This week we are counting down the biggest questions for the Nationals as they begin their 2016 spring training in Viera, Florida with their first official workout on Saturday. The fourth installment looks at Dusty Baker's first spring training as Nats manager...
The Nationals' downfall in 2015 was due to a lot of reasons and Matt Williams lost his job as manager because of it. Was it all Williams' fault that the Nats' missed the playoffs? Of course not. But there were several factors that contributed to his firing.
For one, William's inexperience showed at times throughout the year, especially with his use of the Nationals' bullpen and during key moments of adversity late in the year. He also saw his clubhouse dismantle with anonymous media reports that made matters go from bad to worse.
In comes Dusty Baker, who brings to Washington exactly what Williams appeared to lack. As far as experience goes, few have more. He's been an MLB manager for 20 seasons and has a great reputation for his handling of players, particularly when it comes to stars and their egos.
Time will tell if Baker was the right hire, but there are some clear objectives for him in his first spring training with the Nationals. The most important one may be bringing back together a clubhouse that had both private and public disputes last season.
The obvious one was between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon. Will the Nationals truly accept Papelbon back as their teammate after all that happened last season? More on that in our final spring training question tomorrow.
Baker will have to lead the way in turning the page for the Nationals not only as a team but as a franchise. Last year's issues went well beyond their losing on the field.
Looking at their roster, there are few tough decisions for Baker to make ahead of Opening Day. He needs to figure out who starts at shortstop and he needs to sort out his bullpen. But the rotation and the lineup outside of shortstop appear set.
Will Baker lean more on veterans, or will Trea Turner and Lucas Giolito get a fair shot at winning jobs? The same could go for Felipe Rivero and Trevor Gott, two promising young relievers with no clear roles yet assigned to them.
One of Baker's most important responsibilities goes back to yesterday's installment of this series regarding expectations. He can set the tone for this season with the way he shapes the spring training message. The Nationals have seen overconfident comments in spring training backfire in recent years. We know Baker likes to share his opinion, will he say something that becomes bulletin board material for their division rivals?
When Baker was introduced as the Nats' manager last fall, he said he wouldn't make many changes until he was around the team and the coaching staff in spring training. This spring will be an evaluation period for Baker. Though his true impact will not be felt until the regular season, it will be interesting to hear what he thinks of his team by the time they break camp for D.C.