How the Dusty Baker, Houston Astros saga could take a surprising turn

Here are some possible scenarios for the Astros and Dusty Baker. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Astros manager Dusty Baker’s contract expires next week, and team owner Jim Crane says he’ll wait until the end of the World Series before announcing whether he will bring Baker back for next year.

Hey, I invented stalling until the last minute before making a decision. Or studying for a test. Or showing up for work. Or pretty much everything.

Crane hired Baker in 2020 under a one-year deal in the aftermath of the Astros going to hell in a handbasket in baseball’s most notorious cheating scandal since the 1919 Black Sox. That’s when Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow and the Astros were the scourge of American sports.

The hope was Baker, then 70, would bring calm to the Astros organization. It was thought that Baker was a short-term Band-Aid. The Astros made the League Championship Series that year and Baker returned as Astros manager with another one-year contract. Last year, the Astros made the World Series and Baker was brought back again with yet another one-year contract.

Crane also hired general manager James Click in 2020. Click’s contract also expires next week. One more decision for Crane.

The sticky wicket is, Crane reportedly isn’t on the same wavelength as Click, Click doesn’t agree with Baker’s lineup decisions, and Baker isn’t obsessed with analytics like Click.

They could make a movie about this: Crane’s Choice, with Harrison Ford replacing Meryl Streep in the title role.

Several scenarios have been bandied about:

Crane offers new contracts to both Baker and Click and orders them to “keep calm and carry on.”

Crane keeps Click and offers Baker an executive position in the front office.

Crane keeps Baker and says goodbye to Click, who moves on to run another team’s front office.

Baker wins the World Series, doffs his cap to the crowd at the downtown parade and retires.

Crane says goodbye to both Click and Baker and starts from scratch – a.k.a. the easy way out.

But here’s one possible denouement (awesome word) that hasn’t been discussed much: what if the Astros win the World Series, Crane announces that he will meet with Baker to discuss a new deal for 2023 …

And Baker says, “you can stuff your one-year deals you-know-where. I’m outta here. I’ve got five teams offering me long-term deals.”

Why wouldn’t teams knock on Baker’s door? Baker has been with the Astros three years: one LCS and two World Series appearances. He is riding the hottest streak of any manager in the big leagues. He is admired by his players, adored by fans and respected by Houston media. He is old school, trusts his gut more than analytics, and has Click scratching his head (sometimes fans and media, too.) But you can’t argue with results.

If you owned a team with a talented roster and underperforming results, why wouldn’t you bring in Baker and give him a multiyear contract and pretty much whatever else he wants?

Baker reportedly makes $1.5 million for managing the Astros to the World Series. That is in the bottom half of MLB managers’ salaries. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts reportedly makes $6.5 million per year, the Guardians’ Terry Francona reportedly makes $4.2 million. Roberts and Francona are on vacation. Baker is still in business.

Walter Alston managed the Dodgers from 1954 to 1976. He worked on 23 one-year contracts. That’s a fun factoid. It’s not how it works these days. You want a capable manager that you believe will take you to the World Series? It takes a long-term contract and multiple millions.

Baker is 73, big deal (which is what he deserves to get from the Astros). He is a lock Hall of Fame manager, Top 10 in all-time wins. He is totally involved during games, turning mint-flavored toothpicks into splinters, dressed like he’s putting himself into the lineup in the seventh inning for defensive purposes. He doesn’t do or say anything stupid that embarrasses the Astros, you know, like another septuagenarian manager in Chicago in recent years.

Dusty Baker has spent a half-century in the game. He is 100-percent pure class. He appears healthy and on top of his game.

It should be Baker’s decision, not Crane’s, who manages the Astros next year and beyond.

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