By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Joe Girardi, fired yesterday as the manager of the Florida Marlins despite a season in which he became a leading candidate for the National League's manager of the year award, could become a prime target of the Washington Nationals, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden did not return messages seeking comment yesterday, and a team spokesman said he won't talk about the search to replace Frank Robinson -- whose contract was not renewed -- until later this week.
Steve Mandell, Girardi's agent, said in a telephone interview that he has "heard from different teams" who have interest in Girardi, though he would not name the clubs. The Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants are also looking for managers.
"Our intent here is to take a couple of days, a few days, and let things settle down," Mandell said. "We'll have some discussions, and see what happens."
Mandell declined to comment further.
Girardi led the Marlins to a 78-84 record in his first season as a manager despite Florida's minuscule payroll of $15 million, lowest in the majors, and expectations that the Marlins would vie for the worst record in baseball. Instead, they fought for a playoff berth.
Still, in the midst of what turned out to be irreconcilable differences with the front office -- led by owner Jeffrey Loria -- he was replaced yesterday by Fredi Gonzalez, the third base coach of the Atlanta Braves and another potential target for the Nationals. Gonzalez, 42, was in the Braves' organization when Nationals President Stan Kasten served in the same capacity in Atlanta, yet he had even deeper ties to the Marlins. He grew up in Miami and was hired as the first manager in the expansion Marlins' minor league system in 1992.
The Cubs, too, could pursue Girardi, who played parts of seven seasons for the team. He grew up in Illinois and went to Northwestern, and many baseball insiders have long felt he was a natural fit to replace outgoing Dusty Baker, whose contract wasn't renewed Monday.
One source who has spoken with the Nationals, who requested anonymity because team officials want to conduct the search privately, said, "I think the Cubs and the Nationals have the same guy in mind." Still, that source said he predicts the Nationals "to be very thorough" and consider several options, not just Girardi.
Baker has not been contacted by the Nationals. His agent, Steve Skelley, said yesterday, "Right now, there's no thoughts on any job -- until the phone rings." He added, though, that Baker "wants to be in baseball, and I believe he wants to manage."
Other candidates that could be on the Nationals' list include Lou Piniella, 63, who managed four franchises, including the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series title in 1990, just when Bowden was rising to become GM there. The two have maintained a close relationship. Another potential candidate is Jim Fregosi, 64, who last managed in 2000 and serves as a special assistant with the Braves.
Yet the focus, for now, appears to be on Girardi, particularly if the Cubs are as interested as most observers believe. One source said yesterday that interest from both the Nationals and the Cubs could "absolutely" speed up the process, driving a competition between the two clubs.
Girardi, who will turn 42 next week, completed his 15-season playing career as a catcher in 2003, and he worked in television before becoming a coach with the New York Yankees, with whom he won three World Series as a player. He was chosen to manage the Marlins last offseason although the club's general manager, Larry Beinfest, preferred Gonzalez, who also interviewed for the job. Loria ultimately chose Girardi, but the two had a public clash on Aug. 6, and relations were never repaired.
Yankees Manager Joe Torre said he spoke with Girardi on Monday, and said his former pupil "understood that managing is not always based on how well you do. There are certain people you need to please. . . .
"He just sort of understood what was going to happen, and he was going to take some time and if something else came down the pike, certainly look at it."
Nationals officials were impressed with the way Girardi's team played. Several Nationals players said the Marlins often spoke of how much they liked playing for Girardi.
Girardi is reportedly owed about $1.5 million on his contract with the Marlins, though any new salary could be subtracted from that amount.
Nationals Note: The team released six pitchers: right-handers Pedro Astacio, Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence and Felix Rodriguez and lefty Joey Eischen. None was expected to be part of Washington's plans next year.
Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report from New York.