Even though the Washington Nationals aren’t offering, Dusty Baker has earned a contract extension to remain in the dugout for years to come.
Dusty Baker has done exactly what the Washington Nationals hoped he would do when they hired him to replace the overmatched Matt Williams following the 2015 season.
The 67-year-old manager has led the Nats to the best record in the National League in 2017. That follows a season in which Washington won 95 games and easily captured the NL East.
So why are the Nationals refusing to extend his contract, which expires at season’s end?
Baker, for one, doesn’t have an explanation. He wants to be back next year (and beyond) and believes he has earned an extension and a raise, he told The Washington Post.
And Washington GM Mike Rizzo agrees, according to the newspaper. Rizzo reportedly urged ownership to renew Baker’s contract before it expires.
The hangup seems to be the team’s owners, the Lerner family, who always has been loathe to commit to managers.
Remember when Jim Riggleman quit during the 2011 season because the team would not extend his contract? And Davey Johnson, one of the most accomplished managers of his generation, managed on a series of one-year contracts.
The Lerners also tend to pay managers less than other teams. Bud Black walked away from the chance to succeed Williams when he felt the Lerners lowballed him, opening the door for Baker to take the job at a discounted price.
Baker, who has won more than 1,800 games and led eight teams to the postseason, is earning only about half of what he made in Cincinnati and significantly less than the Chicago Cubs’ Joe Maddon and the San Francisco Giants’ Bruce Bochy.
“I remember talking to Frank Robinson when he was here,” Baker said. “I remember his complaints to me. I remember Riggleman, which I would never do. I remember talking to Davey.
“But I think I’ve earned more than I’m being paid.”
Baker is far from perfect. He has rightly earned criticism for his handling of pitchers and some of his tactical decisions over the years. And his postseason record isn’t great.
But make no mistake: The man can manage.
Baker’s teams have won 90 or more games nine times in his 17-year career. He has managed the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals and led each of them to at least one division title. Overall, he has finished first six times and captured two wild cards (and that doesn’t include his 1993 Giants, which won 103 games but missed the playoffs).
The Nationals hired him to bring stability and leadership to a talented-but-underachieving team that floundered under the inexperienced Williams in 2015. And he has succeeded. So it’s time to pay the man.
The Lerners would not comment on Baker’s contract situation. The team issued a mealymouthed statement to the Post:
“We do not discuss management contracts. That said — Dusty Baker is a real asset to our ball club. His work ethic and experience have earned him the respect of the clubhouse. We are fortunate to have him in our dugout.”
They are right about that. But if they don’t get their act together, he may not be in their dugout in 2018.