Nats Are Looking At Baker, Piniella

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

Since the Washington Nationals formally parted ways with Manager Frank Robinson earlier this week, most familiar with the search for Robinson's replacement figured the club wanted a young manager to take over what will, in all likelihood, be a team that struggles through the 2007 season.

But yesterday, a source familiar with the search said the Nationals have interest in at least speaking with veteran managers Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella about the opening. Baker and Piniella join former Florida manager Joe Girardi and Atlanta hitting coach Terry Pendleton -- and, no doubt, others who have not been publicly identified -- as potential candidates.

The Nationals, unlike some other teams, are conducting their search privately, and neither General Manager Jim Bowden nor President Stan Kasten has identified or commented on any potential candidates.

Piniella, though, has long been considered the X-factor in the Nationals' search. His relationship with Bowden dates from their days in Cincinnati in the early 1990s, just before Bowden became the Reds' GM in 1992. The two have remained close over the years, and Bowden spent time talking with Piniella when the latter visited RFK Stadium to work as a broadcaster for Fox this past season.

"I like working with Jim," Piniella said in an interview last year. "He's creative, always trying new things."

Piniella did not return messages left at his Tampa home yesterday. He has managed 19 seasons for four franchises -- the New York Yankees, Cincinnati, Seattle and Tampa Bay -- compiling a 1,519-1,420 record with four division titles. It is unclear whether Piniella, who became publicly frustrated managing a losing outfit in Tampa from 2003 to '05, would be interested in an opportunity with the Nationals, who won't pour significant money into payroll until, at the earliest, 2008, when a new ballpark is scheduled to open.

In an interview on Thursday, Baker -- dismissed after four years at the helm of the Chicago Cubs earlier in the week -- acknowledged his interest in the Washington job, describing the Nationals as "a national team and an international team."

The 57-year-old wants to manage next season, and he considers Washington perhaps the best available opportunity. He has already managed in San Francisco, and he won't go back there, and the only other open job is in Texas, where Buck Showalter was fired earlier this week. Baker has spent parts of 33 seasons as a player and manager in the majors, 31 of them in the National League.

The Nationals' silence on the matter means there could be other candidates with whom they would like to speak, and several coaches who are considered potential managers -- Oakland's Ron Washington, St. Louis's Jose Oquendo, and Manny Acta and Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets -- are still involved in the postseason.

In other news, the Nationals cleared space on their 40-man roster by outrighting right-hander Roy Corcoran, outfielder George Lombard and infielders Melvin Dorta and Henry Mateo to Class AAA New Orleans. In turn, the club reinstated outfielder Alex Escobar and pitchers John Patterson, Micah Bowie and Shawn Hill from the disabled list.

The Nationals also named Kory Casto, an outfielder for Class AA Harrisburg, as the organization's minor league player of the year, the second straight year Casto -- who hit .272 with 24 homers and 80 RBI in 140 games -- won the award. Zechry Zinicola, a sixth-round draft pick from Arizona State this year, was the minor league pitcher of the year. Club officials believe Zinicola -- who combined to go 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 12 saves at three levels -- could pitch in the big leagues next year.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company