The Nationals’ decision to part with Dusty Baker came out of nowhere Friday, eight days after the club’s postseason elimination.
How the organization handled the move, and how they’ve handled every managerial move since Davey Johnson, has made Washington the laughing stock of Major League Baseball, Thom Loverro says.
In an appearance on 106.7 The Fan, Chad Dukes asked Loverro if he’s “ever seen an organization that clearly builds the team the right way, plays the right way, but has so much weirdness surrounding the managerial position.”
“Well, I think it really illustrates the difference between baseball operations and business operation,” Loverro said. “And when it comes to hiring a manager, the final say is on the business operation, the ownership. And while the success of the Nationals gives the Lerners a pass, in terms of ownership dysfunction, believe me, they could share the same room with Dan Snyder in many ways when it comes to ownership dysfunction.”
“The impact that Scott Boras has on this ownership group is one of the biggest jokes in all of baseball,” he said. Boras represents eight Nationals players on the books for 2018 — notably Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Wieters — and Jayson Werth, whose contract is expiring.
“The Nationals right now, in the industry of baseball — and maybe fans don’t care about this, it’s up to you — but within the industry right now, with a move like this, they’re considered a joke inside their business,” Loverro said.
“Everybody has a reputation within their business — within a radio business, within the newspaper business,” he said. “Right now, within the baseball business, the Nationals, for ownership, they’re considered a joke.”
Loverro admits he didn’t expect Friday’s decision: “I’m surprised. I’m surprised that it took so long for them to do it, and then I’m surprised that the Nationals did it and did not renew Dusty Baker, because the word was, and it was an accurate word, that Mike Rizzo was determined to bring him back.”
“I always did say the Lerners were the wild card,” he said of Nats ownership. “They’re unpredictable. You don’t know what they’re gonna do. I don’t even know if this came down to a money decision, which a lot of people thought it might. At this point, I don’t know why they made the decision they did. I can only speculate on it.”
“When Bryce Harper was asked after Game 5 what he thought about bringing Dusty back, he was non-committal,” he went on. “He said basically that decision’s made by people above me.
“Now, when Matt Williams was in this same position two years before, he couldn’t say enough great things about Matt Williams, which really leads me to suspect that Team Boras was not happy with Dusty Baker.”
“You brought that up several times on this show,” Dukes noted. “There were some events down the stretch here towards the end of the season. Do you think that could have been the fulcrum that swung the sentiment away from Dusty, despite the fact that this is back-to-back division winning seasons?”
“I think it’s possible the Strasburg meltdown, before he wound up taking the ball [in Game 4 of the NLDS], might have contributed to it,” Loverro said. “Whether the owners blamed Dusty for the way it came off, whether Boras felt that Dusty and others hung his client, Stephen Strasburg, out to dry, that could have contributed to the Lerners digging in.”
“But somebody was in their ear,” he said. “Somebody was in their ear telling them that you don’t have to bring this guy back. And I think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a bad decision. The new manager, they’re not going to spend the money to bring in some great hired gun, so it’s gonna be somebody not with a lot of experience who’s going to take a little amount of money, and is gonna be handed a team with Bryce Harper entering his last year.”
The decision not to renew Baker could have major implications on future moves, Loverro suggests.
Although, even if Harper walks in 2018, Loverro does not believe the Nats are entering a window-closing scenario next season. Not with Victor Robles, Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor there to hold down the outfield.
“I really don’t think that this organization will not be competitive in the post-Bryce Harper era,” he said. “However, that’s assuming Mike Rizzo is in charge of the Washington Nationals. Mike Rizzo’s contract as team president and general manager is up also at the end of next year.
“And if Mike Rizzo was overruled by the ownership of bringing back Dusty Baker, like he was, I think it’s gonna be real difficult for Mike to be able to come back to this organization and continue to have his knees capped by the ownership.”
This wouldn’t be the first time ownership has gotten in Rizzo’s way, Loverro adds.
“Mike Rizzo wanted to give Davey Johnson, after 2012, a multi-year contract,” he explained. “But Davey wanted $4 million a year for several years, which is the same contract that Dusty Baker had gotten in Cincinnati.
“The Lerners said, ‘No. We don’t want Davey back but for one year. We’ll pay him $4 million, but we’ll pay him for one year.’ So they overruled Mike Rizzo there. Mike Rizzo wanted to hire Cal Ripken as the manager after Davey left. The Lerners said, ‘No. We don’t want to pay him.’ So he hired Matt Williams. That’s another time that they overruled him.”
“The first choice last time around was Bud Black,” he said. “And the ownership scared him away with a low-ball negotiation offer, which put Mike Rizzo in a tough spot.”
“So every step of the way in hiring a manager since 2013,” he said, “the Lerners have basically knee-capped Mike Rizzo. And he might be getting tired of it.”