Chatter around Dusty Baker’s contract had subsided as the season went along. He is in the second season of a two-year deal which has not been extended despite the team’s back-to-back division championships. It’s a somewhat odd circumstance considering the general treatment of managers in baseball. However, it’s not out of line with past decisions made by the Washington Nationals ownership group which has gone in both directions with managers: picking up an option or extension early or waiting until the final second.
Baker is in the latter camp for multiple reasons.
Among them is his success since taking the job in 2016. The Nationals have won the National League East Division twice since Baker arrived. They won 95 games in 2016 and 97 games this season. He was a finalist for National League manager of the year last season and has a chance to be again this season. That success has changed his personal leverage and certainly the terms that are going to be exchanged during any negotiation with the Nationals after the season. The postseason will obviously influence that, too.
When Baker was hired, the Nationals held the leverage. He had been out of baseball for two years. They were in a spot where the team had a clear path toward bouncing back strictly based on personnel. A manager could supplement that, but the reason for pending success was already assembled. When Bud Black turned down the Nationals’ low financial offer, they turned to Baker, who thought he was out of the running for the job. He accepted a two-year deal.
Baker is 68 years old. He is in pursuit of one final baseball achievement, which is to win a World Series as a manager. He believes that will vault him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. If he guides the Nationals merely out of the first round this postseason, they will arrive in a spot that the franchise has not been since baseball returned to the District in 2005.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has said multiple times that he wants Baker to return after this season.
“I’m concentrating on today,” Baker said Tuesday. “My future is to really stay healthy, stay alive so I can see my son play in the big leagues. You know what I mean?
“I’ve given some thought to some things but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make determination. There’s a good chance I’ll be back, which I wanna be back, but I went to, my off-day yesterday, I went to Quantico where I was stationed in summer camp — I don’t know — 30-some years ago. Close to 40-something. So I just reflected and thought about my time in the Marines and thought about what I could gather from there as far as leadership is concerned and bring back to my club. So I had kind of a real, real kind of outer-body day so to speak yesterday. So I feel very calm and very positive and focused about what we’re about to get into, and where I’ve been and where I’m going.”
If he gets there, what comes next will only be a matter of numbers.
• Todd Dybas can be reached at email@example.com.
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