisive Game 5s in both series.
But the Nationals did not struggle to negotiate with their manager this time, committing three years (and perhaps a fourth) to Martinez in a marked departure from their normal handling of managers. The Lerner family earned a reputation for putting little value on managers, a reputation borne out in their unwillingness to provide extensions to veterans like Baker (or Jim Riggleman), and in their initial offers to candidates over the years. But while the financial terms of Martinez’s deal are not known, the length of the deal signals recognition of the state of the managerial market (Cora and Ron Gardenhire, named new manager of the Detroit Tigers earlier this month, each got three-year deals).
Official word of a deal likely won’t come until Monday morning, as Major League Baseball prefers its teams to hold off on major announcements until after the World Series. This one likely won’t wait that long, though a news conference might. The Astros and Dodgers — both of whom have young managers similar to Martinez — play Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday before a day off Monday.
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