Five days after the Washington Nationals picked veteran Bud Black to be their next manager, the team did not announce a hiring Monday because contract talks crumbled over the weekend, according to people familiar with the situation. The deal wasn’t expected to be announced until after a contract was signed and after the World Series. But the playoffs ended Sunday and there was still no public word from the team Monday, a sign that a deal between the two was in jeopardy.
And according to a CBS Sports report late Monday night, the Nationals have even circled back to the other finalist, Dusty Baker, the veteran who last managed in 2013 with the Cincinnati Reds, and intend to offer him the job. Messages for Black, Baker and Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo were not immediately returned.
The Nationals chose Black on Wednesday, but the terms had to be ironed out. According to another person familiar with the situation, Black was “deeply offended” by the Nationals’ first offer and the talks didn’t get back on track after that. According to a tweet from an account believed to belong to Black’s wife, the initial offer was for one-year, $1.6 million.
The high point of negotiations for the Nationals — despite a $165 million player payroll and some of the richest owners, the Lerner family, in baseball — was believed to be a two-year deal with team options for Black, according to another person familiar with the deal. USA Today reported the offer was for less than $2 million.
The Nationals have been reluctant to pay top dollar for managers in the past. Their standard practice has been two-year deals with options, which Matt Williams, Jim Riggleman and Manny Acta signed. Riggleman made $600,000 his final year as manager in 2011. Even veteran manager Davey Johnson worked under a shorter-term deal. He made $4 million his final year as manager in 2013 after much lower pay before and had a modest consulting year added on for 2014. Williams, fired the day after the 2015 season ended, was due to make $1 million in 2016.
If Black balked at contract terms with the Nationals, Baker could pose the same issue: He has managed longer and would likely need to be compensated like a veteran skipper, too. Baker reportedly made $4 million in his final year managing the Reds. Don Mattingly, who managed the Dodgers for five years through the end of this season, signed a four-year deal with the Marlins on Monday for $10 million, according to USA Today.
Black, 58, who managed the Padres for 8 1/2 seasons, was seen across baseball as a good hire for the Nationals. The Padres fired him midway through this past season. They never reached the playoffs under Black, but he is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach known for his communication skills and ability to handle a pitching staff. He was named NL manager of the year in 2010.
The Nationals, especially the Lerner family, were also impressed with Baker, 66. He was a three-time National League manager of the year — in 1993, 1997 and 2000 — but hasn’t managed since he was fired by the Reds two years ago. He has reached the playoffs with all three teams he has managed — the Reds, Giants and Cubs — and reached the 2002 World Series with the Giants. He possesses an old-school managerial style and is known for his ability to motivate players and handle big personalities.
As of Friday, Baker said he hadn’t spoken with the Nationals about their decision, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Baker said he was “really disappointed” he hadn’t gotten the job and had heard through his wife about the Nationals choosing Black.
“I’m happy for Buddy,” Baker said, according to the Chronicle. “I mean, Buddy played for me. But naturally, I don’t think anyone would have been as good for the job as me. It seemed like a perfect fit. The town. The diversity of the races. People from all over the world.”
The Nationals, the Lerner family and Rizzo are now at the center of a stunning turn of events that raises many puzzling questions about the team. Rizzo — who is entering the final guaranteed year of his deal in 2016 and has team options for 2017 and 2018 — has been the Nationals’ general manager since 2009 and the one who hand-picked Williams. After a tumultuous and disappointing 2015 season, Williams was fired by Rizzo with one year left on his contract.
— Adam Kilgore and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.