Dusty Baker is confident that even without Justin Verlander, the Houston Astros can repeat as World Champions – something no team has done since the New York Yankees won three times in a row between 1998 and 2000.
Verlander, who went 18-4 in Houston last year with a microscopic earned run average of 1.75, signed a two-year contract to take the field for the New York Mets on Monday.
“Not much surprises me,” Baker told the writers at the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego. He is doing well there and I wish him well.
“I learned a lot from Justin and I will miss him but you try to stay in touch with certain guys.”
Gentle Baker declined to comment further, citing the Verlander signature yet to be official, but said the Astros were besieged by trade requests for members of their relief troop.
“We have one of the best bullfights in the world and a lot of people are trying to rip people off from there,” he said. “I can’t say I blame them.”
Houston’s star base helped ice the Philadelphia Phillies in a six-game World Series that gave Baker his first ring as coach. He also won one as an outfielder with the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Astros shooters could be throwing another backlash if the team manages to sign All-Star catcher Willson Contreras as a free agent.
“We’ll talk to him,” Baker admitted. “If the numbers are correct, we would love to have it.”
Houston nearly knocked Contreras out of the Cubs in a mid-season trade, but Baker refused to sign it.
“He wasn’t in proper form two months into the season,” Baker said. “He would have to learn our shooting team and they would have to learn to work with him.”
However, with the advantage of spring training, the manager said that there would be no need for on-the-job training.
“I asked Jon Lester about Contreras and got a good report,” said Baker, a former Cubs startup.
For Baker, that means helping veteran first baseman Jose Abreu, who recently signed with the Chicago White Sox; making Yordan Alvarez happy as a part-time outfielder; and rebuilding the bench.
“Abreu will have no trouble adjusting to our clubhouse,” Baker said. “It will be a great addition. We have a group of young men to set an example for him.
“Yordan likes to play outfield and I hope to use him 35 to 40 percent left court. He will also serve as our designated kicker.
Baker stated that his main off-season project is to rebuild the bench, which he acknowledges is a rare area of concern.
“A question mark right now,” he said. “I try to keep everyone on my team sharp,” he said. Replacing Verlander is another potential issue, though the Astros finish 2022 with a six-man starting rotation.
“I want a left-handed pitcher,” he said. “You always need left-handed shots.” Baker said American League West has become more competitive because of moves made by Houston rivals.
“The Angels added Renfroe the Hunter and Anthony Rendon is healthy. Seattle added Kolten Wong and Teoscar Hernandez. So now there is more pairing.
“Hopefully we can continue to get better.”
But that can be tough for a team leading the American League with 106 wins.
Not one to wrestle with his achievements, Baker revealed that he is proud to have finally achieved his challenging goal, such as the World Series ring.
“I knew in my heart that sooner or later this would happen,” said Baker, who led five teams into postseason games before winning the final round. “It means a lot to my family: the boys in the house, the girls in the house. Sometimes good things happen to good people.”
Beginning his managerial career with the 1993 Giants, Baker also congratulated newly released Hall of Fame Fred McGriff, whose selection was approved by the Contemporary Players Eras Committee on Sunday.
“It takes a long time to reach a goal,” he said, “but it gives people a lot of hope. I’m really happy for Fred.”
At the same time, the manager said he was disappointed that Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens were not selected, along with Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, which he directed in San Francisco.
“They’ve all done so much for baseball,” he said, “and you can’t take that from them.” After leaving San Diego, Baker goes to Hawaii for a vacation.
“Eight months is a long time to be away from home,” said the California resident about the long baseball season. “I just planted my garden.”