After going 95-67 and taking the NL East last season, the Washington Nationals head into play on Thursday with a 37-21 record, good for an 11 1/2 game lead. Manager Dusty Baker has done a pretty good job with his team since being hired before the 2015 season. Sure, he's had talent, but that doesn't mean an asleep-at-the-wheel manager would be good enough.
Still, Baker's contract only runs through this season and there hasn't yet been much reporting in the way of progress on an extension. Baker wants to stick around and it sounds like the feeling is mutual to this point, though it sounds like it's going to have to wait, via this article in the Washington Post:
"Our priority is to focus on the team this season, and to win these games," Rizzo said. "but we're not going to mistake that for not making him a priority."
One person familiar with Rizzo's thinking said he hoped to get an extension done with Baker during spring training and "strongly recommended" to ownership that they extend Baker before his deal expires.
The Lerner family declined to answer questions about why they have not done so, instead issuing a statement through a team spokeswoman, as is their custom.
"We do not discuss management contracts," the statement said. "That said -- Dusty Baker is a real asset to our ball club. His work ethic and experience have earned him the respect of the clubhouse. We are fortunate to have him in our dugout."
As the author, Chelsea Janes, pointed out, the Lerner family has been pretty notoriously cheap when it comes to managers. Jim Riggleman quit midseason about issues and Davey Johnson managed on a series of one-year deals.
It seems at odds with the team's willingness to take long-term care of players, too. Max Scherzer is on a seven-year, $210 million deal. Stephen Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million extension last year. Jayson Werth is in the final year of a seven-year, $126 million contract. Ryan Zimmerman's in the middle of an 11-year, $135 million deal that was originally an extension. And the Nationals will surely do everything they can to re-up with Bryce Harper ( ).
Perhaps the ownership groups deems it much more difficult to find great players than good enough managers. They could back it up with the fact that their three NL East titles with mostly a similar core of players in the last six seasons came with three different managers (Johnson, Matt Williams and Baker). Many others would argue that outside an elite tier (that includes the likes of Joe Maddon, Terry Francona and Bruce Bochy) that many managers are similar in quality.
Overall, it's a pretty fascinating subject as the season moves along, especially if the Nationals make a deep playoff run. A fun little side storyline would be if Harper spoke out publicly in front of his free agency with something about how much he loved playing for Baker.