Dusty Baker will not return to the Washington Nationals in 2018, the team announced Friday, a move that has "surprised and disappointed" the longtime manager.
"I really thought this was my best year," Baker told USA Today Sports. "We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back-to back years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It's hard to understand."
The Nationals' season ended Oct. 12 with a Game 5 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series.
According to general manager Mike Rizzo, the decision to part ways with Baker was made late Thursday night and the club informed him Friday morning. It's a timeline that frustrated Baker.
"They told me they would get back to me and I told them I was leaving town yesterday and they waited 10 days to tell me," he told USA Today Sports.
Baker led the Nationals to the postseason in each of his two seasons with Washington, marking the first time in franchise history the club reached the playoffs in consecutive years. Both times, Washington lost in the NLDS as the higher seed. The Nationals haven't advanced past the NLDS in four postseason appearances since moving to D.C. in 2005.
On Friday, Rizzo made it clear that Washington's latest early exit played a role in the decision to part ways with Baker.
"We've come such a long way in the Nationals organization," Rizzo said. "In 2009, we were hoping to improve our record from 2008. In 2012, we were hoping to make the playoffs. And now, our expectations have gone to the fact that winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions are not enough. Our goal is to win a world championship."
Rizzo added: "This was an incredibly difficult decision for us."
Baker's contract expired at the end of this season. The contracts for the rest of the coaching staff also expired.
"Dusty Baker led the team to the first back-to-back division titles in our history and represented our club with class on and off the field," the team's ownership wrote in an open letter. "... We thank him for the successes that we enjoyed together over the last two years. We wish him nothing but the best going forward."
Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora and former Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus could be among the possible contenders for the Nationals' opening. The Athletic reported that Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux would be considered.
Before the series against the Cubs, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.
"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."
Baker expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended. The club had given the same impression.
"We're both confident that he'll be back with us," Rizzo said of Baker the day before the NLDS started. "But we haven't had any conversations about it, and we will not do so until we finalize this season."
The Nationals were 192-132 under Baker. His .593 winning percentage was the best in Nationals franchise history for a manager who led the team for at least one full season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Baker, 68, has spent 22 seasons as a big league manager, accumulating more than 1,800 regular-season wins with the San Francisco Giants, Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Nationals.
He was a player in the majors for 19 years, including the 1981 season, when he won a World Series title as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite being the winningest active skipper in the majors (1,863 wins) and 14th all time, Baker has never won a World Series as a manager.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.