Girardi at Top of Nats' Short List; St. Claire Will Stay

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

While former Florida manager Joe Girardi continues to look like the front-runner for the vacant job with the Washington Nationals -- particularly in light of the fact that Girardi's other primary suitor, the Chicago Cubs, will name Lou Piniella as their next manager today -- whoever leads the Nationals won't be bringing his own pitching coach.

The Nationals, who have remained publicly silent about their search for Frank Robinson's replacement, yesterday announced they had retained Randy St. Claire for what will be his fifth season as pitching coach.

"Randy St. Claire has done a fantastic job with our pitching staff," General Manager Jim Bowden said in a statement released through a club spokesman. "His work ethic, tireless attention to detail and ability to communicate have allowed him to build positive relationships with our young pitchers. I am very pleased that Randy will be with us in 2007."

The rest of the coaching staff -- bench coach Eddie Rodriguez, hitting coach Mitchell Page, bullpen coach Randy Knorr, first base coach Davey Lopes and third base coach Tony Beasley -- has been notified that the new manager will have input on whether they will be retained. Lopes, however, has already found a new position with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Bowden did not return messages seeking further comment on the staffing issues or the managerial search. Still, it looks more and more as if Girardi could be the man giving the input on new coaches.

The Cubs' job -- one some in Chicago figured was destined to go to Girardi, a Northwestern grad and former Cubs catcher -- will be filled by Piniella, 63, the candidate on the market most believe is the best solution for a quick fix; he agreed to a three-year deal. Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry, entering his fifth full season running the club, might need to win immediately to keep his job. Girardi interviewed with the Cubs last week.

Girardi, 42, has just one year of managerial experience, and there are those who believe he is best suited, at this point in his career, to growing with a younger team. He received external praise for making the Marlins competitive despite their $15 million payroll, though his clashes with ownership and General Manager Larry Beinfest cost him his job.

There has been some buzz that Girardi could take a year off from managing and work in television, particularly if he considers himself a candidate to manage the New York Yankees. The contract of Yankees Manager Joe Torre is up after 2007, and Girardi played on three of Torre's World Series champions in New York and later served as Torre's bench coach. Girardi will serve as a studio analyst for Fox during the World Series, and he likely would have TV options for next season should he not manage.

That possibility, though, seems unlikely. The expectations for the 2007 Nationals will be low, and the club, some familiar with the search believe, is most likely to hire someone who could cajole an inexperienced team to play hard, as Girardi did with the young Marlins. Girardi, in turn, could be convinced that the Nationals -- led by President Stan Kasten, who helped build the Atlanta Braves -- will be winners over the long haul.

Girardi's agent, Steve Mandell, declined to comment when reached by phone yesterday.

St. Claire, 46, said he was unconcerned about joining a staff that doesn't yet have a replacement for his former boss, Robinson.

"To me, if I get my pitchers to do what they're supposed to do, I think every manager would be happy with the pitching staff," St. Claire said yesterday by phone. "The fundamentals -- first-pitch strikes, getting ahead of hitters, not walking people, fielding your position, all that stuff -- if you prepare them to do that, I think they're going to be successful over the long haul, and I think the manager will be happy."

The coaches' contracts expire on Oct. 31, and they have been searching the job market in case they are not retained by the new manager.

"I was told at the end of the season that the new manager would have the option of keeping some of the current staff," Beasley said yesterday. "That's no surprise. But I've got to take care of Number One. That's what everyone else does. I've got a family to provide for. I understand the timing of it. They've got to make the best choice they can. I want to be here, but until I know I am, I've got to look for jobs."

Beasley has been contacted by the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and his old organization, the Pittsburgh Pirates, about minor league positions. Rodriguez, who also would like to return to Washington, said he has started calling other clubs about openings.

"You have to see what's out there," he said. "I'd love to come back, but if it's not going to work, you have to see if there's a fit for you somewhere else."

In other news, the Nationals have hired Bill Singer, a former scout with Arizona and the New York Mets, to serve as a scout in Asia, Diamondbacks officials confirmed yesterday. Singer, who worked with Nationals Vice President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo in Arizona, is perhaps best known as the man who was fired by the Mets after an incident at the 2003 general managers' meetings in which he mocked the Chinese heritage of Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng. He was hired by the Diamondbacks in February.

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