As Nationals’ manager search begins, Randy Knorr the players’ choice

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PHOENIX — The Washington Nationals packed their things for the final time in 2013 on Sunday afternoon. They said their goodbyes and parted ways for the long winter ahead.

And as they did it, they acknowledged that the next time they’re all together as a team, they will have a different manager. Davey Johnson’s tenure is over, and this week the Nationals will begin their search in earnest for the next man to lead them.

The weight of that decision was lost on no one.

“The only thing I ask of whoever makes the decisions on the managerial side of things is: Don’t mess it up,” said right-hander Tyler Clippard. “We’ve got a good thing going on here. Hopefully whoever comes in here next year realizes that, and the dynamic of the chemistry that we’ve built over the last two seasons is a very important thing.”

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has been mum on the team’s plans for the managerial search, declining to discuss it at all while the Nationals’ season was ongoing.

Now that it’s done, Rizzo and his front office will get to work and spend the next few weeks fine-tuning their list, reaching out to ask permission from other clubs where necessary, and setting up interviews with all of their potential candidates.

Johnson’s bench coach, Randy Knorr, and third base coach Trent Jewett are expected to be among those interviewed. Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams has been rumored to be in the mix, and Cal Ripken Jr.’s name has been bandied about in the media. Beyond that, the Nationals could look to more veteran candidates, depending on the way other opportunities around the league shake out.

While Rizzo said he would be foolish not to ask Johnson for his input on a successor, the GM does not expect to run the decision by his players. “I don’t think that’s a place for the players to dabble in,” he said Saturday. “It’s an organizational decision and it’s got to be an organizational fit.”

What he might find if he asked, though, is a group that already has a pretty good idea of who they’d like to lead them.

“For me to say anybody else but Randy would be a lie,” said shortstop Ian Desmond, who is one of several Nationals players who came through the minor leagues under Knorr’s management. “That’s who I want to see as the manager of this ballclub. With that being said, I wouldn’t ever doubt any move that Mike Rizzo made.”

“I think the relationships and communication is more important at this level than actual teaching,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I think Randy and the [coaches] we have here bring a comfortability. They give us that relaxed feeling and being able to go talk to them, whether it’s good or bad.

“On the other hand, you bring in a big name guy who you pay millions of dollars to manage, I’ve never been a real big fan of that. I guess certain teams like that, or whatever, but I think Randy came up with a bunch of us. He’s been around with a long time, obviously being with Davey and being the bench guy, he’s learned a ton. I think he’s qualified.”

Knorr has never interviewed for a major league managerial job before, and he’s looking forward to going through the process, though he stressed the “if” in saying he’d be honored “if he’s considered.” And he understood that the Nationals’ will go through a thorough search.

“I think it’s cool that [the players] think of me that way because I’ve had a lot of them,” Knorr said. “I’m a lot like Davey. I think people misunderstand me because of a couple things that have happened during the course of the year. … I’m not the old football coach who gets in everybody’s face, but I expect you to respect the game and play the game the right way and when you don’t do that I think you need to be told.”

The Nationals’ job is considered one of the most desirable in the game, so it is likely that Rizzo and the team’s ownership group will have an opportunity to select whomever they’d like. While not much past that is certain at this point, one thing that is sure is that their players will be watching.

“Those kind of decisions are out of our hands,” Clippard said. “Those are tough decisions to make, but at the end of the day, where our organization stands right now, we’re going to be in a good spot going into next year, from a player standpoint.”

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