By DERON SNYDER
The Washington Nationals aren’t asking much of their new skipper, no, not at all. Dave Martinez has never been a manager but he has a simple edict in his new job:
Win the World Series.
He has been forewarned that 95-wins and a division title won’t suffice.
Martinez certainly has a capable team to tackle the task. He will doodle on cards with one of baseball’s deepest lineups. He can open a series with two of the sport’s top starting pitchers. He has an array of solid bullpen components to use however he sees fit.
The Nationals will be among MLB’s best teams entering 2018. They enjoyed the same distinction this season and last, as well as 2012 and 2014. But they have nothing to show except four NL East flags and a poor reputation in the postseason.
You’d think Martinez could claim a measure of success if he gets Washington over the first-round hump. No other Nationals skipper has done that. Not Dusty Baker (14th on baseball’s all-time wins list); not Davey Johnson (Manager of the Year in both leagues plus a World Series ring); and not Matt Williams (Manager of the Year as a rookie).
But winning the NLDS isn’t the same as winning a world championship, the Nats’ stated goal when they parted with Baker. Even winning the NLCS would leave Martinez short of the mark. If he advances only to lose the Fall Classic – which exceptional teams can do (see Houston or Los Angeles) – he’s a failure according to the Nats’ expectations.
No pressure there, huh?
Like Martinez, Williams had never managed prior to landing in Washington. But general manager Mike Rizzo gave him the keys and Williams steered the fully-loaded luxury squad to 96 wins. Martinez conceivably could lead the Nationals to more wins than the franchise-record 98 registered by Johnson in 2012. But the new guy must deliver 11 victories over three postseason rounds to justify Washington’s decision.
“We have been very clear about our goals as an organization and we feel confident we’ve found the right man to help us reach them,” owner Ted Lerner said in a statement.
Washington isn’t leaving much wiggle room for Martinez, but there’s a precedent. In fact, Rizzo has first-hand experience with a first-time manager who sprayed champagne after a season’s final out.
Rizzo was the Arizona Diamondbacks scouting director in 2001 when Bob Brenly was hired. Brenly, who had been a coach and broadcaster, left the booth to accept the Diamondbacks job and became the fourth manager to win the World Series in his first season.
Before Brenly, you must go all the way back to Ralph Houk, who won as a rookie skipper with the New York Yankees in 1961. (Houk won again in 1962 and lost a three-peat attempt in 1963.) The other first-timers are Eddie Dyer (St. Louis Cardinals in 1946) and Bucky Harris (player/manager of the Washington Senators in 1924).
Let’s pause for perspective. Baseball Reference lists 699 major-league managers. Martinez is trying to join the .006 percent who hoisted the trophy in their inaugural season.
As if being the one manager out of 30 in a given season isn’t hard enough.
By all accounts, Martinez is well respected, well liked, and considered an excellent managerial prospect. But turning to a rookie is a bit odd in these circumstances, when a veteran was jettisoned because he didn’t take the franchise further than it’s ever gone.
Martinez has seen the road while riding shotgun for Joe Maddon through two pennants and a World Series title. But the Nats’ new manager has never driven. We have no idea how he’ll handle potholes and curves and construction zones and speed traps. There’s no track record to prove he knows what he’s doing.
“As we went through this process it became clear the type of manager we were looking for – someone who is progressive, someone who can connect with and communicate well with our players and someone who embraces the analytical side of the game,” Rizzo said in a statement. “We came away from the process feeling like there was absolutely no one better suited – who matched up to what this organization needs right now – than Dave.”
He sounds great on paper, perfect in theory. With good fortune, healthy players, a wise bench coach, an effective staff, and smart roster tweaks by Rizzo, Martinez has a great chance to be successful next season.
For anyone else, that would mean 95 wins and a division title.
But for Martinez, it’s World Series or bust.
Welcome to Washington. Enjoy!