Bob Nightengale torches Nats as 'biggest embarrassment in baseball'

Chris Lingebach
August 21, 2018 - 8:09 pm

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Bob Nightengale lambasted the Nationals on Tuesday, after the club traded away Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams, calling them "the biggest embarrassment in baseball," by far.

"It's gotta be the most embarrassing season in franchise history, even dating back to the Expos days," the USA TODAY columnist told Chad Dukes of 106.7 The Fan. "There was no bigger collection of under-performers in baseball. This is by far the biggest embarrassment in baseball."

The Nationals missed the postseason in 2013 and 2015, two seasons they were also favorites to win the World Series. Both campaigns resulted in Washington hiring new managers.

"They have so much more talent than the Braves and the Phillies," Nightengale said. "Some of that goes back to clubhouse leadership. You fired Dusty Baker, and this stuff wasn't happening under him. I know Jayson Werth was there. I'm not blaming this on Davey Martinez, but when you put a rookie manager there with this kind of team and veterans, it can get tough. Just ask some of the other guys what they're going through this year. And you can't just underpay these managers and expect them to get the most out of it. Davey Martinez is one of the cheapest paid managers in all of baseball."

The Nationals were relatively quiet at the July 31 trade deadline, choosing neither to commit fully to buying or selling. Although they did find reliever Brandon Kintzler expendable, trading him to the Cubs before the deadline for minor-league pitcher Jhon Romero. A day later, Washington designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment, after Kelley showed up manager Davey Martinez by throwing his glove to the ground in disgust in the ninth inning of an eventual 25-4 Nationals rout of the Mets. The Nats received international bonus pool money from Oakland for Kelley.

Nightengale was asked how much bigger of a return Murphy and Adams could have yielded if Washington had chosen to deal them before the deadline.

"Oh, much different. I mean, they got nothing back from this," he said. "All they got was a fringe prospect from the Cubs and they're saving money – Murphy's salary and Adams' salary – about $5 million there. So it would have been a much bigger difference, a much better return if they had done it sooner."

"You can't say the team's going for it when you trade away a guy who's hitting .340 since the All-Star break and an All-Star-caliber second baseman, and a great, clutch hitter, great bat, with Matt Adams," Nightengale went on to say. "And there's gonna be some more moves, too, so this is just the beginning."

Nightengale expects more moves to come from the Nats this season: "I'd be surprised now to see Gio Gonzalez stay put. You might as well move him, move Madson, maybe some more relievers. If somebody wants Matt Wieters for some type of catching spot, move him. I think everybody's available."

How much blame does Nightengale place at the feet of Martinez?

"A decent amount," he said. "But he didn't hire himself. They're the ones who took a chance on a guy who's never managed before. Yeah, he coached before, but never managed, and nobody had ever given him the opportunity to manage before this. So, you blame him and the people who hired him and certainly fired Dusty Baker."

As a matter of accuracy, Washington chose not to renew Baker, whose contract expired. He was not technically fired, although many interpreted his departure as such.

"I mean, Baker's big thing was always just the clubhouse camaraderie and guys played well together and everything else," Nightengale said. "They just happened to choose the wrong time there to play such a horrible game in that Game 5 against the Cubs. If they win that game, probably everything's different.

"But you can't just sit back and fire a manager after (winning) 97 games, and winning 95 the year before, and then when the team doesn't make the postseason, say, 'Okay. That's fine.' It would make no sense to keep Davey Martinez when you just fired a guy who won back-to-back division titles."

Asked if Martinez or Rizzo should be on the hot seat, Nightengale said, "I would think Davey Martinez would be, just because winning division titles wasn't enough to retain a manager job, so if you don't make it at all you'd assume you're on the hot seat to get fired. Mike Rizzo just got his contract, a two-year extension, so he should be safe. They have to do something next year, at least perform well, or then he'd be on the hot seat too."

Finally, Nightengale was asked where he thinks the Nationals would be if Baker was still managing the club this season.

"I think they'd be in first place," he said. "I mean, they have more talent this year than they did last year. They never had this kind of bullpen until the second half of the season at the trade deadline. So, first half, that thing was in shambles, and then they pieced it together. So I think they have much more talent than a year ago. In a weaker division. The Braves and Phillies are okay, but they've only been playing .500 ball or so since May. It's not like they're some juggernaut that's taken over. They've been playing a very easy schedule and ended being able to take advantage of it."

Seconds after he was off the phone with Dukes, Nightengale tweeted his latest column, dubbing Washington a "National embarrassment."

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