LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — For Dave Martinez, the difference in four years between getting denied a manager’s job and then being hired by the same team might have been the Cubs’ recent, historic run of success.
Now that the Nationals have hired him away from the Cubs’ coaching staff to manage their talent-loaded team, could Martinez become the difference that stalls the Cubs’ run of success?
That’s the idea in Washington, where general manager Mike Rizzo made Martinez a first-year big-league manager of a playoff-ready team less than two weeks after the Cubs knocked off the Nationals in the National League Division Series.
“It’s rare,” Rizzo said. “He’s a first-time manager, but I think he’s an experienced first-time manager, if that’s a thing.”
Four years ago, Rizzo hired Matt Williams over Martinez. This time, Rizzo said Joe Maddon’s longtime bench coach was more prepared, more confident and more experienced dealing with late October and a star-studded roster.
“He feels much more at ease,” Rizzo said. “Four years ago, we got a lot of answers like, ‘Joe and I, we would do this.’ This time it was, ‘This is what I would do if I have the opportunity.’ ”
“That’s what I felt,” said Martinez, who Monday made his first Winter Meetings appearance as a manager. “That’s why I felt this is the time. I’m ready. I’ve done everything I could as a bench coach. I’m ready to manage.”
Martinez has big plans to keep Bryce Harper in Washington when Harper’s contract is up after next season — and away from the Cubs.
With the Yankees apparently out of the Harper running next year after acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, the early speculation on Harper as a free agent is swirling around the Cubs or a possible extension in Washington.
“Can I lobby right now?” Martinez said. “I can’t wait to work with him, and I hope we get to work together for a lot of years.”
Martinez’ acumen from Maddon’s bench, his 16 years as a big-league player, and his ability to relate to players in two languages, across a broad cultural and professional spectrum, were major qualifications for his new job.
But the larger test will be how he relates to Harper. And three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. And Stephen Strasburg. And how the “tough conversations” Maddon assigned Martinez over the years translate to a Nationals clubhouse that has not always been as fun-loving as this young Cubs team.
“He’s dealt with stars before with the Cubs,” Rizzo said. “[Anthony] Rizzo’s every bit of a superstar in the game as [Kris] Bryant. He had to deal with [John] Lackey and [Jon] Lester. Those are all big personalities and big resumes.
“Those are good training grounds,” the Nats’ GM added. “That’s his strength — his communication skills with players of all sorts. He can handle the Rizzos and the Bryants, but he can also handle the bench players. He’s kind of an old-school guy with a modern-day analytics background.”
How much of a loss will all of that be to a Cubs’ coaching staff that goes into 2018 with new faces in almost every role?
“What Joe’s really good at is collaborating with the coaches and building that trust with them,” said Martinez, downplaying the impact on the Cubs. “Joe’s going to be Joe. Joe don’t change.
“He’s going to empower these guys to do their job and stay out of their way and let them do their job.”
And when the teams meet again in the playoffs?
“Then I’ve got to do my job.”
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