Washington Nationals' Next Manager: Don Mattingly?

By Nick Comando
Gary A. Vasquez- USA Today Sports

Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals are off to unexpected starts, and not in a positive way.

The Dodgers sit six games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants for first place in the NL West at 20-27, while Washington sits 5.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves at 25-24. This means that two teams that were expected to pace the league in both wins and dominance are a combined 45-51 on May 26.

Of course, Los Angeles can look to having 10 different Dodgers on the DL during the young season as their reasons. The Nationals simply have not been able to string good games together.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is no doubt on the hot seat. Since Guggenheim Baseball purchased the team in the young 2012 season for about $2 Billion, Los Angeles has added about $125 million in payroll, going from National League laughingstock under Owner Frank McCourt, who saw the team as a personal ATM, to a World Series Contender with the deals made by Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti.

Many think if the Dodgers do not turn things around, Mattingly’s proverbial head will roll. Reports have surfaced this week stating if that does happen, Mattingly will pull a Fredi Gonzalez, and land on his feet … as the 2014 manager of the Washington Nationals.

The Nationals’ current skipper, Davey Johnson, is 70 and has said that 2013 will be his last season in the dugout, converting back to a consultant to Mike Rizzo after 2013. Based on Washington’s 2013 start, that may have been an unintentional lie by Johnson — if the Nationals do not turn things around, of course.

If or when the Nationals do turn things around, Johnson will try to ride out into the sunset on a high note as one of the best managers in Baseball history, especially since he went 10 years between managerial jobs and seemingly did not skip a beat, helping turn the Nationals into one of the best teams in baseball.

The aforementioned reports have stated that Rizzo may want another “big name” Manager to follow Johnson, if he does indeed retire.

For years, Nationals writers and fans have seen Rizzo’s strategy of “promoting from within,” especially in the minors. Each of their minor league coaches and managers have had their starts in the Nationals organization, for the most part. Randy Knorr and Trent Jewett, Washington’s bench coach and third base coach, respectively, both managed Washington’ Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse before joining the major league team. Many believed that Houston Astros manager Bo Porter was Johnson’s successor in waiting, but took the Astros job.

With a manager like Johnson leaving, the Nationals probably do not have much of a choice but to hire someone with experience or a recognizable name. Following Johnson is a tough enough act to follow, and having a guy like Knorr or Jewett follow with no previous MLB managerial experience would be darn near impossible.

Of course, with the recent success of Robin Ventura, Mike Matheny and Walt Weiss to a smaller degree, it may not be as crazy as some would think.

Since taking over for Joe Torre after he left the organization in 2010, Mattingly has gone 188-182 (.508) in less than three full seasons at the helm, with most of those years managing spare parts and bargain basement players. Mattingly did improve by four wins from year one to year two, and many regard him as a good manager who just needs a fair shot, which he may not get in L.A. because of the inflated expectations to match the inflated payroll.

If that is the case, he may be a very good fit in Washington, a team that was built and had success before he got there, and where he would be given a fair shake as Washington has shown patience with their players, and would not fire him to appease their fan base.

Personally, I would try to see if Porter would leave Houston for a team ready to win now. Porter knows the players, they know him, and he probably would not change the coaching staff too much. Mattingly is not a bad choice, but the Nationals need to assess the full market first.

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