This manager, this time, did a half-spin when he pulled on his Washington Nationals jersey. On the back was the No. 4 and across the shoulders was the name “Martinez.” He didn’t do the full heel pivot like Dusty Baker two years ago. He also needed moderate encouragement to add a little flash when tugging on his new attire.
Welcome to the Nationals, Dave Martinez. That man next to you? Mike Rizzo? That family in the front row? The Lerners? They expect you to win the World Series in your first managerial job.
The key operative words Thursday afternoon in the Nationals’ clubhouse, where Martinez, 53, was introduced, were “creative” coupled with “analytical” and the not-so-subtle emphasis on winning the World Series as soon as possible. There will be no time to build up. No time to revamp. Martinez and Rizzo will fill out the coaching staff, pitchers and catchers will report around Feb. 13, 2018, and, in the fall, everyone will be judged through a narrow and specific lens.
“I think moving forward, this team doesn’t lack much, it really doesn’t,” Martinez said. “I think we just got to get over the fact that we’re not just here to win a playoff game. We’re here to win the World Series.”
Applause from the non-reporters followed that statement.
Rizzo mentioned “creative” and “analytical” in his opening statement. He later repeated those words when sitting in front of the cameras, then again when wading through a side session of interviews. The emphasis was clear. So much so, the statements hanged in the air like an indictment of the team’s last manager, Baker.
Martinez was almost in this position four years ago. The Nationals chose rookie manager Matt Williams instead of Martinez. This time, Martinez was less in the running and more so the early leader for the job. Rizzo announced Friday, Oct. 20, that Baker would not be back. He was in Tampa, Florida, spending a long day with Martinez early the following week. Rizzo mentioned that the club interviewed “several” candidates. Based on the timeline — Baker out, Rizzo to Florida, Martinez introduced less than two weeks later — the field was narrow and Martinez ran as a heavy favorite. He is Washington’s sixth full-time manager since 2009.
“Well, we’re good at it,” Rizzo joked about the rapid hiring pace. “We know what we’re doing. We’ve had a lot of practice at it.”
Martinez was among the process, not the specifically pursued, when he lost out to Williams in 2013. Rizzo explained Thursday that Martinez’s boost in experience, he was the bench coach when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, and extra responsibilities as “co-manager” in Chicago had changed the person being considered to run the Nationals.
“He was much more confident in what he brings to the table, rather than four years ago, a lot of it was about the process of ‘Joe and myself, Joe and myself,’” Rizzo said. “And this was about how he does things and how he’s going to do it and how he would do it moving forward. He took a greater role when he was with the Cubs. Joe Maddon, who I spoke to many, many times about this, he called him his co-manager. And [Cubs president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] bragged about the culture that he was greatly responsible for developing. Those were probably the main two differences that transpired in those four years.”
Martinez walks into a turn-key situation. The nine players expected to be on the field for the 2018 opener are easy to project today, though it’s early November. Count Daniel Murphy among them despite Oct. 20 knee surgery. Rizzo said Thursday they are “optimistic” that Murphy will be ready for Opening Day, but cautioned that he is making that statement on Nov. 2. Should Murphy be ready, the starting nine is clear. The back of the bullpen is clear. Even parts of the bench are apparent.
Which only adds pressure.
“My message, from here on, it is to play the last game of the World Series and win,” Martinez said. “That’s all we’re going to concentrate on.”
Martinez has immediate duties ahead. He needs to start talking to players as well as filling out his coaching staff. Rizzo said they have started digging around on potential staff members and even started right away on Thursday by hiring Kevin Long to be his hitting coach. Long replaces Rick Schu and has been the New York Mets’ hitting coach over the past three seasons. Before that, Long worked in the New York Yankees’ front office for seven years. Martinez said he will be flying to Arizona next weekend to be at an event with Max Scherzer. Meanwhile, the Nationals declined the $5 million mutual option on first baseman Adam Lind, making him a free agent.
Thursday, the people still with the organization and those yet to come, heard a unified message. Rizzo emphasized winning the World Series. Martinez backed it. The hiring powers applauded to express their satisfaction with the ideal. A day after the Houston Astros took the title, Las Vegas pegged the Nationals with the fourth-best odds in baseball to win it next season. If they don’t, someone else could be pulling on their Nationals jersey sooner than later.