Oct 26

Adding Williams as manager, keeping Knorr as coach could give Nats everything they want

The Nationals’ search for a new manager is apparently over with the reported selection of Arizona Diamondbacks’ coach Matt Williams to lead the team.

Williams, 47, current Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr and San Diego office assistant Brad Ausmus were on the team’s list of finalists as they seemed to be joining the trend of tapping former players who haven’t managed before but have worked with players as assistants or with the front office. That approach has paid off for the St. Louis Cardinals who groomed Mike Matheny for four years replace Tony LaRussa, then played for the National League pennant in his first season and the World Series title in his second.

Williams, who was finishing his players career in Arizona when Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo was the Diamondbacks’ scouting director, had been Rizzo’s first choice to replace the retired Davey Johnson for several months, reports Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. Knorr, 44, who Kilgore reports will remain as part of Williams’ coaching staff, was a favorite among some players, according to report compiled by Federal Baseball’s Patrick Reddington.

By adding Williams as manager and keeping Knorr on the staff, the Nationals could wind up filling all their leadership needs. As a player, Williams was known for his grit and intensity, as well as his emphasis on fundamentals, evidenced by four Gold Gloves. Williams is also known as an intense leader who always commanded the attention of the clubhouse and pushed players to do their best, former Arizona manager Bob Brenly told Kilgore.

Knorr gives his new manager the benefit of institutional knowledge, having worked most of the major league roster and many players in the minor leagues while working his way up through the organization since 2001. He is also a guy who won’t pull punches. Managing after Johnson was ejected from a July game against Pittsburgh, Knorr pulled closer Rafael Soriano off the mound after Soriano allowed the tying runs on base in the ninth inning. The Nats eventually won the game 7-5 on a walk-off homer by Bryce Harper.

The biggest potential source of criticism for the Nationals in this decision is the inclusion of Williams’ name on the Mitchell Report, an independent investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs that concluded that Williams was among 89 players who used steroids and human growth hormone. He would be, as Kilgore reports, the first major league manager with known ties to steroid use.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2007 that Williams bought more than $11,600 worth of steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs from a Palm Beach, Fla., clinic in 2002. Williams has admitted using HGH on a doctor’s advice to treat an ankle injury but said he did not like the effects it had on his body. There have been no other allegations that Williams used PEDs, but he and the Nationals would do well to address the issue themselves before anything else might come to light.

Aside from that, however, the Nationals have brought in a fiery leader with plenty of baseball savvy to go with a bench coach who knows the organization and its players inside and out. The team seems to have made a bold, yet intelligent, move to push a team with obvious talent closer to the success that its fans are craving.