WASHINGTON — The Nationals announced on Monday that they have exercised manager Davey Johnson’s option for the 2012 season.
Johnson took over the position on an interim basis on June 26, three days after Jim Riggleman resigned. Washington went 40-43 under Johnson, finishing third in the National League East — its highest finish since the team moved from Montreal after the 2004 season.
Johnson said being around people in the front office, the Minor League system and Major Leagues are the reasons he wanted to continue to manage the club. Johnson sees himself as a father figure to most of the young players.
“It’s just a great organization. It’s one of the better ones I’ve ever been in, if not the best,” Johnson said. “There is no question that I love baseball. … I thought everything worked pretty good together [with the team]. I think we accomplished a lot of things. I would say the last two or three weeks, when I had kind of mixture of talent that I wanted on the ballclub … that’s when I really felt that there is so much more we can do here, and I need to be here to help see it along.”
Johnson made it clear that his goal in 2012 is win the NL pennant. To do that, the Nats must improve offensively. Johnson felt that his position players struck out too much. He would like to see much more production out of his reserves. Last year, the bench was built on speed and defense. Johnson would like to add power to the bench.
“I wouldn’t have been able to say that last spring,” Johnson said about winning a pennant. “But after being there and seeing the progress the young players made, I think we definitely can contend. I would be sorely disappointed if we didn’t do just that. The talent is there. I like the way we stack up in our division. I’m not just sticking out my chest. My baseball instinct tells me that’s where we need to be. That’s where we need to go and we can get there.”
In 2011, for the second time in his career, Johnson took a big league manager’s job in the middle of a season. He did the same with Cincinnati in 1993, and one season later, his Reds finished atop the NL Central with a .579 winning percentage during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said it was an easy choice to hire Johnson as the interim manager in June. Rizzo remembered how Johnson worked with the players during Spring Training.
“The only questions that I had about Davey taking over [were], ‘Did he want to do it? Was his energy level and his focus were going to be there?’ Even as early as Spring Training this year, I saw that he moved around better this year,” Rizzo said. “He always had the fungo in his hands. He was always pounding ground balls to the young guys.
“He had the energy and a bounce in his step that I thought to myself, “Wow, Davey is really into it. He is really fired up for the season.’ It couldn’t have been a smoother, easier decision for me to bring Davey on in midseason. It was just as comfortable and easy decision after the season to pick up the option and make Davey the leader of the ballclub.”
Johnson has skippered five clubs (Nationals, Dodgers, Orioles, Reds, Mets) in 15 seasons, compiling a 1,188-931 record and a .561 career winning percentage that ranks second to only Earl Weaver (.583) among living managers with 10 or more years of experience.
He is one of only six living men to have won a World Series ring as a player and manager, joining Alvin Dark, Joe Girardi, Lou Piniella, Mike Scioscia and Red Schoendienst.
Johnson joined the Nationals as a special assistant to the general manager on Nov. 18, 2009, after managing Team USA to a semifinal berth in the World Baseball Classic.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said on Monday that everyone on the 2011 coaching will return next season with the exception of Pat Corrales, who was the bench coach. However, Corrales will remain in the organization, most likely in the Minor League system.
Corrales had three tenures as Washington’s bench coach. Besides Johnson, Corrales worked in a similar role for Manny Acta and Jim Riggleman.
“Pat is invaluable in the system. I love him to death and he did a great job, but we’ll probably have a different coach there,” Johnson said.
Johnson and general Mike Rizzo declined to say who could become the next bench coach for the team.
Meanwhile Rick Eckstein [hitting coach], Trent Jewett [First base], Steve McCatty [pitching], Bo Porter [third-base coach] and Jim Lett [bullpen] will remain in their roles for next season.
The Nationals returned right-hander Elvin Ramirez to the Mets on Tuesday. The news comes almost a year after Washington selected him in the Rule 5 Draft.
Ramirez never played a Major League game for the Nationals because of shoulder problems, however, he recently managed to pitch in several games in the Instructional League.
The last time Ramirez pitched professionally was in 2010, going a combined 4-4 with a 4.16 ERA for Class A St. Lucie and Double A Binghamton.
Wally Backman, now a Minor League manager with the Mets, was never offered a Major League position with the Nationals, according to three sources.
A report from the New York Post indicated that Backman was thinking about leaving the Mets and joining the Nationals as a third-base coach.
One source said the Nationals never had any discussions with Backman, who played for manager Davey Johnson when both were with the Mets in the 1980s.
MLB.com caught up with outfielder Nyjer Morgan recently to talk about his time with Nationals and the fun he is having with the Brewers.
MLB.com: You had a nice comeback season. Are you satisfied?
Nyjer Morgan: I’m definitely not content. I’m always looking to do better. With everything that happened, everything that was perceived about me, everything that was spread throughout the Washington media, it was a bad rap. I felt like the Washington media was throwing me out there, trying to ruin my career.
MLB.com: Why do you feel the Washington media tried to ruin your career?
Morgan: There was a lot of negative stuff about me. I wasn’t that individual. From what I was perceived in Washington compared to what I’m doing now is basically apples and oranges. I still enjoyed every moment in DC. I felt I learned a lot — just how I played the game and [learning] the business side.
I guess sometimes you need a change of scenery. You need a different fit. Basically, [the Brewers are] a fit for me. I enjoy playing baseball. I enjoy being around the guys that are on the same team with me. I enjoy the staff, the front office. It’s a very cool feeling. They understand the way you are and how you play. I bring a bunch of energy and they feed off it.
It was a learning year in Washington last year. It’s unfortunate that the Nationals gave up on me. Now they feel they need a center fielder/leadoff hitter. That’s what they are looking for now. I guess they didn’t feel like I was a right part of the chemistry there, so they let me go.
MLB.com: What was your reaction when the Milwaukee fans voted you the “We Energies High-Energy Player of the Year?”
Morgan: I love them. That was so cool. That’s just showing the fans that you come to work every day, which is basically what I did and DC, too. I came to work every day even though — average wise — it wasn’t the year I wanted to have in 2010. I had a good season before with a .307 batting average [in 2009].
I guess everybody has their learning years and my learning year happen to be last year. It kind of snowballed because controversial things happened [A confrontation with the Marlins and accidently hitting a Phillies with a ball]. It was just a snowball effect. My three weeks were more publicized than anybody else’s worst three weeks. I had just a bad few weeks just like anybody else would have. Mine was more scrutinized. I’m a cancer, I’m this, I’m that. I didn’t think there was nothing like that. Guys felt they couldn’t say anything to me. They waited until I left and then they started opening up their mouths, which was kind of weak.
MLB.com: You and Jayson Werth had a confrontation during Spring Training. Do you think that is the reason the Nationals traded you to the Brewers?
Morgan: Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know who officially is the leader of the clubhouse. I guess, it’s maybe him because of his contract. He came in there basically to police people. I got policed and I was ousted. After being there every morning at 6:30 — the first one in the clubhouse everyday — I don’t see how I was a problem. Still, at my worst year, I still had a better batting average than Werth.
MLB.com: You are arbitration eligible after the season. Do you want to stay in Milwaukee?
Morgan: I would love to stay here. This is a baseball town for me. They understand my game, they understand my work ethic, they understand the player that I am. They love me with open arms. The media understands me. I’m just playing hard. I’m still the same person that I was then. I’m just older and wiser now.
MLB.com: You are in the postseason for the first time. What is it like for you?
Morgan: It’s a new experience. It’s fun, full of emotion. It seems like another game, but’s its not.
MLB.com: What was it like to drive in the game-winning run in Game 5 of the National League Division series against the D-Backs?
Morgan: It hasn’t hit me yet. I guess that’s how legends are born, man. That is going to be in the highlights for the rest of my life, for the rest of Brewers history. That’s historic, man.
MLB.com: After you drove in that game-winning run, you used foul language on TBS. Do you regret the foul language that you used on live TV?
Morgan: Honestly, I didn’t know the microphone was in my face. I was looking at the fans. People were emotional. The stuff they show on TV nowadays — they show other people cussing. The video games that are out there, what’s the difference? [The hit] was something special. So, I mean, I honestly didn’t know. If I knew the camera was on, next time, I wouldn’t do it. I just blacked out. The fans were fired up. I mean, come on. Of course, I regret it. [Things] happened out there.
MLB.com: For the rest of the National Champonship Series, do you think the Brewers can win the pennant?
Morgan: You know I feel we can win this one. It has been a great year for us, but I feel the season is not done yet.
Here’s a look at the Nationals’ 2011 Major League roster: Who stays, who goes, who has something to prove?
They’ll Be Back
LHP Sean Burnett: It was a tale of two seasons for Burnett. He was inconsistent during the first half, but was back to his old self after the All-Star Break, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA.
RHP Tyler Clippard: He was clearly the best pitcher on the team. Clippard made his first All-Star appearance, had a 1.93 ERA and struck out 104 batters in 88 1/3 innings.
SS Ian Desmond: Told by manager Davey Johnson to stop going to right field on every pitch, Desmond ended up having a productive second half, hitting .289 with a .338 on-base percentage. The big question is, will Desmond leadoff next year? Probably not, but keep in mind that he hit .281 while hitting in the top spot this past season.
2B Danny Espinosa: He is the best defensive second baseman in baseball. Johnson called Espinosa the strongest player on the team. However, Espinosa must cut down on his strikeouts and improve his hitting from the left side of the plate.
LHP Tom Gorzelanny: He prefers to start, but he has found his niche as a long man. Gorzelanny had a 2.42 ERA in that role this past season.
LHP John Lannan: The steady left-hander most likely will be the third starter in the rotation.
RHP Ryan Mattheus: Johnson relied heavily on Mattheus until the latter had shoulder issues, which forced him to miss almost a month of the season. Mattheus came back in late September and is expected to be used in the late innings next season.
OF/1B Michael Morse: He was clearly the MVP of the team. He led Washington in homers, RBIs and batting average. Johnson made it known that Morse will most likely start next season in the outfield.
C Wilson Ramos: In his first full season in the big leagues, Ramos was solid behind the plate and with the bat.
RHP Henry Rodriguez: The Nationals are grooming him to be a backup closer. They are hoping Rodriguez can duplicate what he did during the month of September in which he had a 2.19 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings.
RHP Stephen Strasburg: He has fully recovered from elbow construction, but will be on an innings limit next year.
RF Jayson Werth: He has six years left on his contract. The Nationals are hoping he can go back to being the productive player that he was with the Phillies.
3B Ryan Zimmerman: Once he fully recovered from abdominal surgery, Zimmerman looked like the player that won the Gold Glove in 2009.
RHP Jordan Zimmermann: He will not be on an innings limit next year and is expected to join Strasburg as a 1-2 combination in the rotation.
Something to prove
RHP Collin Balester: Inconsistency had him spending a lot of time in the Minor Leagues. He could be a long man out of the bullpen.
OF Corey Brown: He wasn’t impressive in the Minor Leagues and a knee injury limited him to just three at-bats after his September call up to the big leagues.
INF Steve Lombardozzi: He wasn’t given much of a chance to play after his September call up and it will be hard for him to make the big-league team because of Desmond and Espinosa.
RHP Yunesky Maya: He hasn’t pitched well ever since signing a four-year $8 million contract in 2010. It will be tough for him to be part of the rotation next year.
LHP Tommy Milone: Mr. Control walked a combined 20 batters in 174 1/3 innings for Triple A Syracuse and the Nationals. He could be a big asset in the Major League rotation in 2012.
RHP Brad Peacock: He had a great September, and will be given every chance to make the rotation next year.
LHP Atahualpa Severino: Appeared in six games, but it’s not enough to judge his performance. He will be given a chance to make the team out of Spring Training.
RHP Craig Stammen: He did an excellent job after his September call up, allowing no runs in 8 1/3 innings, but he has to show that consistency throughout the season.
They have a chance to walk, but
OF Rick Ankiel: A popular player because of his spectacular defense in center field, Ankiel could be back as a fourth outfielder.
RHP Todd Coffey: He does more than just sprint to the mound. He was valuable pitcher in the late innings.
OF Jonny Gomes: He has a big heart and plays hard all the time, but he strikes out too much. He is a Type B free agent and it will be interesting to see if the Nationals offer him arbitration.
OF/1B Laynce Nix: He was productive during first half, but injuries forced him to miss a lot of time after the All-Star break. If he comes back, Nix will be a bench player.
RHP Chien-Ming Wang: He is loyal to the Nationals because they stuck by him when he was hampered by shoulder problems for two years. He is expected to be back with the team next year.
All But Gone
INF Brian Bixler: Played solid defense, but didn’t provide a lot of punch off the bench.
INF Alex Cora: Provided leadership to the young players, but that’s about it.
RHP Livan Hernandez: He is willing to be a long man out of the bullpen, but going into next season, Gorzelanny is expected to be that guy.
C Ivan Rodriguez: He wants to play four more years and collect career hit No. 3,000. It will not happen in a Nationals uniform.
LHP Doug Slaten: Missed most of the season because of an elbow injury. When he returned in September, Slaten was hit hard.
Possible Trade Chips
OF Roger Bernadina: He is no longer considered an everyday player. If he stays with the organization, Bernadina will be a corner outfielder.
LHP Ross Detwiler: Before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Astros wanted Detwiler among others for outfielder Michael Bourn. General manager Mike Rizzo turned it down.
C Jesus Flores: His days as an everyday player with the Nationals are over because of Ramos.
1B Chris Marrero: Hitting was never a problem for him, but he improved dramatically on defense, which used to be a problem after he was selected in the first round in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
RHP Drew Storen: His name was mentioned in trade rumors last summer. Rizzo would want a solid leadoff hitter in return for a guy, who saved 43 games this past season.
RHP Cole Kimball: Missed most of the season because of a shoulder injury. He likely will not be back on a Major League mound until after the All-Star break.
1B Adam LaRoche: A shoulder injury forced him to miss most of the ’11 season, but he is expected to be 100 percent by Spring Training.