While the Washington Nationals re-upped, with shiny new contracts, for manager Dave Martinez at the end of August and his boss, Mike Rizzo, in mid-September, most of Martinez’s coaches did not have their contracts extended per Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic.
While that is not much of a surprise to read the headline, the two coaches thought to be on the hot seats, pitching coach Jim Hickey and hitting coach Darnell Coles, appear to have survived the upheaval. Per Ghiroli, it is bench coach Tim Bogar, third base coach/infield coach Gary DiSarcina, first base coach/baserunning coach Eric Young Jr., and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler who are all out.
The Nats will obviously be replacing all of these coaches, and the question will be as to where they turn as Martinez has made it clear that he wants to return to playoff contention. His team just finished a 71-91 season, their best since he managed his way to a World Series championship less than four years ago. Finding great coaches, would be a step in the right direction.
The Nats also had three key spots in Rizzo’s front office to fill after a reshuffling with scouting director Kris Kline who moved to a new Assistant GM role, the team mutually parted ways with their head of Latin America player development, Johnny DiPuglia, and they did not renew the contract of their VP of Player Development, De Jon Watson.
Kline’s spot was filled by Danny Haas who comes over with years of experience, and was told that there will be more emphasis on hiring an experienced draft scout under Haas, who was most recently a special assignment scout within the Diamondbacks organization. DiPuglia’s spot was filled internally by Fausto Severino. And Watson’s spot has not been replaced yet. It will be — but there is no news on his replacement yet. That spot is what needs to be filled by a superstar such as someone who has done this job so well in another organization that you feel like there is hope for the future. Many of the lower level pro scouting jobs had recent departures, they all won’t be replaced by similar hires, but the work will be covered we were told which will include more emphasis from the analytics group.
What we will also see per a source is more emphasis on hiring scouts with not only years of experience but also successes. That will be a shift in going from a traditional triangular hierarchy to more emphasis at the top of the scouting department that Haas will be leading with Mark Baca just below him.
For an organization that just saw the third best improvement in baseball with +16 wins over their 2022 record, it did not save any of these people from losing their jobs. Obviously we received some sourced reports as to why a few of these people are now gone, and on others there is no news.
With Watson, for instance, sourced reports that we got were that Rizzo was not pleased that there were more players that regressed than progressed. While Jacob Young, Daylen Lile, and Brady House could be pointed to as successes, there were far too many players that moved backwards and most notably 2022 first round pick, Elijah Green, and former Top-100 prospect Robert Hassell III both fell out of the Top-100 rankings. There were also some embarrassing issues when Green disappeared for weeks from his Class-A Fredericksburg team, and was not on the IL at the time. Later it was learned that he had a minor wrist injury and was placed on the IL.
With Young Jr., the Nationals were the second to the worst in the league in having runners thrown out at second base. There were too many failed baserunning mistakes of trying to stretch singles into doubles where runners were thrown out by several feet, and some inexplicable pickoffs. While Young’s enthusiasm and energy level was loved by fans, he had his issues. On the good side, CJ Abrams stole 47 bases for a new Nationals single-season record.
With DiPuglia, there were obvious failures in the Nats international system that produced Juan Soto as the only shining star of what international free agency can bring to a team, but the drop-off after that was so steep that the next best was Victor Robles at a +4.4 career WAR. Consider that Michael A. Taylor, who was acquired through the draft, had a higher WAR (+4.9) in his tenure with the Nats. After Robles in the rankings, Wilmer Difo was the only other player in positive WAR from the international signings. That is it in the DiPuglia era. The rest is just a lot of hope with millions spent on top signings the in 2021 and 2022 with Armando Cruz and Cristhian Vaquero. Sources told us that DiPuglia’s “hands-off” approach after he was promoted to Assistant GM, was not working. He was offered another position in the organization per our source but declined it, and Rizzo said in a radio interview that they mutually agreed he would resign.
As far as why Kline was moved to another position in the front office is somewhat of a mystery as it might look to be a step down for the 62 year old who led the scouting department since 2009, and in 2013 got the Assistant GM title. Kline joined the Nats in 2006 as a special assignment scout and then promoted to scouting crosschecker in the western part of the country, and received the promotion to scouting director in 2009.
On draft day, Kline was a familiar sight as he would go on camera to discuss the Nats draft picks. After the second day of the draft and the other 363 days, Kline was never seen by Nats’ fans as is usually how it works with scouting directors. His move up the corporate ladder was quick as it closely aligned with the times that the Nats were picking near the top of the draft back in those days. But so many of those first round picks were no-brainers with Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon. Then it got tougher in 2013 and beyond with too many failed draft picks that made you go what?!? Players like Seth Romero topped that list to Green’s pick at No. 5 overall just two years ago.
Almost everything though goes back to the lack of progress in player development that had the Nats farm system ranked last just two years ago. By trading Soto, and drafting Dylan Crews at No. 2 this year, the system got new life through new acquisitions — but the old problems of not developing prospects reared its ugly head once again. Rankings of the farm are now No. 8 to No. 9 depending if you are looking at MLB Pipeline or Baseball America, and that is not high enough given the system’s new players acquired in 2021 to present that added Crews, James Wood, Brady House, Hassell, Green, Yohandy Morales, Jarlin Susana, DJ Herz, and many more. The Nats did not graduate one Top-20 prospect to the Majors in 2023 as Cade Cavalli was injured and retained his prospect status. Every other team ahead of the Nats in farm rankings promoted at least one top prospect, and yet, they still rank higher.
You could certainly approach all of this with pessimism and constant frustration regarding the player development system or you can embrace the change as Rizzo said is a good thing when he talked about the departure of DiPuglia.
But change is only good when you upgrade. And many times that is very subjective and open to debate. A good suggestion is give this time and see what Rizzo can do with the new hires. It takes years of assessment in hindsight as to making any reasonable determination as to successes and failures leading some to think that Watson was not given enough time as he just took over the head of player development position from Mark Scialabba two years ago. Others felt that Watson was moving in the wrong direction.
This is where Rizzo has to be trusted on these decisions and also getting it right. He knows more than we do with the situation. But as some have said, he has had over 10-years to get this right. But to his credit, the Nats big league club had nearly a full decade of winning that culminated in a World Series parade in 2019, and the farm system was gutted in trades to prop up the big league club. Sometimes there is a price paid for success.
Can Rizzo bring back another decade of winning and at least another World Series championship? That is the million dollar question. While all of these front office and coaching changes are taking place, the annual 40-man roster change is coming too. That will be a discussion for another day, and right now we will wait and see what ultimately happens with Martinez’s coaching staff, and Watson’s replacement. Upward and onward, and we will put our trust in Rizzo that change is good.