A Tale of Foreboding
Ominous. That is how I would describe the events that transpired to allow Dusty Baker to become manager of the Nationals. I have nothing against Dusty Baker and I'm one of the few people that thinks he is a fine manager and ultimately a better hire than Bud Black. Dusty Baker gets a lot of flack for his use of young pitchers based on the injuries to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, but Kerry Wood's innings actually decreased in Baker's first season as Cubs manager and Mark Prior may have just been one of those guys that got hurt. Stephen Strasburg has been on the DL in all but two seasons of his career and if he hits it in 2016 Dusty Baker will get blamed but it won't be his fault. But this has nothing to do with Baker as manager of the Nats. It is about what caused him to become the manager of the Nats.
It's important to remember all information in the media is second hand. A source said or claimed something, but in this case the source is very likely someone in the Bud Black camp. The Nationals and Black agreed to a deal last week with the salary apparently not being part of the agreement and then when the Nationals tried to give Bud Black a one year deal he scoffed at it and then rejected the subsequent two year offer they made. I understand the Lerners thinking in this. Bud Black was said to be the choice of the Nats front office and Mike Rizzo's last choice for manager was Matt Williams. Dusty Baker is the exact type of individual owners may prefer. Dusty Baker has made the playoffs with three different organization and has an overall winning record. Bud Black does not. Bud Black is perceived as possibly being a good manager because San Diego never gave him what it took to win while Dusty Baker has won.
My thinking on how it went down is Mike Rizzo made his choice but the Lerners no longer trust Mike Rizzo, especially when it comes to the hiring of a manager, and they wanted to only give Bud Black a one year deal for a multitude of reasons. First the Nationals picked up Matt Williams option for 2016 before the 2015 season and are on the hook for that and second and more important if the Nationals fail to make the playoffs in 2016 Mike Rizzo is gone and the new GM is very likely to want to bring in his own manager which means the Nationals would then be paying two managers for 2016 and 2017 if they gave Bud Black anything more than a one year deal.
It is this lack of trust between Rizzo and the Lerners that worries me more than anything else. All deals have final approval of the owners and if the owners don't trust the GM's decision making they may not be as inclined as they were in the past to approve those deals. It was reported that Mike Rizzo threatened to quit when the Lerners balked at including Robbie Ray in the Doug Fister trade. At that time Rizzo quitting carried more weight than it does now, but that episode also explains some of what may be behind the rift. The Lerners and Mike Rizzo don't communicate well.
Recently more and more GMs have had ivy league or business backgrounds and this might be because those types of people are going to be better in communicating with ownership. Mike Rizzo went straight to the nuclear option when the Lerners didn't want to include Robbie Ray instead of calming explaining that while Ray would give the Nationals a few years of cheap production before hitting arbitration and then getting more expensive than Doug Fister if Ray was any good and that Fister would come in immediately and help the Nationals win and fill Nationals Park as well as helping the Nationals earn a playoff share. I'm certain that a business grad could explain it better than I could, but Mike Rizzo doesn't even think in the language of business.
Another example of this rift is from this past trade deadline when the Lerners didn't want to add any payroll and so Mike Rizzo found a way to get a reliever without adding payroll and that ended in disaster. If he could have explained the return on investment of Kimbrel or Chapman being so much greater than what Papelbon would offer then maybe the Lerners concede to adding payroll. The same goes for the reported deal for Parra that the Lerners nixed over $3 million. Mike Rizzo is a baseball scout and doesn't think in business terms and can't explain to the Lerners how a small investment at present time can increase future revenue.
This communication issue and the sudden lack of trust between owner and GM does not bode well for the immediate future of the Nationals organization. The Lerners are going to scrutinize every move Mike Rizzo wishes to make more heavily than they have ever done before and if Mike Rizzo wishes for the Lerners to go along with his vision for the 2016 Nationals he's going to have to explain it, in their terms, better than he has ever done before. It is a situation that looks to be impossible to deal with and one that is more than likely going to lead to the 2016 Washington Nationals losing out on the division yet again and having a new GM for 2017. If the Lerners have lost trust in Rizzo as much as this manager situation makes it appear that they have then they should let him go now and hire baseball people they will listen to because no team wins when the owners get too involved.