In 2018 there will be six major league teams that take the field with a new manager. Two of those teams will be the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees.
It came as a surprise to many when both Dusty Baker and Joe Girardi didn’t receive a contract extension by their respective teams. Both were fired just a short time after their teams had been eliminated from the postseason.
Many parties around baseball have questioned these moves which have come on the heels of largely successful seasons for both teams. Were the dismissals of these two managers well justified by their front offices?
1) Dusty Baker
Back in November of 2015, Dusty Baker was hired by the Washington Nationals as Plan B to their first choice, Bud Black. Black had been offered the position just in time to negotiate the worth of his contract, that which owner Ted Lerner believed was worth no more than one year and $1.6M.
Black felt insulted by the offer and declined to further negotiate. This led to the eventual two-year contract extended to Dusty Baker.
Over the next two seasons, Baker led the Nationals to back-to-back NL East titles of 95 and 97 wins. He finished third in the Manager of the Year voting in 2016 and fifth in 2017 (two spots behind Rockies’ manager Bud Black).
Throughout his entire twenty-two-year managerial career, Dusty Baker was a winner when it came to the regular season. However, when the calendar turned to October, critics of Baker feasted at the opportunity to point out his managerial flaws.
He was the manager of the Cubs in 2003 during the Steve Bartman collapse when they went on to lose the NLCS after being up three games to one. While he has never managed a World Series Championship team, he took the Giants to the World Series in 2002 only to lose to the Angels in seven games.
More recently, he saw his teams get knocked out in the divisional rounds to the Dodgers and Cubs. How close were they to moving on? Both series went a full five games, and the Nationals lost by one run in each of the decisive Game 5’s.
According to the Mercury News, up until the onset of the 2017 playoffs, both Baker and Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo were on record stating that they expected Baker to continue managing the club. However, they mutually agreed not to discuss an extension until after the conclusion of the season.
After the Nationals were eliminated from the postseason, Baker stayed in Washington D.C. for nine days waiting to hear from the Nationals about a contract extension. He didn’t get a definitive answer from them, so he flew back to his home in Northern California. He then got an unexpectedly call the next morning and was fired over the phone.
For an organization with championship aspirations (still in need of first franchise championship), the Nationals’ hire of Baker was a bewildering one in retrospect. The Nationals franchise had been haunted by poor postseason performance having not won a playoff series since relocating from Montreal in 2005.
With the collection of talent that Washington rolled out in 2016 and 2017, they possessed all of the tools needed to win a championship.
Ownership had proven over and over again that it was too impatient to deal with losing seasons shown with the employment of six managers over the past ten years.
Ultimately, the Nationals front office did not trust that Baker could deliver them a championship. Baker is just the latest Nationals manager to drop. He will be handing the reigns over to former Chicago Cubs bench coach, Dave Martinez.
2) Joe Girardi
Meanwhile, two hundred thirty-eight miles northeast on I-95, the Bronx Bombers were in the midst of deciding the fate of their own manager. The only difference was they were still playing in postseason baseball.
Joe Girardi had taken a team of youthful up-and-coming prospects and turned them into a title contender. Unfortunately, despite the success of his “Baby Bombers,” Girardi was fired on October 26 just three days after a Game 7 elimination to the World Series Champion Houston Astros.
Girardi was hired by the Yankees in October of 2007 to succeed the great Joe Torre (4 championships and 6 AL pennants).
Over the next ten years, Girardi took the Yankees to the playoffs six times while compiling a 910-710 record. It is also noteworthy that he never allowed his team to win fewer than 84 games in a season. He was a top 5 finisher in AL Manager of the Year voting in seven of his ten years with New York.
In 2009, just his second year managing the Yankees, he led them to a 103-59 record, and their first World Series Title since 2000.
On the surface he seemed to be the right man for the job. He had far exceeded expectations for the 2017 season. So why wouldn’t the Yankees want to bring him back?
Apparently, the situation was not pending on the outcome of the 2017 postseason. This week during the GM meetings in Orlando, owner Hal Steinbrenner confessed that Girardi would still have been ousted had the Yankees won the World Series (according to SI.com).
This decision came in light of the fact that Girardi had not been able to relate to or communicate with players effectively.
Back in August, Girardi called out catcher Gary Sanchez publicly for his defense behind the plate after a 7-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
Later on in postseason, it was discovered that relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman liked an Instagram comment calling for the Yankees not to renew Girardi’s contract. The fan’s comment came as a knee-jerk reaction after Girardi had neglected to challenge an important call in the division series against the Indians.
In addition to lack of player relatability, Hal Steinbrenner also noted that their decision was not based on 2-3 weeks, but rather based on 2-3 years of communication and observations with those inside the organization.
Despite guiding the Yankees to the postseason while playing in the super competitive AL East, Girardi could not hang on to his job. Yankees GM Brian Cashman felt there needed to be a change in leadership to prime the next Yankee dynasty.
The Yankees are still in the midst of interviewing candidates to replace Girardi.
Won’t get easier
After a year of postseason births and supposed upgrades at the manager positions, each club is going to have higher expectations going into 2018. The failure of the old managers will be used as a yardstick for the success of the new ones.
Both managers had accomplished winning totals that were not easy to achieve. In the end, though, both were fired by their organizations for not completely fulfilling front office’s vision of an ideal team philosophy. For the Nationals, that would be postseason success and for the Yankees, player relatability.