The Washington Nationals decided Dusty Baker was the reason the team failed in the postseason. Although he deserves some, his dismissal was handled poorly.
He may not be the best person to run the Nats in 2018, but to suffer in limbo nearly two weeks after the end of the season to know his fate is cruel. Baker is the only manager in 49 franchise seasons to deliver back-to-back trips to the playoffs. He averaged 96 wins a year.
You can quibble if Baker was the solution after a fourth early exit from the postseason, but you cannot say he was a problem.
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With the rest of the coaching staff gone, Washington heads into 2018 looking for their fourth manager since 2012. That level of instability is unacceptable. Yes, the Nats won in 2014 despite Matt Williams, but if Davey Johnson and Baker did not fit the bill, we have a problem.
There are reasons Baker had detractors. Starters pitched to one too many batters. Lineup construction jangled nerves. In-game moves were not a strength. Add two straight NLDS Game 5 losses and you understand to a degree.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Nats declared they were championship contenders or bust before the Winter Meetings. Although they left with Adam Eaton, there was egg on their faces too.
You can say the same again.
Although this is not a team with endless financial resources, the Nats are tone-deaf at times with fans. Remember those nights of long rain delays when you paid full price for food after they knew the game was canceled? Yeah.
All season, Baker and the Lerner family butted heads politely on a contract extension. To a person, we thought it was a done deal before the playoffs began. When other tams announced they hired new managers, Baker’s fate appeared safe. Washington was not changing everything heading into 2018, right?
Whether it was the botched rollout of Stephen Strasburg before Game 4 or the Los Angeles Dodgers steamrolling the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series or a combination of events and phone calls from Scott Boras, Washington needed a scapegoat.
The Nats correctly have stability in the front office with Mike Rizzo. He has built one of the better teams in Major League Baseball over the last decade, but the Lerner family intervenes at odd times. Rizzo wanted Baker back. But, Bud Black was Rizzo’s choice to replace Williams and negotiations fell through.
The Nats spend millions on payroll, but expect that to be enough. It is not. Money does not buy championships. It gives an advantage over other teams, but not World Series rings. There must be a better understanding between ownership and the front office on how roles need to mesh. If Baker’s job rode on advancing, he needed to know.
Managers are not a dime a dozen. They matter for success. If the Nats feel they are at the top level, they must spend like they do with players. You cannot cut corners.
Baker was not perfect, but better than anyone out there for a veteran team. Washington blew it and it is their fault.