The Nationals have long had the reputation of being a little too cozy with Scott Boras.
Warranted or not, this perception exists when a quarter of your 40-man roster is stocked with Boras Corp. talent, when days before spring training, your club — that’s loaded with catchers — adds a Boras-represented catcher in Matt Wieters.
Which makes it perfectly natural to wonder whether Dusty Baker’s public remarks about Stephen Strasburg ahead of Game 4 could have contributed to Baker not being renewed as Nationals manager. Strasburg’s represented by — you guessed it — Scott Boras.
Loverro: Team Boras Was Not Happy With Baker
It’s certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented for Boras to make sure his opinion’s heard by a club (see also… Scott Boras calls out Yankees over Jacoby Ellsbury’s postseason).
Once Game 4 of the NLDS was postponed, Baker told reporters Strasburg had been feeling “under the weather” that week, in part due to Chicago’s high mold count. Mold would seem a silly reason for a pitcher to decline the ball in a division series.
Yet, that’s the reason Baker chose Tanner Roark, initially, as his starter for the elimination game in Chicago.
Turns out, Strasburg was dealing with something more troubling than a mold allergy.
“After his start [in Game 1], a couple of days afterwards he started feeling flu-like symptoms,” Rizzo told reporters hours before Game 4. “And that continued for the next couple of days. Fevers, chills, acute sinusitis.”
The Nationals put Strasburg on a diet of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and fluid IVs all week. Thanks to a last-minute change in that antibiotic medication, Strasburg was suddenly well enough to pitch in Game 4, Rizzo explained.
In an interview with Chris Russell on 106.7 The Fan, Chelsea Janes — a veteran reporter on the Nats beat who covered the duration of Baker’s time with the Nats — was asked Sunday whether she believes Boras or any of his clients “had anything at all to do with the decision-making process.”
“You know, I never rule it out with these guys, to be honest,” Janes said. “And I think that that does discredit the Nats’ front office. Like, it really, probably isn’t as simple as Scott Boras making a call or them trying to pander to anyone.”
“I don’t think Bryce was Dusty’s biggest fan,” she added, careful to clarify “there was no rift.”
“I think Bryce just likes the idea of — I don’t know,” she stopped herself. “He’s never said anything, so I’d just kind of be talking out of nowhere. There was no visible trouble there.”
“I think that there are plenty of other people in there who were Dusty’s biggest fans,” she said. “I mean, Jayson Werth loved him. Ryan Zimmerman was really good with him. He and Murph and all those guys just really, really liked the way Dusty handled them and playing time and everything.”
“I don’t think the Nats go and make a move like this for one guy,” Janes continued. “I don’t think, but it is hard to rule out the Scott Boras factor, if somebody didn’t like Dusty for some reason, just because he’s got that relationship with Ted Lerner. It’s hard to rule out. It’s hard to say ‘no way, that never factored.’ It’s one of those things that no one will ever admit. Again, people have looked into the Bryce thing a lot, that he didn’t come out and say anything, but there was never any visible animosity that you haven’t been told about. And Bryce just didn’t talk a lot this year.”
Harper was non-committal about whether Baker should return when asked about it after Game 5: “I think that’s a decision made from up top. I don’t want to comment on that really.”
In Matt Williams’ final days as Nats skipper, Harper loudly championed the job Williams had done.
“I love him as a manager. If I didn’t, everybody would know it,” Harper said in Sept. 2015. “He wants us to be perfect and I love that.”
It’s important to note the conditions were different. Harper was asked to comment on Baker just after the Nats had been eliminated from the postseason, a grim time. When he spoke of Williams, the Nats’ playoff hopes were still alive (barely).
Circling back to the moments before Game 4, Janes noted, “That morning, when the reports started to trickle out that Strasburg might pitch, the reports were coming from Boras.”
“Again, you can’t rule it out,” she said. “And I think there’s something to it, because when there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there’s just always smoke with Boras and the Nationals. I don’t know how much of a role that played, but it’s just, again, you can’t say no because it always feels like there’s a little bit of a role there.”
Janes was also a guest of Buster Olney’s “Baseball Tonight” podcast for ESPN on Tuesday, where she carried a similar tune.
“I think it was a panicky ownership decision, to be honest, and I don’t necessarily think there’s a good reason that comes with a decision like that, because it doesn’t really make sense,” she said. “It’s not like there’s another guy they had in mind that they made this move for.”
Regarding the Strasburg/Game 4 ‘will he or won’t he’ debacle, Olney noted he’ll “always believe that that played a role in what happened with Dusty.”
“I do too,” Janes replied. “And whether it’s because it got certain other characters involved in a way. You sort of always have to ask the Scott Boras question. I think so, too. I think it was just one of those moments that looked so bad for 12 hours on them, and it was totally unnecessary.”
“It could have been so easily avoided,” she said. “And I don’t even put all of that on Dusty. I mean, there’s so much that goes into that, as you know, but I do think that that was sort of a pivot point where a totally normal and functional season all of a sudden looked really, really dysfunctional on a really big stage, and sort of revealed and exposed some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes with this group that isn’t that as flattering for them.”
When Olney suggested Nats ownership sent Rizzo scrambling with its hasty decision, Janes agreed the GM did not support the move.
“I firmly believe this wasn’t a Mike Rizzo decision,” she said. “So I think scrambling is the right way to put it. We’ve heard from people in the organization who were just totally floored that this is how it went.”
“Because, like you say, when you think about what you want for this team — which is probably going to look a lot different in ’19 than it will next year — you want a guy who’s a veteran manager, who’s not going to need a ton of money, because the Lerners aren’t going to give it to him; who doesn’t need a whole lot of job security, because the Lerners aren’t going to give it to him; but who has the credibility to win over one of the more experienced clubhouses around,” she said. “And that is literally Dusty Baker, just in every single way.”
“You could say [John] Farrell has some credibility, but it sounds like they’re looking at Dave Martinez, Kevin Long — guys who haven’t been there. It’s just like you’re threading this needle, and it’s like you take a sure thing and say, ‘You know what? Let’s pick somebody who’s kind of a 50-50 shot instead.’ It just feels like too important a year for that and not really a good way to get that important year started.”