Baker, Nationals not worried about contract status

The Athletics have finished last in the American League West each of the last three seasons, never winning more than 75 games. Last week, they gave manager Bob Melvin a contract extension through 2019.

The Pirates, following three straight seasons reaching the National League wild card game, have fallen back under the .500 mark each of the last two seasons. Last month, they gave manager Clint Hurdle a four-year contract extension that keeps him in Pittsburgh through 2021.

The Nationals just won 97 games to capture their second consecutive NL East title. Their manager inherited a talented team, but one that had fallen into chaos at the end of the 2015 season. He is well-liked, respected and even loved by just about everyone in his clubhouse.

So why isn’t Dusty Baker signed beyond the next month?

It’s a confounding situation to many who look at this and insist there’s no earthly reason for the Nationals not to have already locked up Baker for the future. But it’s also evidence of the manner in which the Lerner family handles these things, and it’s not the first time this ownership group has found itself in an awkward situation along these lines.

Lerner-WIth-Baker-Sidebar.jpgHere’s the bottom line: Everybody involved genuinely wants and expects Baker to return to manage the club in 2018. They just don’t intend on actually hashing out details about it until the 2017 season ends.

Have the two sides even held any recent discussions about Baker’s future?

“We have not,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We talk every day, and we’re both confident that he’ll be back with us, but we haven’t had any conversations about it. And we will not do so until we finalize this season.”

Baker appears to be OK with all of this. Which isn’t to say he wouldn’t rather have signed on the dotted line long ago and crossed the matter off his to-do list.

But the uncertainty isn’t causing the 68-year-old skipper to lose any sleep.

“No, not really,” Baker said. “I’m concentrating on today. My future is to really stay healthy, stay alive, so I can see my son play in the big leagues. You know what I mean? I’ve given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make determination. There’s a good chance I’ll be back, which I want to (be) back.”

It would be easy to look at the Nationals, 0-for-3 in postseason series over the previous five seasons and now trying to finally get over that hump, and wonder if Baker’s fate is tied to his team’s fate this October. A long postseason run, to be sure, would help his cause. But the sense is that it’s not necessary.

The Lerners simply are reluctant to commit years and dollars to non-players before they absolutely must. That’s in part because they’ve been burned before when locking up managers.

Manny Acta was handed a barebones roster in 2007 but guided that club to an overachieving 73 wins. The Lerners promptly picked up his 2009 option - only to end up firing him during the All-Star break as the club was headed for its second straight 100-loss season.

Matt Williams won NL Manager of the Year after leading the Nationals to a division title as a rookie skipper in 2014, and the Lerners promptly picked up his option for 2016 - only to fire him the day after the 2015 season ended in shambles, the team having missed the playoffs and Williams having mishandled Jonathan Papelbon’s choking of Bryce Harper in the dugout during a late September game.

Given their history, it’s perhaps understandable why the Lerners are gun-shy when it comes to contract negotiations with managers.

And so it’s perhaps understandable why they haven’t yet committed to Baker beyond this season, even when everyone involved seems to agree he should be back in the dugout in 2018.

Until then, Baker will worry about the things he can control, such as his team’s preparation for the National League Division Series against the World Series champion Cubs. Which is how the former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve found himself on Monday at the base in Quantico where he was stationed nearly 50 years ago.

What did he do there?

“I just reflected and thought about my time in the Marines, and thought about what I could gather from there as far as leadership is concerned and bring back to my club,” he said. “So I had kind of a real, real kind of out-of-body day, so to speak. So I feel very calm and very positive and focused about what we’re about to get into, and where I’ve been and where I’m going.”

Baker, suffice it to say, isn’t worrying much right now about his future beyond 2017.

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