Dusty Baker is out as Nationals manager, leaving the franchise yet again looking for a new clubhouse and dugout leader.
The club made the surprising announcement this afternoon, electing not to bring back Baker, who had won back-to-back National League East titles and an average of 96 wins per season. The 68-year-old Baker, whose teams lost in Game 5 of the National League Division Series each of his two seasons, was not under contract beyond 2017.
“The Lerner family, on behalf of the entire organization, would like to thank Baker for his two years in the dugout,” the Nationals said in a statement released shortly after noon. “He led the team to the first back-to-back division titles in our history and represented our club with class on and off the field. We wish him the best going forward.”
The Nationals also announced they have allowed all of their coaches’ contracts to expire and will wait to make any decisions on next year’s staff until they have hired a new manager, which will be the club’s seventh full-time skipper in 14 seasons playing in Washington.
Though uncertainty over Baker’s future hovered over the team all season, both he and general manager Mike Rizzo repeatedly expressed an interest in returning for 2018 and suggested they expected such a deal to get done once the club’s season ended.
“We talk every day, and we’re both confident that he’ll be back with us,” Rizzo said on Oct. 5, the day before his team opened the NLDS against the Cubs. “But we haven’t had any conversations about it. And we will not do so until we finalize this season.”
Hired in November 2015 after Matt Williams’ two-year tenure came to a screeching halt amid clubhouse turmoil, Baker wasn’t the Nationals’ original choice. They had settled on Bud Black as their manager, but then watched as contract negotiations broke down when the club initially only offered the veteran skipper one guaranteed year, according to sources familiar with those discussions.
Baker, who had been unemployed for two seasons after he was fired by the Reds, wound up accepting a two-year, $4 million offer. The financial terms were on the low end for a manager of his pedigree, but he knew this likely was his last best opportunity to be in charge of a championship-caliber team.
It’s not clear if this decision came about because the Nationals chose not to bring Baker back following the team’s disappointing postseason performance or whether the two sides could not agree to contract terms.
Baker ends up with a .593 winning percentage in his two seasons, best among any of the six men who have held this job since 2005.