Why Joe Girardi does (and doesn't) make sense for the Nationals

Prior success comes at a price. The Yankees paid Joe Girardi $4 million a year, twice as much as the Nationals paid Dusty Baker. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

For the Washington Nationals, Joe Girardi makes lots of sense. The problem is he also makes lots of cents.

Over the past four years, Girardi earned 1.6 billion cents as manager of the New York Yankees. That works out to 400 million cents per year or, as it’s more commonly known in salary circles, $4 million.

That might not sound like a whole lot, especially for a Nationals club that ranked ninth in payroll last season and whose top two pitchers (Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) earn a combined $55 million annually. But in managerial terms, $4 million is a lot. In fact, it was the fourth-highest salary of all baseball bench bosses last season (only Joe Maddon, Bruce Bochy and Mike Scioscia made more). More importantly, it’s twice as much as the Nationals paid Dusty Baker.

For the record, the only reason the Nationals were paying Baker anything at all was because Bud Black, who was their first choice to replace deposed skipper Matt Williams after the 2015 season, balked at what was reportedly a lowball offer from the team. So the Lerner family, owners of the Washington Baseball Nationals, went with Plan B (as in Budget). They grossly underpaid a man who has won 1,863 big league games, more than all but 13 managers in MLB history.

Not only did they underpay Baker in money, they underpaid him in time, giving him a two-year contract that belied his experience and success. When that deal expired, they continued to undervalue him by cutting ties with the 68-year-old skipper, who won 95-plus games and a division title in each of his two years in D.C., instead of re-upping to keep him in town for another chance at leading a loaded squad to the Promised Land.

Their stated reason? That winning divisions is no longer enough for a team that’s won four division titles in six years but failed to advance even once in the playoffs. That with a roster featuring Scherzer and Strasburg, not to mention Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, anything short of a 2018 World Series title is a failure. Which brings us back to Girardi.

Of all the potential candidates mentioned in Washington’s managerial search, Girardi’s pedigree is second to none (although John Farrell, who’s interviewing for the gig, isn’t too far behind). Unlike Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez and Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, both of whom have been linked to the Nats’ opening, Girardi has won a World Series. That’s not to say that Martinez, who appears to be the early leader in the clubhouse, doesn’t have the tools to win one soon. Ditto for Long. But if winning a title now is the stated goal -- a goal so urgent that it resulted in letting go of the winningest active skipper in the majors, fresh off consecutive NL East crowns -- then you’d think Washington would prioritize prior success. Problem is that prior success comes at a price.

It’s not a coincidence that Maddon, Bochy, Scioscia and Girardi -- the four highest-paid managers in baseball last season -- have all won a World Series. Baker never did, which is one reason Washington paid him relative peanuts. Another reason is, well, the Nationals simply don’t place a whole lot of value on the position of manager. Never have.

It’s why they’ve had seven full-time skippers in just 13 seasons since moving from Montreal to D.C. in 2005. It’s why none of those skippers ever lasted three full seasons. It’s why, despite winning 192 games over two years and having a clubhouse full of guys who thoroughly enjoyed playing for him, Baker is out of a job. It’s also why the Nats might have a hard time landing Girardi.

A Northwestern grad and father of three, there’s more to the former catcher than just baseball. If he chose to trade in his lineup card for cue cards and head to the broadcast booth, he likely wouldn’t have a hard time finding a job. If he chose to spend more time with his family, something he’s talked about doing, nobody would blame him. All of which is to say, for Girardi to consider helming the Nationals, they’d likely have to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. An offer that would make sense -- and cents -- for him.

Given how Washington has historically handled its managers, it’s hard to imagine that happening. Then again, given how Washington has historically handled the playoffs, maybe it won’t be quite as hard this time around.