Washington Nationals Back in Cellar Without Jim Riggleman

Greg StarddardContributor IIIJuly 30, 2011

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 28:  Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson looks on against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 28, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Former Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman had the Nats on a roll, and found himself getting rolled out of town in the process. Yes, I understand he resigned, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. Was Davey Johnson the answer? With the Nats back in last place, the answer is an emphatic no!

I'm not hating on Johnson. He's a Major League Baseball legend. His credentials speak for themselves as a player and manager. But should he remain as manager of the under-performing Nationals? Did General Manager Mike Rizzo make a huge mistake in allowing Riggleman to walk? The answers are no and yes.

First, you have to realize Riggleman had finally put the Nats in position to compete. No other manager in the Nationals' brief history in Washington D.C had come close. Not the great Hall of Famer Frank Robinson or the back-to-back 100-loss manager Manny Acta. In short, Riggleman made significant progress in a short period of time, and the team began looking like they wanted to possibly make the playoffs.

Johnson was a great second baseman back in the day with the Baltimore Orioles. He was a superb manager with the O's as well. His resume is well documented with the New York Mets and respected, but should he be the manager of the Nats? He's too good for that. He deserves to be calling the shots in the front office.

Now, hold onto your britches. I'm not saying can Rizzo, although he's certainly facing some kind of employment review at season's end as the Nats head for yet another disastrous season. Perhaps a shifting in the front office? Rizzo dropped the ball on Riggleman, and it's looking like a bad decision to have allowed him to bolt. If he didn't want Riggleman as the long-term manager, he should've told him early on.

Instead, Rizzo created this mess, and thought the hiring of Johnson would put out the fire, Guess what? The embers are still hot underneath. Johnson's arrival made for some great press and strolls down memory lane, but as we all see now he's no miracle worker. And although the franchise may not need a miracle to field a playoff team, they need a lot of work and more talent.

Johnson would be a great signal caller within the Nats executive office. He's got the experience, skills, knowledge, charisma and attitude to transform the team into a World Series contender. Perhaps Rizzo can be re-assigned or maybe he and Johnson can share the role of running the franchise.

Rizzo won't reap the fruits of Johnson's winning pedigree alone. Owner Mark Lerner could get some first hand knowledge of what it's like to work with a winner. Rizzo and Lerner might learn a thing or two about building a contender, nurturing young players, communicating with high-price superstars, and winning the World Series.

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 28:  Manager Jim Riggleman #5 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Space Coast Stadium on February 28, 2010 in Viera, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

I'm not dissing Rizzo and Lerner, but I am saying you've got the guy under contract and it's time to let him spread his wings again. Everyone would benefit. The Fans. The Lerners. The franchise. Washington D.C. Major League Baseball. Take advantage of one of the brightest minds in the game. Johnson likes D.C. and the team should expand his role.

Perhaps Johnson can also teach the front office a little about dealing with big league managers. The team bungled the Riggleman Affair and people were watching. Perhaps the Nats knew all along they didn't want Riggleman long term. You know what? That's fine, but be man enough to tell the guy up front he's not "the" guy. That way the guy can go home and tell his family and make plans for his and their future.

Rizzo and Lerner could have and should have handled this better. Riggleman was not without fault though. I don't care that he was photographed drinking in a bar the night he resigned. That's simply good tabloid news. What I do care about is how he handled it. The timing was a little weird, but at least he was decisive and honest with Rizzo.

For Nats fans, the expected is about to happen again. They may not lose 100 games this year, but they'll probably finish in the basement or close to it. I'm sorry, it just feels that way right now. Too bad. They looked good earlier in the year when Riggleman was still managing. They rose all the way to third place in the National League East. The town was buzzing and the team was rolling. This was without franchise player Stephen Strasburg.

For a brief moment this year, the Nationals looked like they were beginning to turn the corner. Exciting play, winning streaks, rising in the standings. You couldn't help but pay attention. They looked good. Finally. And then the bottom fell out. Johnson's arrival provided a brief spark, but now the team has gone backward. Unfortunately.

Many are wondering whether Jayson Werth and his $126 million contract will be enough to get the Nats to the promised land. He's a great player, but there's a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with mega contracts and a losing team. I like him. He's gonna need help, though.

I like the kid in the minors. Bryce Harper has enough talent and ego to be a big, big star. But I'm not sure if he's ready to face a CC Sabathia fastball. The same can be said for the other top prospects in the Nationals farm system.

I'm not sure where the Washington Nationals franchise is heading. Attendance isn't bad, but it isn't great either. They've been a losing franchise since relocating from Montreal in 2005. They've allowed accomplished players like Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn to walk. They've lost 100 games twice.

Now, before the Nats faithful get worked up in a lather, I understand they're a new team in a new city. Building from the ground up, sort of. It isn't easy. But now is the time to make smart, intelligent, calculated, and productive decisions.

The future of the Nationals isn't in Syracuse or Harrisburg. He isn't some 18-year-old with fresh cleats and a high batting average. He's wearing your manager's uniform, and if the Nats want to transform the franchise into a winner, Davey Johnson needs to trade the team jacket for a sport coat and big office.