It is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately calculate a manager’s effect on a baseball team, but Dusty Baker made a clear positive impact on the Nationals in his first year. The 67-year-old’s affable personality and laid-back demeanor loosened a clubhouse that needed some loosening after the stunning debacle under Matt Williams in 2015. He finished third in National League manager of the year voting, and, more importantly, the Nationals returned to the postseason, with 95 victories, though the season ended in a familiar, disappointing fashion.
Baker, who turns 68 in June, will return in 2017 seeking his first World Series title in his 22nd season as a manager. But his future beyond 2017 is unclear because his contract is slated to expire after the season. He is, essentially, a lame-duck manager at the moment. But that could change before Opening Day, because the Nationals are willing to talk to Baker about extending his contract. The two sides haven’t broached the topic yet, however, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
“I don’t know,” Baker said at the winter meetings last month when asked about his future beyond next season. “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.”
Baker signed a two-year contract with $4 million guaranteed, plus another potential $3 million in incentives, in November 2015 after the Nationals initially offered the job to Bud Black and had contract negotiations deteriorate. The Black episode wasn’t the first odd incident the Nationals have experienced with managers in their short history; in 2011, Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned in late June because Washington wasn’t prepared to exercise his option.
Washington could avoid any messes by extending Baker — if Baker wants to continue managing in 2018, a quarter-century after his first season as a skipper with the Giants in 1993. Baker is the second-oldest manager in the majors — he’s a couple weeks younger than Mets Manager Terry Collins — but insists that age didn’t slow him after an unexpected two-year hiatus from the dugout.
“People put too much credence on age,” Baker said. “A lot of my friends are musicians, and most of them have young musicians tutoring under them. Instead of the young musicians trying to get them out of there, they trying to hang with them and learn some chords from them while they’re still on this earth and get some knowledge from them.”
Maybe Baker’s desire to manage in 2018 will come down whether he can lead the Nationals to his — and the franchise’s — first World Series title and cement his résumé as a Hall of Fame manager. Maybe he has already decided that 2017 is his final year. But if he wants to manage beyond next season, the Nationals are open to the idea.