Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Is it time to fire Davey Johnson?



Davey Johnson can't get this team in gear.  Is it time to go?  Photo Getty via

Davey Johnson can’t get this team in gear. Is it time to go? Photo Getty via

I know this is blasphemous to say.

I know it’ll never happen, not under this GM and not under this ownership group, both of whom have far more respect for Davey Johnson than to give him such an ignominious end to his time here.

And I know that Johnson is as good of a manager as is out there.  I may have been critical of his decisions here and there (especially related to yanking starters on low pitch counts), but I recognize he’s a Hall of Famer and cannot argue against his career accomplishments.

But I’m beginning to believe that the only way to shake this team out of its current malaise is to change the message coming from the top.

They tried demoting players who weren’t hitting (Danny EspinosaTyler Moore).   They’ve tried calling up their best remaining prospects (Anthony Rendon, Nathan Karns and Taylor Jordan).  They’ve tried cleaning house of underperforming relievers (Henry RodriguezZach Duke, and Drew Storen).  They’ve tried changing key staff (firing Rick Eckstein).  They’ve tried ridiculous lineups (your best power hitter Bryce Harper leading off??)   Nothing has made a difference; the team has basically been playing .500 ball for weeks and weeks now.

For whatever reason, this team of players, picked by every baseball pundit out there to make the playoffs and by a good portion to make it to or win the World Series, is now 10 games out of of the divisional lead.  They’re 10 games back of Atlanta, which themselves has only played .500 ball since mid April after a 12-1 start.  The Nats just finished June and July playing 50 games in a row against teams that missed the 2012 playoffs (perhaps not the best bench mark, since Pittsburgh has the best record in baseball this year, but still), and finished the stretch 5 games south of .500.

The team looks like its sleepwaking through games.  They look like they have no voice, no spark, no sense of urgency.  No leadership.

The trade deadline won’t help at all; the Nats have practically no tradeable assets.  Their only FAs to be are Dan Haren and Chad Tracy.  Kurt Suzuki has a 2014 option that clearly won’t be exercised, so he counts too.  But who is out there lineing up for these 3 guys?  Meanwhile, despite their offensive woes, there’s really not a spot on the field that can be improved through trade.  Go around the field and you’ve got players on deals that at least extend through 2014 (LaRoche and Span), or  you’ve got guys on major contracts (Zimmerman and Werth) or you’ve got cornerstone younger players (HarperRamosDesmond and Rendon).  Who are you going to replace?  Maybe you think about trading Rafael Soriano (after all, the last thing a losing team needs is a high-priced closer) but a quick glance at the teams in playoff contention does not easily find a team in need of a closer (the best candidate may be Pittsburgh, who just lost their closer Jason Grilli to a forearm injury, but they’re not exactly rolling in dollars nor likely to take on an $11M/year guy).

Maybe its time to bring in a new voice, and see if he can scare this team into an August and September run.

Sorry Davey; you know how the old saying goes.  You can’t fire 25 players, but its pretty easy to fire the manager.

12 Responses to 'Is it time to fire Davey Johnson?'

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  1. I wouldn’t fire him. I have been a very big Davey fan, going back to his days in NY, yet I agree with you that this has not been a good year for him. But he hasn’t lost the clubhouse, which is the main reason that I would fire a manager. I would let him ride out the season, although I now am less worried about him leaving at the end of the year (which I had been really against before). To be honest, years like this just happen sometimes, and maybe more often than us fans would like to admit. Player’s performances fluctuate around their true talent levels for a variety of reasons, and sometimes too many perform to the bottom of their expected ranges, which is how I really see this year. Many of them are at or just below the low side of the expected performance and it adds up to a crappy year.

    A more interesting thing to watch (to me) is what happens to Rizzo. He is still on these one year options and hasn’t been given a new deal. And since he talked the Lerners into their largest payroll commitment ever and the team is badly underperforming expectations, I wonder if the Lerners will let it ride again by exercising another option, and see what he does this offseason to turn things around. And that may anger him into leaving. It may be that those expectations look like they were unrealistic to begin with, but that doesn’t really matter.

    I like Rizzo. If I am the Lerners, I would extend him this offseason as a show of faith in his skills. And probably get a discount from what it would have been last offseason. But if they think like you (or the topic of this article, anyway) that would be a bigger wake up call to the team than firing a manager who has announced he is leaving in two months anyway.


    31 Jul 13 at 7:37 pm

  2. Firing Davey now doesn’t make much sense as this is already a lost season and no interim manager is going to be able to complete such a massive turnaround that quickly.

    Better to do the managerial search in the offseason when there will be no rush to find the right guy. I’m surprised the old man hasn’t stepped down voluntarily, but since he hasn’t they might as well let him ride out his final 54 games as a manager since this team is going nowhere.


    31 Jul 13 at 8:01 pm

  3. I have a theory on coaches/managers and it goes like this: for the most part managers are either a “Player’s Manager” or they’re an “Authoritarian type.” And players react/respond to guys in predictable ways. We had Frank Robinson, old school, grizzled guy, total authoritative guy. Eventually the players and especially veterans just get tired of being talked to like they’re 12 year olds, and they rebel. So then you bring in Manny Acta; total player’s manager, younger guy, friends with the guys, and the team appreciates the relaxation on the rules and responds by playing harder for “their friend” in the manager’s office.

    Except that human nature always shows through … and eventually players start to take advantage of the player’s manager. They’ll start dogging it b/c they know the manager is their buddy and isn’t going to discipline him. Eventually the clubhouse is in complete disarray with a lack of discipline, so you have to fire the manager and bring in …. the authoritative guy to restore order.

    And the cycle continues. Here at the nats:
    – Robinson (authoritative)
    – Acta (Player’s manager)
    – Riggleman (authoritative)
    – Johnson (player’s manager).

    Guess what this team needs, like right now (sort of the point of this post)? We need a short-term authoritative guy to come in, bust heads, get this team in line and move them forward. Bobby Valentine. someone like that.

    Now this theory breaks down when looking at some of the longer serving managers out there. I don’t know how to classify Joe Torre, who managed for a very very long time in New York. Or Joe Girardi. Maybe with a massive payroll and massive egos it’s a slightly different chore.

    What do you guys think?

    Todd Boss

    1 Aug 13 at 8:05 am

  4. The Rizzo issues are covered in Mike Wise’s WP article yesterday, and yeah they’re not insignificant ones. I’ve heard other grumbling out there on behalf of Rizzo questioning why he’s still not re-signed for an extension. I don’t see how you view his tenure as anything but a rousing success, even given this year.

    But, the criticisms of Rizzo’s man-management skills are real and a concern. As Wise alluded to, the handling of Storen, the klutzy way they told Lannan he was being sent down last year, and the whole Riggleman scenario all really point a picture of an arrogant egotistical general manager who doesn’t know how to talk to people.

    Todd Boss

    1 Aug 13 at 8:07 am

  5. I think it is hard to be an actual authoritative manager these days because the players have so much power, and especially with the rise of social media. Robby was one of the last of them. Riggs wasn’t, maybe he wasn’t quite a players manager but he was scared to bench the vets even when they sucked because he was scared to ‘lose the clubhouse’. But I agree with your theory that different personalities are needed every once in a while to shake things up, and the Nats are reaching that point.

    I didn’t read Wise’s article but I will. I think Rizzo does have people management issues, but not so bad that I would bring it into his stay/go decision. For me, I have a very simplistic view on what I want from a GM and manager. For a GM, acquire talent at all levels within budget parameters. Rizzo has done that, (although there is some question for me as to the real talent levels of guys like Ramos, Desi, Espy, Rendon,Span). As for the manager, I just want him to play the best guys, regardless of their status. Davey has usually done that in the past, but not the first half of this year by holding on to Espy etc for too long.


    1 Aug 13 at 8:27 am

  6. True, its harder to be authoritative because that comes with experience and respect. Looking around the majors i get the sense that you have authoritative/old school managers in the likes of Kirk Gibson, Don Mattingly (maybe?), Terry Collins, Charlie Manuel, Robin Ventura, Jim Leyland.

    Maybe it isn’t as cut and dried as it used to be; i mean: what is Joe Girardi? Is he one or the other? Seems like he’s more authoritative than player’s guy.

    Todd Boss

    1 Aug 13 at 8:58 am

  7. Read the Wise article, and while he makes some points, basically I think he overstates the role of all that. It is a job for the players, not a family. What the players need is a place where they get a chance to perform and advance their careers, and also some evidence that if they perform, they’ll be paid appropriately. The role of the public makes it more complicated than a normal workplace, but the basic rules apply. So I think the players have liked Rizzo because he added talent and increased the profile of the team, thereby giving the players more exposure and increasing their worth, and also paid the performers (meaning contracts for Zim, Gio, Werth, and bonuses for Stras &Harper). Whether he is an ass,or a macho guy, means much less to them than the first point.

    And the players also want a ‘boss’ that policies under performers, they just don’t want to have to do it themselves because of the social awkwardness involved with co-workers. Think about your own workplace where a manager doesn’t address underperformers, especially one where she causes the group to miss its bonus targets? Lots of unhappiness. So I don’t think there are too many unhappy Nats that Rizzo demoted Espy and Storen, because they are trying to win, and regardless of what they say publicly, these guys were really hurting the team.

    But the public role increases the chance that people start acting irrationally because they feel embarrassed. Maybe ‘acting emotionally instead of rationally’ is a better way to say it. And the Lerners run a chance of making Rizzo act that way if they don’t address his contract this offseason. By industry standards, he deserves it and they might not realize it (thinking along the lines of how the real estate business rewards employees), which is the kind of misunderstanding that leads to departures. And I think that he has easily demonstrated that he is a capable GM that deserves a five year extension at market rates. The Lerners still kind of worry me as owners. Not the ‘Lerners are Cheap’ stuff, but more that they ignore that this is a different industry than they are used to and they have to adjust their thinking accordingly.


    1 Aug 13 at 9:06 am

  8. I think of your group, only Gibson is authorative in the Robby school of managing. The rest almost always go out of the way to coddle players publicly. I’d put Girardi in that same camp.

    Of course, I really don’t know what happens behind the curtain.


    1 Aug 13 at 9:08 am

  9. You don’t think old grouchy Jim Leyland is a stickler for the rules? 🙂

    Todd Boss

    1 Aug 13 at 9:28 am

  10. I think the players identify him as more on their side than ‘management’, if that makes sense.


    1 Aug 13 at 11:07 am

  11. I have long felt that the Nats management reads your stuff. And voila!


    1 Aug 13 at 9:23 pm

  12. I’d be incredibly flattered if someone in any official capacity read my stuff. 🙂 Hell, i’m happy with the handful of readers I have now.

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 13 at 8:25 am

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