- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2015


In 1995, when I was covering the Baltimore Orioles, they lost four consecutive road games to the Boston Red Sox when they were struggling to get into the wild card race. The sweep was embarrassing and pretty much knocked them out of postseason contention.

After the final 3-2 loss to Boston, I spoke to owner Peter Angelos. In those early days of his ownership, Angelos spoke to many media members on a regular basis.

He asked me if he should fire manager Phil Regan the next day.

This, obviously, was an uncomfortable situation for a beat writer, who has no business giving his opinion to the owner on whether or not he should fire the manager. This was the price you paid for speaking with Angelos on a regular basis — and learning what the owner was thinking while you covered the team. It was often a valuable compromise.

I told him no, that they were out of the race, that the Cal Ripken Jr. streak festivities were coming up, and most people would pay attention to that and not his team’s disappointing season. Firing Regan might only take away from that attention, I told him.

Regan finished the season. I have no idea if my opinion convinced the Orioles’ owner, but he sought out the opinion of someone other than his general manager to determine Regan’s future. It happens more often than you would believe.

I wonder what Scott Boras has been telling Ted Lerner about Matt Williams?

The super agent has the ear of the Washington Nationals’ owner. It was Lerner who, after meeting with Boras in the fall of 2008, drove up the bidding for free agent Mark Teixeira, knocking the Red Sox out of the bidding and resulting in the New York Yankees signing him to a $180 million contract. It’s been a tight relationship ever since.

Boras talks to Lerner? Rafael Soriano is signed to two-year, $28 million deal in January 2012. Boras talks to Lerner? Max Scherzer is signed to a seven-year, $210 million contract this past January.

Is Boras talking to Lerner about Williams‘ future in Washington?

For much of this disappointing season, the only reports of note about discord within the clubhouse about Williams came from CBS Sports.

The only place you were hearing items like, “It’s said to be an ‘unhappy scene’ around the Nats, as manager Matt Williams has not be well-received by many players, who find him ‘not loose’ and ‘never relaxed’” was from that outlet, which reported that nearly two months ago. No one else seemed to be hearing that, including myself.

Then, buried at the bottom of a long notebook about each major league team a little more than a week ago, was another nugget about Williams.

“Manager Matt Williams is all but assured of a pink slip if the Nats don’t somehow sneak into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the prevailing belief seems to be that GM Mike Rizzo is likely to get another chance following what can only be considered a debacle if they don’t make it.”

“Bryce Harper [a Boras client] made a nice statement about Williams, a nice man, when he went over and hugged him after a recent homer. And Harper provided glowing comments about his belief in Williams. But the silence from that clubhouse has been otherwise deafening in that regard.”

No one else was writing that Williams‘ future was already decided. Only one other report we’ve seen about the clubhouse’s disenchantment with Rizzo was published on Saturday night. And, at this point — 155 games of what has been a long and frustrating season — one would be hard pressed to find happy or satisfied voices anywhere in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

We saw that frustration spill over into the dugout on Sunday when Jonathan Papelbon got into a bizarre fight with Bryce Harper in the 12-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Jon Heyman, the author of the CBS Sports reports, is a nationally respected baseball writer, and he may have been right all along. It has been long widely believed that Boras is one of his most reliable and consistent sources.

The question is, then, if Boras — or Boras’ clients in the clubhouse — are the source of these definitive reports about Williams‘ future, is it because Boras knows what Lerner is thinking or is it because this is what Boras is telling Lerner?

Boras washed his hands of the decision publicly recently in an appearance on ESPN 980’s “The Man Cave,” when, while attributing the disappointing season to the number of injuries key Nationals players suffered this season, said it wasn’t his place to evaluate Williams‘ job.

The number of Boras clients on the Nationals — now eight, with the defection of Denard Span — would suggest otherwise.

Boras is a smart baseball man, and if anyone is telling Lerner that Williams should be fired, they may be right. It’s not because he is the reason for this disappointing season, when the whole world picked Washington to easily win the National League East and go on to the World Series.

Williams wasn’t the reason this team won 96 games last year, when he was named the National League Manager of the Year, and he is not the reason for the collapse, either. It’s the players, plain and simple — the ones that Jayson Werth told reporters “underachieved” this year.

The Nationals lost a remarkable number of key players to injuries this year, and Williams actually was given credit for keeping this team in first place for much of the year with Werth, Span, Ryan Zimmerman and last year’s best offensive player, Anthony Rendon, out of the lineup for much of the year. Then, when they returned, they were stuck in spring training start-up mode at the plate and struggled.

The safety net for all of these woes was supposed to be the starting pitching, but Scherzer, who was a Cy Young candidate in the first half of the season, has fallen apart in the second half. Jordan Zimmermann, about to enter free agency, cost himself money with a subpar season, and Doug Fister, arguably their most reliable starter last year, fell so far they were afraid to put him on the mound as a starter.

No, this one is on the players.

The problem is that Williams doesn’t make a very sympathetic victim. He comes across as humorless and tightly wound — neither of which serve him well publicly or in the clubhouse.

But does that mean he should — or will — be fired?

A lot goes into the equation other than the record of this team this year. The Lerners don’t particularly like paying managers, and now they would be asked to pay not one, but two, at the same time, as Williams has one year left on his contract.

Who would they choose to replace Williams? Any candidate of note and with experience is going to cost money — more than they are paying Williams.

Things change from day to day. On Friday, the headline in Detroit was that the Tigers’ late fade would inevitably cost manager Brad Ausmus his job. On Saturday, Detroit general manager Al Avila announced Ausmus would return next season.

“The most important time is, when things are going bad and the [stuff] hits the fan, let’s just say, OK, now let’s see what these guys are made of,” Avila told reporters. “That’s when the real inner person comes out, and [Ausmus] has shown me that he is calm, cool and collected and has continued the course, continued working through all kinds of stupid stuff that’s been going out there. And, that’s what’s impressed me. That’s impressed me.”

You could make the case that Williams has done all that as well.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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