Despite how bad the Nationals are, there’s certainly a plethora of storylines surrounding the team these days.
Juan Soto is scuffling, with rumors – realistic or not – surfacing that he could soon be traded. Nelson Cruz is still in a funk, the team’s defense stinks, Luis Garcia could be promoted next week, Carter Kieboom is officially sidelined for the rest of the season, and Washington is facing Trea Turner and the Dodgers next week.
Yet none of those stories are what I’m currently most intrigued by.
As Barry Svrluga reported a month ago, the Lerner family is weighing the option of selling the Washington Nationals. While no sale is imminent, some frontrunners have emerged. including Ted Leonsis, the owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, and thereby the Wizards, Capitals and most other professional sports teams in the nation’s capital.
Although I’m intrigued by Leonsis as an option, especially since the MLB feels more like the NHL than the NBA in terms of roster construction and access to superstar players, he’s not who I’m most in favor of as a buyer.
Instead, I’d like to see Larry Lucchino - who Mike Rosenbaum of NJ.com has reported is interested - take the reins.
Lucchino’s net worth is listed at $8 million, whereas Ted Lerner’s is estimated to be in excess of $4 billion. Therefore, it’ll presumably take a partnership for Lucchino to take over in any capacity. Nonetheless, if a group including Lucchino can make a competitive offer, there’s a clear formula to build a strong leadership team.
Lucchino’s early professional years were spent as a lawyer in Washington, DC and as a minority owner of the then-named Redskins. He served as the president of the Baltimore Orioles from 1988-93, and was then the president and CEO of the San Diego Padres from 1995-2001. Under his watch, the Padres and Orioles both built new stadiums.
In December 2001, Lucchino joined the Boston Red Sox in the same role he held with the Padres. Within a year, he promoted Theo Epstein (whom he had worked with in Baltimore and San Diego) to general manager of the Red Sox. Shortly thereafter, they signed David Ortiz. Then in 2004, they led Boston to its first World Series championship in 86 years. Under Lucchino’s watch, the Red Sox would go on to win titles again in 2007 and 2013.
Lucchino remained in his position through 2015, before transitioning to president and CEO emeritus of Fenway Sports Group and subsequently chairman and co-owner of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. Of note, he was also a key figure in their relocation from Rhode Island to Worcester, Massachusetts last year.
All told, Lucchino has four World Series rings as an executive to his name, and he’s a member of both the Padres and Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Epstein Isn’t Dead
Lucchino will need a right-hand man, and it’s hard to imagine Theo Epstein not being at the top of his list. Lucchino named Epstein – who had worked for him since Epstein was still a student at Yale – his GM in Boston at 29 years old, and Epstein won two championships before turning 35. The two of them stayed together until 2011, when Epstein became president of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs were in tough shape when Epstein took over the team. They lost 101 games in his first season at the helm, but steadily rose to the top of the National League. Within five years, much like in Boston, Epstein had broken the Cubs’ 108-year championship drought.
Epstein eventually stepped down from his role in Chicago in November 2020, but was quickly hired by the MLB as a consultant – the position that he currently holds.
Lucchino’s history in DC matters in this equation, but so do the ties between Epstein and current manager Dave Martinez – who, along with General Manager Mike Rizzo, is in the final fully guaranteed year of his contract. Prior to the 2015 season, Epstein pried Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon to Chicago, With him, Maddon brought Martinez, who was his bench coach in Tampa Bay. Epstein, Maddon and Martinez stuck together through 2017, before Rizzo hired Martinez as Washington’s manager.
Sure, Epstein may prefer to make his own hire. But maybe he has a favorable relationship with Martinez already and would prefer to maintain continuity. If that’s the case, much of the current coaching staff could stay in Washington. To my knowledge, at least eight members of the organization’s staff have crossed paths with Lucchino and/or Epstein previously:
Other Managerial Candidates
Nine coaches who have played or managed under Lucchino and/or Epstein are currently MLB managers:
Would any of them leave their current job to reunite with an old boss? I don’t know, but most of them don’t have a player the caliber of Juan Soto on their roster.
The most notable former manager of this bunch is Terry Francona. He was the head skipper in Boston under Lucchino and Epstein from 2004-11. Francona has two World Series rings and two additional AL Manager of the Year awards from his time in Cleveland. Historically, he’s had a shelf life everywhere he’s been, and this is his tenth season in Cleveland after spending eight in Boston. Could it be time for another move?
Beyond this group, there are no obvious external candidates. However, if you’re looking for a dark horse, Mike Napoli (currently the first base coach of the Cubs) seems like a name to know.
Internally, I’ve always been intrigued by Tim Bogar, who went 14-8 as the interim manager of the Texas Rangers to close 2014 and appears to be Washington’s fill-in skipper for Martinez if/when necessary.
Sell, Sell, Sell!
None of this matters if the Lerners aren’t considering selling the team as strongly as reports suggest. However, if the team is truly about to be on the market, there won’t be a duo with a better track record that emerges than Lucchino and Epstein.