After the firing of Nationals manager Matt Williams and his whole support staff, the 2015 campaign for the Washington baseball team has finally come to an end. Williams’ future as a manager in the majors isn’t set in stone; he could one day become a great manager, but, alas, that time will not come in D.C. His numerous mental and philosophical miscues unequivocally were his downfall, but this disastrous season was not a one-man effort.
If there was a “blame pie” to pass around for this debacle, a healthy chunk would be reserved for Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo, who not only placed a ready-made title contender into the hands of a neophyte manager, but also didn’t make the necessary changes to the roster when there were ample opportunities to improve lackluster performances. Also, his handling of looming free agencies for a number of players may have actually became n hindrance in the clubhouse because of their play. Slow starts for pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, short stop Ian Desmond, outfielder Denard Span (mostly injury) and pitcher Doug Fister were a huge factor in this. The last straw was the acquisition of known malcontent Jonathan Papelbon to take over as closer from incumbent Drew Storen. First off, Papelbon demanded to become the closer or he wouldn’t accept the trade, and that alone should have raised a red flag for Mr. Rizzo. Washington had a 52-46 record and a one-game lead in the division the day it traded for Papelbon to bolster a bullpen anchored by Storen, who had 29 saves, a 1.73 ERA and just two blown saves at the time. The demotion from closer to setup man was a harsh blow for Storen, who recorded an 8.49 ERA in August.
Also, as has been reported in various publications, the clubhouse was fractured a bit by the Tyler Clippard trade in the offseason, which was panned by players and fans alike, but may have been a mandate from ownership to save a little money at a position that normally doesn’t pay the huge bucks. That penny pinching by ownership deserves a slice of that blame pie as well. As a contender, especially in baseball, if your players continue to improve their individual games, hard decisions arise. But, as a franchise, you cannot penny pinch with your bullpen and then go around and give players like starter Max Scherzer more than $200 million over seven years. That’s essentially crying wolf. The players in the locker room may love Scherzer, but quietly (or not so quietly) they still vent their frustrations over the whole process.
And lastly, besides Bryce Harper (the would-be National League MVP) and Yunel Escobar, there wasn’t anyone on the 25-man roster that outplayed his preseason expectations. You can blame your team manager and you can blame your GM, but at the end of the day, as a man/leader/player, you must have some sort of intestinal fortitude and take pride in your job. At the end of the day, players play. Every player on this roster has to take the stench of this season into their individual offseasons and hopefully the new manager and GM will shore up holes in the roster going into spring training. Maybe players can actually stay healthy through a full campaign. Who knows. But expect some high-profile names to be on the trading block, maybe even Stephen Strasburg. After this season, anything is possible.
Day One for 2016 redemption starts now.