Dusty not worried about contract situation

By Mark Sheldon
Updated: February 28, 2010

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If the Reds don’t finally break through the door for a plus-.500 season this year, it’s possible that manager Dusty Baker could be shown another door — out of Cincinnati

Job insecurity comes with the territory for any manager, but it’s especially true this season for skippers like Baker, who is entering the final year of his three-year contract.

“It ain’t no thing,” Baker told MLB.com on Sunday. “You do your job the best that you can do it. I know we’re going to win and everything will take care of itself. There’s no sense worrying about what might be. It distracts from what is now.”

Since Baker was hired on Oct. 14, 2007, the Reds have gone 152-172 for a .469 winning percentage. At the time of Baker’s hiring, Wayne Krivsky was the general manager. Krivsky has since been replaced by Walt Jocketty.

Cincinnati has shown incremental improvement since Baker took over.

After a 72-win season in 2007 under Jerry Narron and Pete Mackanin, the club went 74-88 in 2008 for Baker and finished 78-84 in 2009.

One encouraging sign for the Reds was their strong performance down the stretch last season. Over their final 40 games, they finished 27-13.

“A lot of people go to the last year of their contract,” Jocketty said.

“It shouldn’t be perceived one way or the other. The length of the contract is negotiated. There’s a reason it’s two or three or four years. I think the media gets focused on it and creates the distraction.”

“We all feel confident that everything will be positive this year.”

Baker has been a “lame duck” manager several times over his career with the Giants and Cubs. In 10 seasons with San Francisco, — including three where he was National League Manager of the Year — he came to the end of his contract multiple times.

In 2002, his final season with San Francisco, he led the club to a World Series before moving on to Chicago. That four-year tenure did not end anywhere near as positive.

The Cubs finished last in the NL Central with a 66-96 record in 2006 while Baker endured constant speculation about his future over the final weeks of the season.

“I’m building this thing. I came here to win this thing,” Baker said of the Reds. “I will tell you that at the time I was hired, I was offered a four-year contract here. I said I’d take a three-year to see where we’re going, if I like it and if you like me.”

Many have named Cincinnati as an intriguing sleeper pick to make waves in the NL Central this season. Jocketty has made several moves to address holes, including the signing of free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the re-signing of outfielder Jonny Gomes for right-handed power and the bold $30.25 million investment in Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman.

Also, third baseman Scott Rolen was acquired in a July 31 trade last year with an eye towards this season.

The Reds remain a mostly young team, however, with core players like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips in the lineup and Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and possibly Chapman in the rotation.

This season’s schedule doesn’t start easy, with the defending division-champion Cardinals in the opening series, and the Cubs, Marlins and Dodgers among other opponents during the first month.

Regardless, Baker doesn’t feel any pressure to get off to a fast start this season.

“No. You do the best job that you can do and you do what’s best for the players that are trying to mature,” Baker said. “You can’t rush maturity because it’s the last year of your contract. You do what’s best for the guys on the field. The way I look at it, I’m last in the scenario.”

“To me, it’s more how we perform throughout the year,” Jocketty said. “I believe in continuity. It’s important to keep solid continuity with your staff so the players know what to expect. We finished strong last year. It’s a good indication that things are moving forward.”

The pressure to win has only increased since Cincinnati has gone nine consecutive seasons without a winning record. The last playoff appearance came in 1995. There have been six different managers in the dugout over the last 10 years.

Of the six, Baker has the best winning percentage.

Coincidentally, Baker is one of several high-profile managers in the game entering the final seasons of their contracts. The list includes the Cardinals’ Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox of the Braves, Joe Torre of the Dodgers and Lou Piniella with the Cubs.

With Baker, they make up five of the six most victorious active managers. Of the five, only Cox has announced his plans to retire. Yankees skipper Joe Girardi is also in the final year of his contract.

Baker has not asked for a contract extension and it has not been broached to this point from the front office.”I think it’s something that Dusty, myself and [president/CEO] Mr. [Bob] Castellini will address at some point,” Jocketty said.

“[Baker] does have a contract for the year. In the past, I’ve always waited until the end of the season to deal with the manager. When I was in St. Louis, that’s what we did.”

Regardless of how the season turns out for the Reds, Baker has no desire to move on. He’s gotten comfortable in Cincinnati and has enjoyed the city.

“I didn’t come here to leave,” Baker said. “I really don’t like moving.”