Bud Black might not be the sexiest managerial hire, but he’s exactly what the Washington Nationals need.
Although he hasn’t officially been handed the keys to the kingdom yet, several media reports indicate that once the World Series is over, Washington will make it official and name the 58-year-old Black the sixth skipper in Nationals history.
Earlier this month, after a deeply disappointing season in which the Nationals were a favorite to make it to the World Series but finished seven games behind the Mets and just four games above .500, GM Mike Rizzo gave second-year manager Matt Williams the heave-ho.
As Washington fell out of contention over the final two months of the season, the high-strung Williams, who as a rookie won the National League Manager of the Year award in 2014, came under fire for his pathologically by-the-book decision-making as well as his disconnected and robotic handling of both his players and the media.
In Black, the Nats are getting a more laid-back leader who’s known for his clubhouse congeniality, a strong communicator with good people skills. Just as important, if not more so, they’re getting a guy who possesses the one thing that was most sorely missing in Williams: experience.
Sure, Black’s record during his eight-plus seasons in San Diego was sub-.500, and not one of his teams made the playoffs, but it’s not like he had a lot to work with. (Quick quiz: Aside from Adrian Gonzalez, name one blue-chip player who spent significant time in San Diego during Black’s tenure.) Over the past decade, the small-market Padres had an average payroll of $67 million. That’s the fifth lowest in the majors and more than $100 million less than Washington’s payroll this past season ($174 million, MLB’s third highest).
In D.C., Black will take over a potentially potent lineup that includes MVP favorite Bryce Harper, slugging infielders Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman and veteran leader Jayson Werth. And don't forget the loaded pitching staff that, despite being anchored by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, underperformed in 2015.
A former pitcher himself, Black -- who won 121 games during his 15-year career -- has a history of getting the most of his arms. As the Angels' pitching coach from 2000 to 2006, his teams finished in the top five in the American League in ERA on five occasions, including when Anaheim won the World Series in 2002. During his time in San Diego, the bullpen -- a major problem for the Nationals this past season -- led the National League in relief ERA three times.
With a resume like that, Black appears to be just the right guy for the job. At least that’s what the Nationals are hoping.