The Washington Nationals faced a difficult decision with their manager after the season. In hindsight, they were correct not renewing Dusty Baker.
After a post-season where three of the 10 playoff managers were let go, you wonder what a manager must do to keep his job. For Baker, there still has to be sleepless nights.
The talk about money plays a part. Washington will get two years from new manager Dave Martinez from one season of Baker. However, Baker’s fate was not purely economic. Bad results and decisions did in the popular manager.
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Was it fair to fire someone who won an average of 96 wins over two seasons? The answer is subjective. Baker’s detractors are not thinking of consecutive National League East titles, but failing to get past the NL Divisional Series.
They will point out how flat Washington looked after winning the division with three weeks left. Baker pushed individual milestones as the team finished 9-10. As a unit, those individual stats were meaningless.
Baker might have survived the NLDS loss, but three critical events came back to bite him. His decision to hit Bryce Harper second in the lineup backfired. Still adjusting to major-league pitching after his knee injury, Harper’s timing was off and the Nats offense stalled.
Then came the rainout delaying Game 4 24 hours in Chicago. Baker’s uncertainty over Stephen Strasburg’s availability and the changing stories coming from Wrigleyville were a public relations nightmare. The Nats go out of their way not to create controversy. That night, they failed. Strasburg pitched the series back to DC.
In choosing a starter for Game 5, Baker’s choice to go with Gio Gonzalez over Tanner Roark will draw bar arguments for a generation. You cannot pin Max Scherzer’s bad inning on Baker, but never using Roark as the game wore on was a huge mistake. Makes you wonder what the relationship is between Washington and Roark.
Throw in how easily the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Cubs in the NL Championship Series and you get your answer. In essence, the Dodgers pulled a five-game sweep on Chicago. The Nats struggled while Los Angeles steamrolled. You figure Baker went from tough negotiations to unemployed as the Cubbies unraveled.
The day a manager is hired, a clock counts the days until his dismissal. Baker was no exception.
Knowing their championship window is as open as it gets, the decision to change styles is easy to understand in hindsight. As beloved as Baker is, Washington made the correct call.