MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — If Davey Johnson has it his way, when the Nationals open spring training in February, the man sitting in the manager’s office will be the same one who is there now: him.
“I didn’t plan on starting this job,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “But when I start something I like to finish it. We haven’t finished anything.
“I’d like to come back. I signed on as interim manager with an extension in consulting and I like the direction the club has been taking and I like what I saw.”
Johnson spent the better part of pre-game on Wednesday meeting individually with each player and discussing their offseason plans, among other things. When the season officially ends Wednesday evening, Johnson will then go about making his recommendations for next year and one of the most important ones he will make will regard the managerial position.
In the most up-front he’s been about the situation, Johnson said: “I know I’m the best candidate.”
In the past three months, Johnson has set about putting the players into roles he feels they will excel in for the Nationals for years to come. He’s finally starting to see those decisions gel together as the Nationals have reeled off a 16-10 record in the season’s final four weeks and the Nationals young players and rookies have all begun to flourish. His record will be at least three games under .500 with 39 wins and 43 losses heading into the season finale against the Florida Marlins.
But the fact remains that as the Nationals close out the 2011 season, they’ll do so with more optimism and excitement surrounding their future than perhaps ever before. Johnson sees that, and he knows the talent they’ll have around for next year and coming up in the sytem. He wants to be a part of it.
“Now that I’ve seen it play out,” Johnson said, “It’s a challenge I wouldn’t mind handling.”
“I felt in spring that this club was not ready to win,” he added. “I felt that there was a lot of optimism but there were 10 question marks coming into spring training. I think coming into 2012 there’ll be very few questions. Competition will be maybe for one or two jobs.
“When that happens you have a chance to contend. That’s a realistic assessment. That’s why, I think, because of the (players) in (the clubhouse), that’s why this job is attractive to me. The challenge to get to that level, I like.”
To this point, Johnson has maintained publicly that he was undecided on managing the team in 2012. When he signed on to be the team’s manager for the remainder of the 2011 season, following the abrupt resignation of Jim Riggleman, Johnson negotiated a three-year consulting contract. That contract included a one-year option for him to manage the team in 2012 but until Wednesday, Johnson would not commit to even wanting to exercise it.
Earlier this week, general manager Mike Rizzo made it clear Johnson would be involved with the Nationals next year, whether in the dugout or the front office.
“Love Davey Johnson,” Rizzo said Sunday. “He’s going to be back next year, he’s signed a three-year contract. He’s going to be with me. He’s going to be back next year in some capacity. Either as the manager of the ballclub or have a big say as to who is the manager of the ballclub.”
Rizzo was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The Nationals will still need to go through an interview process and bring in other candidates they are considering for the position and to comply with Major League Baseball’s regulations. But Johnson is expected to be asked for his opinion on the matter and, judging by his comments Wednesday, his opinion will be that he should get the job.
“Every time I manage (my goal) has always been winning the division and contending,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have that opportunity this year. I would like to have the opportunity to have that opportunity.”
“I want what’s best for this organization, what’s best for this team,” Johnson said. “And if in my opinion what’s best for this team is to have me manage, that’s what I’m going to say.”