It goes without saying that the Nationals’ 2017 season ended in bitter disappointment, as the organization once again failed to make it out of the NLDS despite cruising to its fourth NL East title in the past six campaigns. The exit, in a wild and mistake-filled Game 5 loss, was yet stranger and more baffling than the previous ones — which, surely, is saying something.
While manager Dusty Baker has received quite a lot of criticism, both this year and in the past, he clearly did not deserve all the blame. Despite some questionable high-leverage personnel moves — everyone’s favorite area to nitpick — Baker was not the direct cause of the major on-field failures that led to the Nats’ demise. And he has also guided the club successfully over the course of the regular season, particularly in light of the disarray that existed when he took over following the inglorious exit of Matt Williams. At the same time, Baker obviously hasn’t yet guided the Nationals out of their postseason malaise, continuing his own uninspiring track record in October.
Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post discusses some key considerations at play regarding Baker. Of particular note: there was at least some level of discord between the skipper and club ownership over the way mid-season extension talks played out. That certainly follows a hard-to-deny trend of managerial tensions over the years. At the same time, there’s a need to chart a course for a critical offseason and 2018 campaign — rather than allowing any uncertainty to linger — while also perhaps attempting to find some stability in the dugout for the first time since the franchise landed in D.C. You’ll certainly want to give Svrluga’s piece a full read for all the nuance at play here.
No matter what, it seems prudent for the team to act relatively quickly and decisively. Making a change away from Baker would be a decision fraught with risk, including from inside the clubhouse. Negotiating with him may or may not be straightforward, and itself comes with some risk of a collapse (given the track record of ownership with managerial dealings). Several other teams are already deep into searches for new skippers, which could take several possible alternatives off the table.
Needless to say, there are many variables still at play. But the essential question remains whether the Nationals wish to retain Baker. Should they?