Of all the tasks on the lengthy to-do list for new Nationals manager Dusty Baker, fostering healthy relationships with his star players is likely near the top. Of course, this isn't new territory for the veteran skipper, who has been around elite talents like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Joey Votto in his accomplished managerial career.
So it comes as no surprise that the relationship between Baker and his latest phenom, Bryce Harper, will probably be scrutinized throughout most of the 66-year-old's tenure in Washington -- especially compared to that of his predecessor, Matt Williams.
Harper, who's currently making the media rounds as he's up for a number of year-end honors, was asked Monday night on MLB Network about his new manager as well as pitching coach Mike Maddox and first-base coach Davey Lopes.
“I think you see that smile on my face,” Harper said after accepting the NL Outstanding Player award. “I’m definitely very excited to have him. Being able to play for a guy like Dusty, somebody that’s been around the game for a long, long time … and being able to do the things with him and learn from him. Also learning from a guy in Davey Lopes, one of the best first base coaches in the game and one of the best baserunning coaches in the game also. I’m very excited for that. And also Mike Maddux. Being able to pick his brain about pitchers and seeing the tendencies that other pitchers throw with. I’m very excited to have the team that we do. We finally have an All-Star staff, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Obviously, that last line about "finally having an All-Star staff" might raise a few eyebrows. Was that a dig at his former manager? Or was it simply praising the new coaching staff?
Harper's been known to speak his mind in the past, but has rarely criticized Williams in public, even staunchly defending him during a September in which rumblings of clubhouse discord grew louder and louder.
On the flip side, Baker's known strength as a manger is his ability to win over a locker room with his infectious personality. With that in mind, it should be fascinating to watch the dynamic between he and Harper develop in 2016 and beyond.