WASHINGTON — Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo let it be known that he will not give updates on negotiations to extend skipper Dusty Baker’s contract beyond 2017.
“We’re not going to talk about Dusty Baker’s extension,” he said bluntly. “It’s not going to be a distraction.”
That’s a well-intentioned stance, but it doesn’t change the fact that it will be a matter of speculation until it is resolved. Rizzo will be asked about it again. Players will be asked to comment. Fans and the media will discuss it on all platforms. That is the standard definition of “distraction” in sports.
But don’t worry, Nats fans, Rizzo has his reasons.
“Dusty Baker’s got a reputation and an aura that precedes any length of contracts,” he said.
While Baker does have a long track record as a baseball lifer, reputation and “aura” don’t put money in his pocket or offer peace of mind. It didn’t keep him from getting fired from three previous managerial jobs either. And especially after the team’s experience with Matt Williams, Baker’s reputation and aura should come at a premium.
It has become an industry norm for sports teams to extend coaches, even those on the hot seat, for at least one year as a show of good faith. Baker has noted many times that he came back to the Nats after two years out of baseball, but if he had his way, he never would have left.
Baker isn’t on the hot seat and there’s no real reason to believe last year was a fluke. His squad won 95 games, and if not for freak injuries to star players Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos, they may have gone much deeper in the playoffs.
Coming off a season like that, Baker still rationalized his overall worth with the media.
“I see my importance in the organization has grown since I’ve been here,” Baker told the media earlier this week. “That’s worth something. And as much as we’re a young organization, I’ve been around a while. Everybody comes to my office, from the trainers to the PR department to the media department to the community relations department.
“I feel like I’m helping out on all fronts. Sometimes you can make yourself valuable so you’re not that easily disposed.”
That isn’t a standard “this is a business” sound bite. It sounds like a sincere plea to get a deal done. At least Rizzo assured the media that the feeling is mutual.
“He’s our manager. He’s a great manager, one of the best in the game,” Rizzo said of Baker. “And with his energy and the way he’s feeling, he’s capable of managing well beyond this season.”