The Washington Nationals fired Dusty Baker on Friday because being one of the winningest major league managers over the past two years was not quite enough to win him a contract extension.
That's not surprising, considering the amount of money the Nats have spent on their star-studded lineup and starting rotation, but it's still hard to fathom the dismissal of a guy who spent just two seasons with the team and won the National League East both years.
General manager Mike Rizzo made it clear in a conference call with reporters that it wasn't complicated — that winning regular-season games and division titles is not going to cut it.
Trouble is, firing managers every couple of years is no prescription for success either, and firing a highly respected manager after two division titles in a row isn't going to make the Nationals the most attractive team shopping the managerial market this winter.
There are several teams looking for new managers, so the Nationals will either have to take a chance on a promising young candidate or pony up a lot more money than they did when they lowballed first-choice Bud Black two years ago and then gave Baker a modest (by industry standards) two-year, $4 million deal.
There were rumors during the ill-fated National League Division Series that a contract extension was pending for Baker. When the Nats lost that crazy Game 5 to the Chicago Cubs on Oct. 12, that kind of speculation quieted in a hurry.
Did Baker deserve better? Perhaps, but he knew what he was getting into when he took the job. He was hired to get a very good team over the hump and the Nationals are still waiting to win a playoff series.
Davey Johnson won the NL East his first full year and finished second the next. Matt Williams took over and also won the NL East title his first year and finished second the next. Baker was more successful than either of them, but not successful enough.
This was his chance to cap his solid managerial career with a world championship ring to go with the one he won as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981. Arguably, a title this October might've punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Rizzo has been running the Nats front office since 2009 and he obviously feels that he has put together a team that should have been in the World Series long before this. Now, he will begin searching for the Nats' seventh manager since the franchise moved to Washington.
No doubt, Rizzo is feeling some heat himself, since the window of opportunity might never be as wide open for his team as it was this season. Contracts are set to expire on several key players by the end of next season — including superstar Bryce Harper, popular outfielder Jayson Werth, second baseman Daniel Murphy, and starting pitcher Gio González.
Fair question: Since Rizzo was the guy who hired all three of those managers who failed to get the Nationals to the mountaintop, is he really the best choice to decide which one of this year's crop of managerial candidates will buck that trend?
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