By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
There is, perhaps, but one thing that is clear about the Washington Nationals' search for a new manager: It knows no bounds. When Stan Kasten, the team's president, first addressed the search for Frank Robinson's replacement five weeks ago, he pledged that it would be "thorough."
With the search possibly wrapping up within the next week, the Nationals have talked to nearly every level of candidate, from the big names, such as Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, to those who elicit a collective "Who?," such as Trent Jewett and John Russell. Two sources said this week that General Manager Jim Bowden had even made contact with Bobby Valentine, the former manager of the Texas Rangers and New York Mets now managing in Japan, to gauge interest before both sides determined it wouldn't be a good fit.
Such a wide array of candidates comes with a wide array of price tags. Kasten said yesterday the club doesn't consider potential salary to be a deterrent to pursuing the right manager.
"During this search we have interviewed people who would be across the full salary spectrum, from very large contract to very small," Kasten said in an e-mail, "and we are prepared to hire the best fit, irrespective of which it is.
"Having said that, I should also tell you that I have encountered some people during this process who have a very different [read: higher] view of an appropriate contract for themselves than do I. In such cases, I typically give more weight to my view."
With baseball's winter meetings less than a month away, the list of candidates appears to be shrinking. On Monday, Bowden called Jewett, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class AAA affiliate, and Russell, who holds the same position with the Philadelphia Phillies, to tell them they were no longer under consideration. Jewett had traveled to Washington to meet with club officials; Russell, who is managing winter ball in Venezuela, spoke with Bowden for an hour on the phone but did not meet with front-office members face-to-face.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Russell said yesterday. "I would have liked the opportunity to sit down and discuss things with them a little longer."
Jewett said yesterday, "It was a good process, but the bottom line is they wanted to look elsewhere."
Others who were contacted early in the interview process also appear to be out. Baker, the former manager of the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, spoke with Bowden the first week after the season. But he met with the San Diego Padres on Monday to discuss that opening, and his agent, Steve Skelly, yesterday said "nothing has happened" with regard to the Nationals. It makes sense that, if the Nationals still had interest, they would have contacted Baker or his representative before he interviewed with the Padres.
Joe Girardi, considered by outsiders to be the favorite before he took himself out of the running on Oct. 23, has been rumored to be interested again. But his agent, Steve Mandel, said yesterday: "The statement he made two weeks ago still stands. Everything remains the same."
So with Kasten saying last week that the search had reached "another phase," there are only two known candidates still standing -- New York Yankees first base coach Tony Peña and New York Mets third base coach Manny Acta. Because Kasten and Bowden have remained mum on the process, there well could be other candidates who have been interviewed.
Peña could not be reached for comment yesterday. Acta, who coached with the Nationals franchise when it was the Montreal Expos, will today complete a trip to Japan, where he has served as the third base coach for a team of major league all-stars that is competing against Japanese professionals. Some members of the Nationals organization who are familiar with Acta from his days with the Expos -- including some players -- believe he would be a good fit.
Even as the road to the offseason's most important decision plods forward, the Nationals announced a much-anticipated overhaul to their scouting department yesterday, hiring, among others, former Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar and former Los Angeles Angels manager Moose Stubing as special assistants to the general manager and extending the contract of amateur scouting director Dana Brown
"Scouting is the backbone to any organization, because it's the evaluation and judgment on players that allows you to make the right decisions," Bowden said.
The Nationals were owned by Major League Baseball until the midway point of the 2006 season, and thus their scouting operation was strapped. With the 10 hires announced yesterday, the club will now have closer to 30 scouts rather than fewer than 20. Among the additions is Bill Singer, hired from Arizona and best known for being fired by the Mets after making a racially insensitive comment in 2003.
Also yesterday, first baseman Nick Johnson had surgery to clean out scar tissue from his right leg, which he broke in a collision with right fielder Austin Kearns on Sept. 23. Left-hander Mike O'Connor had surgery, performed by renowned orthopedist James Andrews, to repair a cartilage defect in his elbow. He is expected to recover in two to three months, which would mean he should be ready by spring training.
Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.