Posted on January 2, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s always a little surprising for a major league team to allow a manager to enter a season as a lame duck. It’s even more surprising when a team allows the person who led them to a playoff appearance last year enter the season as a lame-duck manager. However, such is the case with Dusty Baker, who signed a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals prior to the 2016 season, giving him just one more year on his contract despite taking the Nationals to the postseason last year. However, those familiar with the Nationals believe that the team will try to sign Baker to an extension during spring training.
Baker will be the first to admit that he’s no spring chicken at age 67, but after spending two seasons out of the dugout after being fired by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, Baker appeared to be reinvigorated by managing the Nationals in 2016. It certainly helped that he had a talented roster to work with, one that ultimately proved capable of winning a division title and playing in the postseason. But Baker’s year in Washington seems to have made him want to stick around for a few more years, if the Nationals will have him of course.
“I don’t know,” Baker said earlier this offseason when asked how much longer he wants to manage. “Tell you the truth, the way I look at it – between my family, my hunger, between, you know, the prayers that I send up looking for answers and looking for clues – it will come to me, you know? Some of it’s in your control and some of it’s out of your control. If it was in my control, I wouldn’t have been out two years in the first place, but you can’t hire yourself.”
Clearly, Baker would be willing to manage any team that would have him, but his preference at the moment may be to stay with the Nationals. “I’ve enjoyed my time here,” Baker said about his year in Washington. “This is probably one of the best stops I’ve had outside of San Francisco, which is home. I really like D.C., I like the surrounding area, I like the people here, I like the educational level here. I liked everything about here, other than sometimes it rained a little too much, the rain delays. But other than that, it was great.”
Of course, the Nationals have had some odd moments with managers over the years, as many have parted ways with the team under less than ideal circumstances. The case of Jim Riggleman resigning midway through the 2011 season because he was upset over his lame duck status comes to mind. Perhaps that experience will implore Nationals GM Mike Rizzo to not make the same mistake with Baker.
One more factor for Baker and the Nationals to both consider when thinking about a possible extension is Washington’s perceived window for competing. Most believe the Nationals have two more years in which to go all out for a World Series before star players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy become free agents, making a deep postseason run all the more difficult. That could make Baker less eager to sign an extension that would keep him in Washington beyond 2018. However, Baker has implied that he would manage any place that wants him, so he may not be thinking along those lines.
At the moment, there’s little to indicate that Baker and the Nationals have had serious discussions about an extension. But the idea makes too much sense for something not to happen before the season. The Nationals would be foolish to allow their manager to begin the season as a lame duck when they have a chance to compete for a spot in the World Series, while Baker appears open to staying in Washington long term. There may be nothing imminent, but stay tuned.