The Astros’ season came to an end in disappointing fashion, as Houston dropped an 11-4 contest to the Rangers in Game 7 of the ALCS. That may also be Dusty Baker’s final game as a major league manager.
Britt Ghiroli and Chandler Rome of the Athletic report that Baker has recently told people within and outside the Houston organization that this would be his final season. The 74-year-old has not publicly announced his retirement. Asked about his plans postgame, Baker said he “doesn’t know” and “(hasn’t) had time to think about (his) future” (relayed by Mark Berman of Fox 26).
Baker has been at the helm in Houston for four seasons. The Astros hired him going into 2020 in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal which led to A.J. Hinch’s dismissal. His stint in Houston has consisted of a series of one-year contracts. Baker first signed a one-year deal with a team option, which the club exercised. He subsequently inked one-year deals in the immediate aftermath of each of the past two seasons. Baker will be out of contract again this winter.
That run hasn’t been without controversy, particularly in 2022. Baker reportedly clashed with former general manager James Click, part of some organizational discord that led owner Jim Crane to move on from Click despite incredible on-field results. Reports indicated that Baker and Crane weren’t without their own disagreements, although the owner stuck with the longtime manager.
While one can quibble with any manager’s lineup or bullpen decisions, Houston’s results under Baker have been excellent. The team has advanced at least as far as the ALCS in all four seasons. While they were below .500 in the shortened 2020 regular season, they topped 90 wins while winning the AL West in all three full campaigns. The highlight, of course, was a 106-win showing in 2022 that culminated in the franchise’s second World Series title.
The Astros have gone 320-226 (58.6% win percentage) since the start of 2020. Baker’s clubs have won 54% of their regular season contests over his 26-year career. He has also been at the helm of the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals since landing his first managerial job at age 44 in 1993. His 2,183 victories rank seventh in major league history, tops among active managers. Aside from Baker, Bruce Bochy and Terry Francona — all of whom have remained active through this year — everyone in the top 14 on the wins leaderboard has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. It seems only a matter of time before Baker joins that class, particularly since last year’s title (and third career pennant) checked the final box on his résumé.
Ghiroli and Rome suggest that Baker could look to stay involved in MLB while taking on a less demanding position, potentially in an advisory or special assistant capacity. If he steps away from managing, the Astros will become the fifth team with a vacancy.
Houston bench coach Joe Espada has gotten plenty of attention in managerial searches around the league over the past few years and has yet to land his first opportunity. While it’s far too early in the process for the Astros to have identified any kind of frontrunner, it stands to reason the club would consider Espada if they need to embark on a hiring process of their own.