Managers who are not on the hot seat usually avoid lame duck status. Often, before they enter the final year of their contract, their team extends them. If that doesn’t happen, speculation starts about whether their job is secure. It’s become industry standard, more or less.
Which makes Dusty Baker’s new deal with the Astros a bit different: it’s a one-year deal. There’s a team option for 2021 and a buyout if the team doesn’t exercise it, but in all ways that matter, it makes Baker a lame duck before he has even been fitted for his Astros jersey.
My first thought when I saw this was “man, they’re making Dusty a caretaker manager and they’re gonna bring back A.J. Hinch next year when his suspension is up.” That’d be wild, wouldn’t it? I mean, historically it wouldn’t be totally insane given how often Billy Martin was fired and brought back — once hired to be a manager-in-waiting not long after he was fired, which had to make his replacement feel great — but it’d certainly be an odd thing by modern standards. And people would probably howl.
A more reasonable take, after I had some time to think and talk to people on Twitter about it, was that this is a way for the next Astros’ GM — who has yet to be hired – to be able to choose his own manager once he comes on the job. Of course this more reasonable explanation falls apart if the Astros are doubly ballsy and hire Jeff Lunhow to come back once his suspension is over. Bringing him and Hinch back would be the most WWE thing in recent baseball history. I’d almost kinda love it, just for the content-creation angle. For now, though, let’s just assume, reasonably, that that’s silly fantasy.
Either way, that does put Baker in an odd position. His team is stacked, but it’s also in turmoil. If they win the World Series one has to assume that the club would exercise his 2021 option and bring him back. If they do anything less than that, though, including winning 100+ games but exiting the playoffs, you have to figure that Dusty takes the fall and isn’t back in 2021.
Of course, given that Baker’s last season as the Nats manager saw him win 97 games and then get fired, it wouldn’t exactly be a new thing for him.