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Baker excited and well-equipped to manage Harper

Nov 9, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

Photo by USA Today

Despite their 83-79 record and well-documented failings in 2015, the Nationals’ managerial opening remained an attractive one this offseason. It’s a team that is just one year removed from winning the NL East and posting the best record in the National League.

They also have a pretty decent young player in Bryce Harper, who in less than two weeks is likely to receive the NL MVP award for his historic Age 22 season. Harper is a certified superstar and his career arc will be a central focus of new manager Dusty Baker’s tenure.

Harper doesn’t need much help from Baker, but the relationship between he and the Nationals’ skipper is an important one. Matt Williams saw both the positives and negatives of that. Williams should get credit for Harper’s development, but he also felt the backlash after a miscalculated benching early in 2014.

Now Baker will take his turn leading the Nationals and Harper, who has become a face of the sport.

“This guy is a player. He can really play. I love watching him play,” Baker said. “He’s come a long way in a short period of time.”

Baker comes to Washington with an extensive résumé of 20 seasons as an MLB manager. Along the way he has dealt with many superstars of Harper’s ilk.

I’ve been fortunate. I had Will Clark, Matt Williams, Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds. Then Ken Griffey, Jr., Sammy Sosa and Joey Votto. Now Bryce Harper. Hopefully… I have something that I can teach him,” Baker said.

Managing players like Bonds, Kent and Sosa – and the egos that came with them – should prepare Baker for dealing with Harper and other Nationals players like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. The 66-year-old manager can also draw from his playing days.

Baker was an accomplished player in his own right. He made two All-Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers and three times earned MVP votes.

“The thing about it is, I’m not really intimidated by stars because I was a star. I wasn’t the brightest star like some of these guys, but I was a star,” Baker said. 

Baker, in fact, told a story from his playing days that was very similar to Harper’s late season dustup with closer Jonathan Papelbon.

I wasn’t as good as Bryce Harper, but my first year in the league I though I was the cat’s meow,” Baker explained. “I got kind of jacked up by the older guys. One time I had somebody’s hand around my throat. I was a little cocky too, but you learn. This game, sooner or later it will humble you no matter how good you think you are.”

Handling star players is an inexact science, but Baker did share some insight into his philosophy as a manager.

“I tell them that I don’t care how much money you make. You’re not going to give me any of your money and I’m not going to give you any of mine. When the game starts, it’s not about money. It’s about whether I kick your butt or you kick mine. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

  1. raleighnat - Nov 9, 2015 at 9:06 AM

    If team wants Harper to be its franchise player for the long haul, better get an extension done similar to Stanton’s this off season.

    • tcostant - Nov 9, 2015 at 11:35 AM

      This offseason is our only chance, after this off season he would be gone. We do have a chance, because three years is a long way away and $300M+ is really hard to turn down.

      • raleighnat - Nov 9, 2015 at 12:17 PM

        Absolutely. Our competitive advantage to retain him lies in the difference we can pay him for the next 3 years vs. what he would earn in arbitration. No one can pay him like a free agent for the next three years but us. Every year that passes that advantage declines.

      • letswin3 - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:35 PM

        Spot on, Raleighnat.

  2. Doc - Nov 9, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    Gooooooooooooooooo Dusty!

    Let’s kick some butt—-preferably those butts on the other side of the diamond!!

  3. natsguy - Nov 9, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    To jfmii,

    Because I used to have a lot of love and respect for this franchise and I have hope they will regain it. Otherwise HTH is that any of your business. As the British say bugger off.

    • Dave - Nov 9, 2015 at 12:47 PM

      Wasn’t that in the last thread? Response without a prompt?

      • unkyd59 - Nov 9, 2015 at 12:52 PM

        Sometimes, one thread can’t contain the anger, I suppose…😜

    • jfmii - Nov 9, 2015 at 4:20 PM

      Sorry boss, don’t remember. Apologies nonetheless

  4. Doc - Nov 9, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    I’d like the new bench coach, whoever that may be, to be there for Dusty in all areas with an emphasis on analytics.

    Dusty probably has someone in mind, but as Rizzo hired Maddux, I’d like him to have a large input on the bench coach. The next bench coach may be a candidate for the next manager.

    • sec112 - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:19 PM

      They really should be thinking this way (having a bench or 3rd base coach who could take the manager role when Baker retires with his World Series ring!) – at least making sure that it’s an option – since Baker is likely not a long term hire and I would think they’d want to at least have the option of some continuity.

  5. infideljack - Nov 9, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    Step #1 Get rid of Papelbon.

    • letswin3 - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:38 PM

      Right, Jack, and the sooner done the greater the message sent. This is not negotiable.

  6. Drew - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:20 PM

    FWIW – not much, but it’s fun – MLBTR is out with its predicted landing spots for the top 50 FAs.

    It predicts Upton, Wieters, Parra to the Nats; JZim to the Jays, Desmond to the Mets, Span to the Cubs, Fister to the Astros.

  7. TimDz - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    Guess the talking heads there are thinking that the Nats are going to clean house…adding two outfielders? That would mean SOMEBODY has to go…

    • Steady Eddie - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:41 PM

      I imagine that’s why Drew appropriately suggested it wasn’t worth much, because there doesn’t seem to have been much deep thinking about team structure as a whole in those rumors. Just like it’s questionable that the Mets would go for Desmond with his erratic glove and big power but not entirely reliable bat when they just went through the ecstasy and the agony of all that with Murphy, who they just QO’d.

      • Steady Eddie - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:47 PM

        And while Desi will have to take a big discount relative to what the Nats offered him (let alone what he hoped to get pre-2015), he still ain’t coming cheap. His “flexibility” on maybe going to second base or the OF for the “right” team suggests that his best fit would be a recently rebuilt team that’s still a year or two away from contention and can take a chance on some time to experiment with Desi to get the right position fit. A contender will be less likely to want to take that risk, though maybe a winning team with lots in flux and deep pockets like the Dodgers or Yankees might.

    • DaveB - Nov 9, 2015 at 5:46 PM

      They specifically say that the predictions should NOT be looked at that way (in terms of the aggregate signings for each team) … they just look at each player individually and try to guess which team would be the best fit for that one player.

  8. Section 222 - Nov 9, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    When two posts in a row use the same quote from Dusty, it might be worth looking for some new material…

    • NatsLady - Nov 9, 2015 at 2:06 PM

      Not a problem as far as I’m concerned. One post a day so we have a place to comment is fine.

      • Section 222 - Nov 9, 2015 at 3:40 PM

        I should have added YMMV.

    • natsred4dndc - Nov 9, 2015 at 6:11 PM

      OTOH, there were some nice quotes in Dusty’s press conference that we might forget if not repeated at least three times, so they are committed to memory. Or is that seven times; I never remember.
      Seriously, new material is going to be hard to find for the next month or so. Winter Meeting start 12/7.

      • Section 222 - Nov 9, 2015 at 11:35 PM

        Haha! Well played.

  9. Drew - Nov 9, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    I think the apparent MLBTR disconnect is because they’re morphing together the predictions of multiple writers, perhaps on some kind of point system.

    No individual writer would suggest both Upton and Parra to the Nats.

  10. Doc - Nov 9, 2015 at 3:28 PM

    I’m happy with upper den Decker. Wouldn’t see Parra as an upgrade in an OF utility role.

    Upton would mean that JDub is on his way somewhere to the AL. Wieters would be a bit of a stretch–both roster-wise and financially.

  11. Drew - Nov 9, 2015 at 4:02 PM

    Conceivably the Nats could play Harper in center, with Werth and Upton on the corners and MAT and Den Dekker when Werth gets hurt.

  12. ehay2k - Nov 9, 2015 at 4:09 PM

    Upton? Puhleeeze nooo! He hasn’t hustled for any manager, so I doubt Dusty can get him to do it.

  13. Whack-A-Mule - Nov 9, 2015 at 6:19 PM

    In the Nationals outfield, the missing keystone is a center fielder with offensive credentials. If not Span, then someone better than he. Now. That rules out Michael A. Taylor until his offensive performance upgrades (OBP,
    BA and many-many fewer K’s) and Bryce Harper who is not (except in emergency situations) a center fielder.

    Not far behind are needs in left field and first base. There well may be 60 games to fill at each position, since
    it is axiomatic that “injured players get injured”. Of the denDekker+Robinson combo , neither is at the level of a starting position player on a championship-caliber team. Keep shopping, Mike.

    (And the bullpen cannot be found in the Remainder Aisle at Walmart; shop elsewhere, Mike.)

  14. ehay2k - Nov 9, 2015 at 7:51 PM

    I am excited to see what happens during spring training. I expect a lot of energy, like what we saw in 2012. Will players show up early to get to work? I am betting on that as well.

    If Dusty and Co. can help to develop our young guys, especially MAT, Turner, and Difo, then the cupboard would be pretty stocked. We also need some lesser known guys to light it up some can get good trade value for them. TMo comes to mind. He has nowhere to go behind Zimm’s contract and Clint’s big LH bat. But he has potential and no options. Need to get something for him.

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