LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mike Rizzo’s work in Florida this week won’t conclude when he and his peers around the majors disperse from the general managers’ meetings at the Waldorf Astoria on Wednesday afternoon. Instead of jumping on a flight home, the Nationals general manager will drive south to West Palm Beach to spend a few days with the club’s new coaching staff. It will be a chance for Dave Martinez, the team’s rookie manager, and his coaches to convene for the first time. They will examine offseason priorities and discuss in-season strategy. It will be, Washington hopes, one of the first steps in a long, fruitful tenure for Martinez.
The Nationals veered from their usual way of handling managers when they agreed to give Martinez a three-year contract — the industry norm — with an option for a fourth year. They had previously refused to budge beyond two-year guaranteed deals for managers. Dusty Baker, for example, was given a two-year, $4 million contract — after negotiations with Bud Black had disintegrated — and would have been up for a raise if he returned.
Martinez, as expected for a rookie manager, will make less than Baker, a veteran skipper who had 20 years of experience before coming to Washington. Martinez will accrue $2.8 million over the first three years of his contract, and the fourth-year option is worth $1.2 million, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Martinez’s base salary for four years is, therefore, what Baker made in two, but it’s also in the range of what the Red Sox will pay Alex Cora, another first-time manager, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Last week, Washington nearly filled out the rest of Martinez’s coaching staff, hiring Derek Liliquist as pitching coach, Chip Hale as bench coach, Tim Bogar as first base coach and Joe Dillon as assistant hitting coach. Kevin Long, who interviewed for the managerial opening, was hired as hitting coach the previous week. Hale and Bogar, who also was considered for bench coach, bring substantial managerial experience from the minor and major leagues.
“There was no one particular aspect of the coaching staff we were looking for,” Rizzo said. “We just wanted to put the best group around Davey that complements him and facilitates the things he’s looking for. He’s the one who interviewed and decided on all of these guys. I think that’s important, for him to have a comfort level with all of these guys. He was acquainted with some. He knew some better than others. But he wasn’t here to hire friends and buddies that he’s amassed over the years. He wanted to get the guys around him who would help him the best he can as a big league manager.”
Bullpen coach is the lone vacancy remaining, though Henry Blanco is expected to be named to the position, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. A former catcher, the 46-year-old Blanco played 16 major league seasons and spent the past three seasons with Martinez on the Cubs’ coaching staff as a quality control coach.
“I think we’ve known all along that it takes a certain dynamic to handle today’s player,” Rizzo said. “Especially in a situation like ours where we’ve got a good mixture of veteran players and good young guys. We got a good core of young players, so you not only have to manage at the big league level, you have to teach at the big league level oftentimes. And I think this group of guys we have here is, they’re as good teachers as they are major league coaches. That’s going to be important moving forward.”
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