With 33 games remaining in the regular season, the hot seat continues to get warm for Washington Nationals’ manager Matt Williams. While president and general manager Mike Rizzo continues to insist Williams’ job is safe, someone would have to be the fall guy if the team misses the postseason. As I have stated before, if the Nats are going to make a change at manager, they need to go with an experienced manager with a winning track record. The question is, where could they find one of those managers?
Last night, there was an interesting piece of news that maybe could affect the Nats going forward? As first reported by Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and MLB Network, Cleveland Indians’ president Mark Shapiro is leaving Cleveland after being the team’s president since 2010 to join the Toronto Blue Jays.
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With Shapiro joining the Blue Jays, there is an opt-out clause in manager Terry Francona’s contract, stating that if Shapiro or general manager/executive vice president Chris Antonetti elected to leave the Indians, Francona can choose to get of his Indians’ contract that runs through 2018 with team options for 2019 and 2020. However, it doesn’t sound like Francona will leave if you go by the comments he made to the media on Friday:
"“I mean, if Mark’s not here, there’s a time I guess to talk about that, and things like that, but I think part of maybe one of the reasons Mark maybe would even think about leaving is because I think he’s confident that things are in place the way we have worked so hard to do it.” (h/t Jordan Bastian, MLB.com)"
Last night, I spoke with Nicholas Blazek, who is the editor at the Indians’ Fansided site, Wahoo’s On First, to get his thoughts on if Francona would use that opt-out clause and if the Nats would be a fit.
"“After seeing the situation with Maddon, the Rays and the Cubs – I won’t say he wouldn’t consider it. I know his public words have been he wouldn’t use it for ‘leverage’, but you’ve got an ubdsrperforming team that had high expectations, and new GMs like to have their own guy in place. The Nats are in a similar situation. Talented, but results aren’t there. I think it could come down to his confidence in Cleveland that he keeps his job. And I don’t know that level that would be right now. Francona can’t know who’s interested because that’s tampering. But I could see DC as tempting.”"
Francona, who will be 57 next season, is most well-known for being the manager of the Boston Red Sox during the team’s World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, the club’s first championship since 1918. He has been the manager of the Indians since 2013. In his first season, he won AL manager of the year and took the Tribe to the AL Wild Card Game.
However, the Indians are on the verge of missing the playoffs each of the last two seasons in a division that is currently dominated by the Kansas City Royals. If Francona wants a quick shot at a World Series, the Nationals could be the place for him, should the Lerners and Mike Rizzo elect to make a change.
One thing that Francona brings to an organization is credibility. While the Nats have established some credibility with their two division titles in the previous three seasons, Francona knows how to win the big games in October and has experiencing managing with that type of pressure. The Nation’s Capital isn’t striving for a title like Boston was, but you can tell the Lerners really want to bring a title to DC. Adding a manager like Tito could be the guy who takes them the next step in some of those key spots .
While the Nationals would look different next year should guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond leave for free agency, the Nats would still be in a winnable division as the Mets and Nats have separated themselves from the NL East, at least this season. Plus, Francona knows how to manage a bullpen if you go off the fact that the Indians have had a top ten bullpen ERA in baseball in 2014 and currently, in 2015.
In my opinion, if the Nats are going to make a change, they would need to go out and make that splash hire. Francona is a manager who knows how to win and he would not bring any doubts about his decisions as Williams has done with key decisions such as in last year’s NLDS.
Plus, we have seen the impact Joe Maddon has had on the Cubs and he left Tampa Bay when Andrew Friedman was named president of the Dodgers. While I think Francona will remain loyal to Cleveland, the Nats need to consider making a run at Francona if he is open to leaving the state of Ohio.