Just under a week ago, the Washington Nationals had their next manager. James Wagner of the Washington Post reported “the Nationals intend to hire former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black.” This was, many felt, the right fit for both the Nationals and Bud Black. For the Nationals, they would have a manager with experience that former-manager Matt Williams lacked. For Black, he would have a team full of more talent than he ever had in his eight and a half seasons with San Diego.
This match made in baseball heaven fell apart late Monday evening. CBS reporter Jon Heyman first broke the story, where shockingly Black would not be accepting the job after all. The deal fell through because Black was offered a paltry $2 million over just two years. For a manager who stayed in one place for almost a decade, there was no scenario in which Black would agree to a deal like that with almost no job security.
Enter Dusty Baker, the Nationals’ next choice. Dusty Baker, who is a three-time National League Manager of the Year. The same Dusty Baker that holds just a .422 winning percentage in the playoffs. The same Dusty Baker that is known as the “Widowmaker,” overusing pitchers until they suffer a catastrophic injury. The same Dusty Baker that once said, “On base percentage is good. But RBI’s are better.”
The Nationals have shown a tendency to be wild with their money. They made Max Scherzer the highest-paid pitcher in baseball last season with a $210 million deal. They also fought Jerry Blevins in arbitration over a disagreement of only two-hundred thousand dollars. They made General Manager Mike Rizzo one of the highest-paid GMs in baseball. They also refused to add any players at the 2015 trade-deadline that would increase their payroll. The Nationals are willing to spend money, but they become frugal at the wrong times.
Baker offers the Nationals a manager with experience, much the same way Black does. Both candidates are also very well-liked by the players. The similarities end there. Baker is an old-school manager, whereas Black is willing to accept advanced statistics to make the team better. Baker puts a heavy workload on his starters because he doesn’t handle a bullpen well. Black, on the other hand, has been rated as the third-best manager at using pitchers out of the bullpen.
Whether Black and the Nationals find a way to work out a contract, or the Nationals officially offer Baker the job, this fiasco makes the Nationals look foolish. This behavior was supposed to be past them, having posted a winning record four years in a row and winning the National League East division in two of those years. This disaster, rather, reminds us all of the Nationals that lost 100 games in back-to-back seasons just over five years ago.
The choice was clear, and the Nationals, initially, made the right one. Bud Black should be preparing for his introductory press conference tomorrow. Instead, the Nationals must figure out how to pick up the pieces. The Nationals may have let a talented manager slip away over a contract dispute, which is unacceptable. If this is the case, then the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo will have a lot of questions to answer.
*Images from USA Today, Washtimes, Newsday and BillieWeiss