Johnson back as Nats manager

Johnson back as Nats manager
October 31, 2011, 2:33 pm
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Updated at 1:40 p.m.

Davey Johnson knew for sure he wanted to return to manage the Nationals during the final weeks of September, as his club surged toward its best record in six years. And now that he knows he'll officially be back next spring, the veteran skipper isn't afraid to let the public know what he believes this team can accomplish in 2012.

"Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League," Johnson said Monday morning after the club formally announced his 2012 option has been picked up. "I couldn't have said that last spring. I didn't think the talent was ready. But after being there and seeing the progress that some of the young players made, I think we definitely can contend. And I would be sorely disappointed if we didn't do just that."

Strong words from Johnson, who will be the majors' oldest manager next season at 69, but not out of character for someone who has always expected big things from his teams.

The owner of a .588 career winning percentage (and one World Series ring) over parts of 15 seasons with the Mets, Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and Nationals, Johnson has rarely managed a team that didn't enter a season believing it could contend. Which explains, in part, why he didn't hesitate to return in late-June following Jim Riggleman's abrupt resignation after 10 seasons away from big-league dugouts.

General manager Mike Rizzo was prepared to give Johnson a three-year deal at that point, but Major League Baseball required the club to conduct a formal search and interview minority candidates. So Johnson agreed to a three-year contract that only ensured he would remain with the organization as a consultant, with a provision built in for him to return as manager.

"It couldn't have been a smoother, easier decision for me to bring Davey on midseason," Rizzo said on Monday. "And it was just as comfortable and easy decision after the season to pick up the option and make Davey the leader of the ballclub for 2012."

For now the Nationals have only picked up Johnson's 2012 option. Another option remains for 2013, though Johnson isn't thinking that far ahead yet.

"I look at things today, with an eye on tomorrow," he said. "That's the way I manage, that's the way I live my life. My wife is the one that thinks about what we're doing two years from now. Not me."

Johnson also revealed Monday his entire coaching staff will return next season, with one exception. Pat Corrales, who took over as bench coach when Johnson became manager, will remain with the organization but not on the big-league staff. The 70-year-old Corrales could be replaced by another coach within the organization: Randy Knorr, who managed at Class AAA Syracuse this season.

"Pat's invaluable in the system, his experience," Johnson said of his close confidant. "I love him to death, and he did a great job, but we'll probably have a different coach there."

As he led the Nationals to a 40-43 record over the season's second half, finishing at 80-81, Johnson often spoke glowingly about the franchise's bright future and indicated he wanted to be a part of it.

"Probably the last two or three weeks," he said. "Seeing when I had more of the mixture of talent that I wanted on the ballclub, and seeing how they all worked together, that was when I really thought: 'Man, there's so much more we can do here, and I need to be here to help see it along.'"

Now -- with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche all expected to be healthy entering spring training; Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and others all set to return; and with the promise of more additions to come this winter and the pending arrival of top prospect Bryce Harper -- Johnson has every reason to believe the Nationals are ready to set loftier standards for themselves.

"I'm not just sticking out my chest and saying some hot air," he said. "My baseball instincts tell me that that's where we need to be, that's where we need to go. And we can get there."