The Washington Nationals and Dave Martinez Play the Long Game

By | February 20, 2018
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Dave Martinez is a baseball guy. He was traded five times, played for four teams in one season, and played 11 seasons in the majors collecting 1,599 hits. Not a bad stat line for a journeyman.

Now, after two successful seasons with failed playoff runs under Dusty Baker, Martinez takes over a talented Washington Nationals team loaded with talent and filled with question marks. Mainly: can Washington get past their playoff failures of the past?

“He’s talked about kind of changing the culture here a little bit,” Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said. “There’s been so much made getting over the hump of that first round of the playoffs, when I think the focus needs to be winning the World Series. That’s the kind of mentality that he’s got”

The new skipper has arrived in Washington with one goal in mind: “We’re not here just to win a playoff game. We’re here to win the World Series.”

Easier said than done in these parts. After multiple successful regular seasons behind Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, and Dusty Baker, Washington is still searching for the final piece to the puzzle, and made a statement immediately by giving Martinez a three-year guaranteed contract. Something the team had not done for any of the previous managers.

Per Eddie Matz of ESPN, “The fact that the Nats were willing to commit three years to Martinez should not be overlooked. For starters, it shows that the Lerners are making good on their name and, well, learning. They’re learning that, in a managerial market where veterans (Ron Gardenhire, Tigers) as well as newcomers (Alex Cora, Red Sox) are garnering three-year pacts, two years simply won’t make the cut.”

Martinez learned under the tutelage of World Series-winning manager Joe Maddon. After spending 11 years as Maddon’s chief strategist in Tampa Bay and Chicago, Martinez brings an unorthodox and energetic feel to the Nats club house.

Trust circles and music playing while the players stretch and play catch are early examples of the loose clubhouse Martinez seeks. The roster, currently a mix of veterans and young guns who have their feet wet in the bigs, should take well to their new managers tactics.

Despite the talent, however, there remains a major question mark on the new manager’s resume: this is Dave Martinez’s first managerial position — at any level. Yet, the Nationals do not seem to care. They are banking on the 53 years of having to prove himself to those around him.

Washington’s new manager is used to being overlooked. From being picked 819th (second to last), going to community college, and being skipped over by multiple teams (including the Nationals in 2014) looking for a manager, Martinez is more than prepared to handle the pressures of a high profile managerial job. Proving his doubters wrong is natural.

However, time will tell if the Nationals can get over the hump. They hired a new manager with no experience to lead a team ready to contend. Washington’s front office did so because they have grown tired of the old managerial style deployed by Johnson, Williams, and Baker.

Instead, Martinez favors analytics and match-ups. In other words, there will be no pitching to Anthony Rizzo with your 5th best reliever out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of a tie game. That in and of itself is an improvement.

The Lerner’s have grown frustrated, and are desperate to win now. Ted Lerner, at 92 years young, is tired of watching the same (horror) movie, and his desire to win now is printed all over the organization.

“Winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough,” said GM Mike Rizzo, explaining the team’s decision to part with Baker. “Our goal is to win a world championship.”

Martinez is now charged with that goal. Handed the keys to a stacked roster, the Nats should ride their talent through the season to a third consecutive NL East crown. October will tell the Nationals organization if they made the right decision.

“I keep hearing about this ‘hump,’” said Martinez.

Rizzo would probably call it more of a mountain.

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