Could the Nationals hire Jayson Werth as a Player/Manager?

Jayson Werth
Jayson Werth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nationals manager search is just beginning.

But it’s possible the best candidate is already sitting in the Nationals dugout.  No, I’m not talking about Randy Knorr.
 
I’m talking about Jayson Werth.
 
It seems like a strange idea, but the idea of a player/manager has deep roots in baseball history.  There have been over 200 player/managers in the major leagues.  Joe Torre was a player manager.  So was Frank Robinson.  Pete Rose was the last man to do it in 1986.  Since then, the concept has fallen the way of the bullpen car.  I can’t even remember the last time someone seriously suggested hiring a current player to manage a baseball team.
 
Why haven’t we seen a player manager in modern baseball history?  Perhaps the act of managing has become too complicated.  Tony LaRussa, and others, ushered in a new age of baseball managing: matchups, advanced statistics, calling pitches from the dugout.  It would be virtually impossible for a player/manager to attend to the level of detail required by today’s game.  Sixty years ago, managers wrote the lineup card and then watched the game.  No more.
 
But is it possible?  Let’s look at the positives and negatives.
 
Positives
 
1. Team chemistry – There is no evidence the Nationals are broken clubhouse.  They’re a winning team that missed the playoffs by 4 games.  The clubhouse doesn’t need a big shakup.  An outside managerial hire with a big personality can only cause problems.  See Bobby Valentine, 2012 Red Sox.  Imagine Joe Girardi coming in and forcing Jayson Werth to shave his beard.  Or Cal Ripken coming in and tinkering with Bryce Harper’s swing.  In many ways, Werth is a safe choice, since we know very little will change.
 
2.  Respect/Mentorship – Davey Johnson had his faults as a manager, but the players loved him.  By all accounts, Jayson Werth is already the team leader.  Why not officially make him the team leader?  We already know Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ most valuable asset, reveres him.
 
3.  It would be fun – I doubt this is a concern for Mike Rizzo, but how much fun would a player/manager be?  The Nationals would instantly become center the MLB universe.  At least for a day.  Imagine the debates on PTI, etc.  We already know Mike Rizzo isn’t afraid to think and act outside the box (e.g. the Strasburg Shutdown).  We also know he’s immune to criticism from slaves to conventional wisdom (e.g. the fallout from the Strasburg Shutdown). 
 
Negatives
 
1.  Too much work – Jayson Werth just put up a MVP-level season.  It would be nice to get that kind of production again in 2014. The last thing Jayson Werth needs is a hundred different daily distractions from his real work as a very, very good baseball player.  The demands of a modern day manager–press conferences, meeting with team doctors–are probably far greater than we imagine.  Every moment spent managing is one less moment preparing to play.
 
2.  Conflicts of interest – Werth has already shown an inability to control his competitive instincts.  In April of this year, he talked his way into the lineup while injured only to aggravate the injury.  Werth probably needs a manager to save him from himself.  As Werth gets older and more brittle, does he have the discipline and self-awareness to pinch hit for himself?  To give himself a day of rest?  More alarmingly, if he can’t control himself, can he control other players?  It’s not hard to imagine Werth the player/manager giving too much deference to his teammates  Would he allow Harper to play injured as well?  Would he allow Strasburg to pitch with “forearm tightness”?  I’m going to stop here because I just broke out in a cold sweat.
 
3.  Too far “outside the box” – As noted above, nobody has tried this in 28 years.  If it fails, Mike Rizzo makes himself a huge target.  Moreover, can you fire a player/manager as manager, but retain him as a player?  Perhaps this is one distraction the Nationals don’t need.
 
Baseball, like other sports, is a copycat league.  Executives protect themselves by following the crowd.  Accordingly, there’s a very low likelihood a team will stray from the conventional wisdom to hire a player/manager any time soon.  But if baseball ever sees a player/manager again, it’ll be a man like Rizzo making the decision, and a player like Jayson Werth doing the managing.  Rizzo is fearless, and Werth is smart, well-schooled and capable.
 
The idea seems crazy, but crazier things have happened.
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