Dusty Baker will not return to manage the Washington Nationals in 2018, the club announced Friday in a startling move for a club that won 97 games and consecutive division championships.

Baker spent two seasons as Washington's manager and won back-to-back NL East titles, but the Nationals were eliminated in the division series both years.

The Nationals went 192-132 under Baker, winning 97 games in 2017. Baker's contract expired after the 2017 season.

Baker was taken aback by the decision, telling USA TODAY Sports he was particularly stunned it took the club 10 days to get back to him with a decision.

"I'm surprised and disappointed," Baker told USA TODAY Sports. "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.

"I really thought this was my best year. 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."

Bryce Harper is a free agent after the 2018 season, so the organization will be looking to make the most of what could be his final year with the club.

The Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, called their dismissal of Baker, 68, "an incredibly difficult decision."

"Even though this ultimately wasn't our season, we remain devoted to that cause," the said in a statement released by the club. "In further pursuit of that goal, we have decided to make a change in leadership and begin the process of finding a new manager. This was an incredibly difficult decision for us.

"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. He is one of the true gentlemen in our sport, and we thank him for the successes that we enjoyed together over the last two years. We wish him nothing but the best going forward."

Baker's replacement will be the club's fourth manager since 2013.

Baker enjoyed an apparently strong rapport with players, who often backed him publicly. In the wake of their 9-8, season-ending loss to the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the NLDS, multiple players deferred when asked if they'd endorse Baker's return.

"I think that’s a decision made from up top," Harper said in his final public comments. "I don’t want to comment on that really. Just have to come from up top."

"Not my job," shortstop Trea Turner said when asked about Baker's 2018 status.

When pressed on the matter, Turner said: "I would love to have him back. We won 95 games last year, 97 this year, but that is not my job."

General manager Mike Rizzo was scheduled to address the media in an afternoon conference call.

It's possible the tenor of Baker's tenure shifted during the NLDS, when the club announced that the dominant Stephen Strasburg would not start Game 4 against the Cubs, despite a rainout enabling Strasburg to pitch on regular rest. Baker announced Strasburg was "under the weather," and confusion ensued over when Strasburg threw a bullpen session that might have precluded him from starting Game 4.

A 12-hour public relations nightmare ensued before Strasburg, feeling better, told Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux he could pitch Game 4 and proceeded to beat the Cubs, forcing the decisive Game 5.

Contributing: Bob Nightengale, Gabe Lacques