WASHINGTON -- As the Nationals begin this offseason -- which came much sooner than they expected -- the biggest question looming will be the status of manager Dusty Baker.
Washington will not stand to lose much to the free-agent market, with nearly all the crucial members of the team under contract for next season. The exception is Baker, who just reached the end of his initial two-year contract. Baker has said he wants to continue managing. Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said before the start of the postseason that he expected Baker to return next season and that they would work on a deal once the season was over.
So even following the Nationals' heartbreaking 9-8 loss to the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, it seems to be not a question of if Baker will return, but a matter of working out the details for him to continue as the Nats' manager.
No one can argue with the results from Baker's first two regular seasons in Washington. He won 95 regular-season games in 2016 and 97 in '17, resulting in back-to-back NL East titles. He has twice brought the Nationals to a decisive Game 5 of the NLDS, both of which were played at Nationals Park, where they lost each time.
The biggest question remaining for these Nationals is the uncertain future of their manager, who still has the support of the clubhouse.
"I think Dusty's great," Zimmerman said. "The whole coaching staff. Those guys worked their butt off to get us ready. They do such a good job of making sure they relate to us. That's a great group of guys in there. They're just as much deserving of the success we've had as we are. They probably work harder than us, to be honest with you. So it's a pleasure to be part of that staff. I think everyone in this room would love to have them back."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.