By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 23, 2006
There are a few certainties about the Washington Nationals' search for a manager. No announcement will come during the World Series, as Major League Baseball insists fans remain focused on the games. The Nationals' top officials -- President Stan Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden -- won't comment on any of their candidates, won't speak about the process, and likely won't be heard from until they hand the winning candidate a Nationals cap and shake his hand at an introductory news conference, which could come as late as December.
But other than that, there are only questions -- questions that baseball insiders are beginning to wonder about as well.
"It's a very, very difficult process to get a handle on," a source from outside the Nationals organization said on the condition of anonymity. "It's a thorough process, no question, and it seems like they're doing their due diligence on everyone. But at some point, you have to make a decision."
Several sources with knowledge of the search -- all speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Nationals are insisting the talks be held in private -- said that the search will continue this week when the team interviews New York Mets third base coach Manny Acta, at least the seventh candidate with which the club has spoken about the vacancy. What's more: One source said the Nationals likely will speak to more candidates after Acta's interview.
Sources said that two of the interviewees -- Houston bench coach Cecil Cooper and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joey Cora -- are out of the running, a development first reported by MLB.com. Another, former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, said he has not heard from Bowden in awhile, and he appears to be, at best, an outside shot. Lou Piniella, a manager with four different clubs who has close ties to Bowden, spoke to the Nationals but instead took the Cubs job.
That leaves men who have been publicly identified remaining on the list -- Joe Girardi, the former Florida manager; Tony Peña, the New York Yankees' first base coach and former manager in Kansas City; Terry Pendleton, the Atlanta hitting coach; and Acta, the only man with experience within the Nationals franchise. He served as third base coach on the staff of former manager Frank Robinson from 2002 to 2004, though he hasn't worked under Bowden or Kasten.
Girardi has long been considered the front-runner, should he want the job. But a source with knowledge of the search said although the 42-year-old former major league catcher remains in the running, he still doesn't have an offer in hand -- despite reports to the contrary.
Girardi was fired after his only season as manager of the Marlins because of conflicts with owner Jeffrey Loria and a deteriorating relationship with General Manager Larry Beinfest. Girardi, who has three young children, could have several options for next year, including working in television or, perhaps, returning to Joe Torre's staff with the Yankees.
Acta, too, could have options. On Friday -- the same day the Nationals called the Mets seeking permission to interview Acta -- the 37-year-old interviewed with the Texas Rangers. Texas's hiring process could be along the same timeline as the one in Washington, as GM Jon Daniels wants to interview Trey Hillman, who manages in the Japan and is currently involved in the playoffs. Acta also has heard from the San Francisco Giants about their opening.
Neither Peña nor Pendleton has been identified as a candidate for the other openings around the league.