By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006
In a move that will further prepare the Washington Nationals for what could be a flurry of deals before the July 31 trade deadline, General Manager Jim Bowden yesterday hired former major league manager Davey Johnson as a special consultant who will scout players both inside and outside the Nationals' system.
"Our scouting department's thin," Bowden said. "We needed some more experienced eyes, a wise baseball guy with good judgment to help us on some of these deals."
While specifically addressing the trade market, the move to hire Johnson, even for the short-term, could immediately lead to speculation on several fronts. It could suggest that Bowden, whose contract expires at the end of this season, is secure in his job even as ownership of the franchise shifts from Major League Baseball to a group headed by real estate mogul Theodore N. Lerner.
Stan Kasten, the incoming president of the team, said the hiring of Johnson indicates no such thing. He wouldn't address Bowden's status.
"I am simply not talking about that subject," Kasten said. "This was Jim's decision. I knew about it, and I approve of it."
Johnson also could be seen as a "manager-in-waiting" should the new ownership group and its general manager -- be it Bowden or someone else -- decide not to bring back current manager Frank Robinson. The 63-year-old Johnson -- who managed the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers to a .564 winning percentage over 14 seasons -- said he didn't anticipate such a move, and one member of the front office said Johnson wouldn't be a candidate to manage.
"That's not what I'm thinking about," Johnson said. "I love Frank Robinson. Anything I can do to help him with the organization, that's what I want to do."
Bowden said Johnson will be particularly helpful as the trade deadline approaches because some of the Nationals' scouts will be trying to sign several of the team's picks in the just-completed draft.
"I know his judgment," Bowden said. "I know he knows young players, and I know he knows how to build a team."
Said Johnson: "I'm the low guy on the totem pole. I'm doing this for minimum wage. I'll do whatever they ask."
With the draft out of the way, the Nationals will turn much of their attention to the trade deadline. Several players -- including Alfonso Soriano, Livan Hernandez, Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro -- could be dealt for prospects over the next 7 1/2 weeks.