It’s official: Dusty Baker is the new Nationals manager

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The back-and-forth of the past 24 hours involving Bud Black, Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals is now over: The Nats just announced that Dusty Baker is their new skipper. He has a “multi-year deal” according to James Wagner of the Washington Post.

Baker’s hiring comes after a deal with the club’s first choice — Bud Black — fell through due to financial terms and contract length, according to multiple reports. Black is an established manager who wanted a contract in the range which established managers get. The Nats, either because they were lowballing him or because they simply don’t understand the manager market, felt that a short deal — two years — and low money — $2 million — was sufficient. When Black backed out they went to Baker.

Which isn’t to say that Baker is a bad choice. And that’s the case no matter how much snark and joking has come to surround almost any mention of Baker over the past couple of years. He’s become something of a figurehead for old school managers who are no longer in vogue and became a target of baseball analysts who lament the days when managers didn’t pay attention to pitcher workloads and did not seem on the surface to be carrying out a front office’s plan as opposed to their own. And while there may be some truth to that as a descriptor of Baker, it’s pretty old and not really accurate conventional wisdom on the man or on the state of managing in 2015.

Baker got a lot of criticism for his handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in Chicago. And it’s absolutely the case that they were worked harder than you would like to see young pitchers worked. But if we’ve learned anything in the past several years, it’s that any pitcher, even the ones whose workload is most closely monitored, can tear ligaments and break down. What’s more, Baker evolved as a manager when it came to his use of pitchers, particularly while in Cincinnati. To the extent you’re using the “oh no, Dusty is going to destroy pitchers” line of attack on him, you’re about a decade out of date.

More troublesome for one’s criticism of Baker, though, is that it ignores the fact that he has won everywhere he’s gone. He won a pennant in San Francisco, made the playoffs in Chicago and won a lot of games and two division titles with the Reds. His successors . . . tend not to do too well. This doesn’t make him some super hero — Baker has always benefitted from taking jobs with teams poised to do good things — but he has not underachieved either and he has not been an impediment to winning.

Ultimately, the value of Dusty Baker is his experience and his history dealing with his clubhouses. Specifically, he has a lot of the former and a lot of success with the latter, making him the anti-Matt Williams in just about every respect. The Nats should want that, right?

Bud Black is a good manager who is well-respected in the game. I think the Nats made a good call in offering him the job and made a mistake in lowballing him. But I also think that, even if the politics behind this managerial move are troublesome for the Nats, the ultimate result — getting Dusty Baker — is a pretty OK outcome. Going from Black to Baker will not be the difference between winning and losing in 2016 and beyond. And winning with Dusty Baker is something a lot of clubs have done in the past.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.