Last Wednesday Bud Black agreed to become the Washington Nationals manager, with seemingly everything wrapped up and just the i’s to dot and the t’s to cross. It was such a done deal that the Washington Post was writing articles with headlines like “What’s next after the Nationals’ hiring of Bud Black?” This morning the Nationals announced Dusty Baker as their new manager.
In the intervening days, Black’s deal had apparently turned rotten. Last night Jon Heyman reported that not only had negotiations between the Nationals and Black hit a snag, but the Nationals had actually offered the job to Baker, their presumed second choice. The hang-up with Black? Money.
Bob Nightengale reports that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo offered the job and Black accepted it without the two first securing an agreement on the terms of the contract, most importantly the money. According to Nightengale, the Nationals’ paltry offer was for a single year at $1.6 million. (The terms of Baker’s contract haven’t been reported, but it was announced as a multiyear deal.)
Managers in baseball don’t typically get paid like their counterparts in the NFL and NBA, but the Washington Nationals are notoriously cheap for MLB, and favor short-term deals. Here is James Wagner summarizing their cheapskatedness:
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.
For a bit of context, Nationals owner Ted Lerner is the 86th richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $5.9 billion, and the Nationals’ $165.5 million payroll in 2015 was the fifth-highest in baseball.
Bud Black isn’t blameless for his predicament. It’s no secret that the Nationals lowball managers, so he probably should’ve gotten the basic terms agreed upon before he committed to the job.
That being said, what the hell are the Nationals doing here?
Whatever you think of Black—and considering they tried to hire him, presumably the Nationals think quite highly of him—he’s had eight-and-a-half years of experience as a manager. He wasn’t going to accept a one-year offer, and probably wasn’t going to accept a $1.6 million annual salary. Don Mattingly, a less experienced manager than Black, just got a four-year, $10 million deal from Jeffrey Loria, perhaps the only baseball owner cheaper than Lerner.
For all their fuckery, and I’m probably in the minority here, I think the Nationals will end up better off with Baker. Maybe it’s because I saw him managing my favorite team up close for a decade, but I think Dusty’s flaws are vastly overstated. Except for that goddamn Rally Monkey, he would’ve guided the Giants to their first West Coast title, and except for Steve Bartman, he would’ve guided the Cubs to their first World Series since 1945. He took over a mediocre Reds team and guided them to three playoff appearances in four years, which they hadn’t accomplished since 1973-76.
Yes, Baker’s flaws are very real and very apparent. He doesn’t handle the bullpen well, he has quite regressive views on the use of statistics, and he has underachieved in the playoffs. Those are some of the same flaws that doomed Matt Williams this season, but unlike Williams, Baker’s players usually love him, and he can manage stars like few other managers.
Nobody is going to be choking the star player in Dusty Baker’s dugout.
Photo via AP