The connection to Washington is simple to see when tracing back the careers, respectively, of both Mike Rizzo, Washington's current general manager, and Williams. While the former third baseman and National League All-Star was manning the hot corner for the Diamondbacks in 2001, Rizzo was the team's scouting director.
Now, 13 years later, they are on the verge of reuniting with the goal of winning another championship. This time, they'll look to do it as a managing duo of a loaded Nationals roster. As the process plays out, Williams is the right man for the job of turning the Nationals from a good team to a champion.
Heading into 2014, barring injury or unforeseen roster movement from the Braves, Phillies or Mets, the Nationals should be the favorite in the National League East. Despite a disappointing 2013, the team won 86 games and finished with the sixth-best run differential (+30) in the National League. With Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth all slated to be healthy for spring training, expectations will be high in D.C.
In the aftermath of Davey Johnson's departure, hiring the right manager is paramount for this franchise because few teams in baseball can boast the star power, roster depth and youth of the Nationals. After the bitter NLDS defeat to St. Louis in October of 2012, the 2013 version of the Nationals didn't play excellent baseball until August, costing them a shot at the postseason. The new leader must generate inspired baseball from the first day of spring training in order to give this franchise a shot at October glory.
Williams, despite not coming into the process with any managerial experience outside of the Arizona Fall League, is the right man for the job because of his work ethic, past history with transcendent stars and seal of approval from one of the best leaders in the sport.
When Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported about Williams' candidacy in Washington, he cited "diligence and team-first attitude" among his best traits. That reputation and work ethic will be needed as the game continues to evolve away from field generals who rely on gut feelings.
As Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post illustrated in March, the Nationals, a scout-oriented organization under Rizzo, have incorporated analytical data into their decision-making department. Whoever the next manager turns out to be, that leader must listen, respect and use the data available in order to make the best decisions for the club. Heyman's description of "team-first attitude" give the indication that Williams will be willing to do what is necessary, regardless of his personal philosophy on on-field decisions.
In Washington, Williams would be tasked with managing and cultivating the talented duo of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Extracting their talent shouldn't be hard due to the star power of each player, but handling and managing their personalities over the next few years will be a challenge. To be clear: Neither Strasburg nor Harper has been anything but an exceptional worker, but as great young players get closer to contract extensions or free agency, guidance is necessary.
During Williams' 17-year-career in San Francisco, Cleveland and Arizona, his exposure to transcendent teammates like Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling will be an invaluable experience when entering the Nationals dugout. Treating each player fairly is imperative for any baseball manager, but not every player should be treated the same. Williams saw that firsthand during his career and can incorporate it now.
Included in Bill Ladson's report was a quote from Orioles manager Buck Showalter. From 1998 to 2000, Showalter managed Williams in Arizona. As his former player attempts to become a quasi-rival on the Beltway in Maryland next season, Showalter thinks he will be very successful in the role.
He's a sharp guy, but he's also a funny guy—a lot of people don't realize the sense of humor he has. It was a pleasure and an honor to manage him. I'm impressed with him at third base, he does a good job there. That's one of those guys that will figure out whatever he needs to figure out. He's a student, he'll be a good one.
Williams has the connection to Rizzo, the personality to succeed in a progressive organization, experience around superstars and a seal of approval from one of the best in baseball. Now, he just needs a shot to make it all work in Washington.
Regardless of the manager in Washington's dugout, the talent on the field should be in contention for years. Yet, if Mike Rizzo picks the right man to lead the talent, multiple championships can become a reality for the Nationals.
Is Williams the right manager for Washington?