After letting Dusty Baker’s contract expire Friday, the Washington Nationals have a tough job on their hands. Better big league managers are hard to find.
Good luck, Nats. You will need it. You don’t miss your sanity till the crazy arrives.
Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo explained Friday, sort of, why Baker won’t be back — even though he described Baker as “a Hall of Fame-type manager” and someone who represented the club “with class and dignity at all times.”
“Regular season wins and division titles,” Rizzo said, “are not enough. . . . With success comes expectations. . . . Our goal is a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
I asked Rizzo on his conference call: If any of a dozen plays or umpires calls or replay decisions had come out differently last week in Game 5 against the Cubs and the Nats had advanced to the National League Championship Series, would Baker be back as manager?
“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite hear that question,” Rizzo said. I don’t doubt him. But it does show how slender the threads are on which careers and franchise directions hang.
I have covered quite a few managers better than Baker at in-game decisions, lineup construction and deciding when to bench a slumping star in the middle of a playoff series. However, they are all in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps the Nats will find such a manager for next season, when they will be stacked with talent, even before they add any offseason pieces through trades, free agent signings or internal promotions. Just getting back Adam Eaton to replace the (presumably) departing Jayson Werth (.226) will be a major upgrade. But I wouldn’t be able to find that hypothetical manager for 2018, even with a blank checkbook.
Nats fans often say, “In Rizzo we trust.” How on earth did the GM create a decent bullpen at the trade deadline? Not one pundit, local or national, mentioned Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson or Brandon Kintzler as possibilities for the Nats. Rizzo got them all.
In decision-making, there is only one hole in Rizzo’s socks. He had a chance to hire a manager after 2013 and decided that Matt Williams was an excellent choice, saying publicly and privately that Williams was going to be “a great manager.” Williams lacked only one skill: communicating with humans. By his second season, Williams was avoiding his own clubhouse in the afternoon so he could find shoulders on other floors of Nationals Park to commiserate on. That was a miss.
Here are Rizzo’s challenges. First, find a veteran manager with a track record anywhere close to Baker’s who is available or likely to be out of work soon. There are none, except perhaps John Farrell, who inherited a Red Sox team built by Theo Epstein and previously managed by Terry Francona and took it to the 2013 World Series title in his first year in Boston.
In 2014, Brad Ausmus was hailed as an ultimate managerial candidate, an eloquent but tough Dartmouth graduate who was up to…