By Dave Sheinin
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
While the Washington Nationals have launched in earnest -- and in secret -- a search for Manny Acta's permanent successor as manager, there is an increasing feeling around baseball that the team is moving closer to naming interim manager Jim Riggleman to the permanent job.
Nationals President Stan Kasten confirmed Monday that the team has begun the interview process, but he declined to speak about individual candidates. The team has also asked interviewees not to discuss the process with the media, according to a source who has spoken to one of the candidates.
"We're talking to all kinds of candidates, gathering opinions and perspectives," Kasten said. "As you know, I enjoy the opportunity to do long searches, because you get lots of insights [into your own team], and different looks and opinions, and those can be valuable."
Asked about a timetable, Kasten said, "I think we'll have a decision soon, but I don't know how soon."
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was traveling to Chicago on Monday for baseball's general manager meetings and said he could not comment.
According to industry sources, among those who have interviewed are ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine, who formerly managed the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, and former Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, both of whom had previously been identified as candidates.
Another previously identified candidate, Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, recently took his name out of consideration. Major League Baseball guidelines also require teams to seriously consider minority candidates whenever they have a manager or general manager opening.
Valentine, in particular, appears to have emerged as an intriguing possibility, at least among those within the Nationals' brain trust who are advocating an aggressive move. In this view, Valentine's outsized personality and his vast contacts in Japan, where he managed from 2004 to '09, make him a good fit for a franchise seeking to win back its own fans and increase its international presence.
However, Valentine likely would cost significantly more than the Nationals have paid their managers in the past. Acta, for example, was one of the lowest-paid managers in the game, with a salary that began at $500,000 in his first season and increased slightly each year until he was fired this July. By contrast, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Joe Torre is the highest-paid manager in the game, at $7.5 million.
The more conservative move would be to give the permanent job to Riggleman, who formerly managed the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs (as well as the Seattle Mariners on an interim basis), then reevaluate the position a year or two from now when the team, theoretically, is closer to contending.
Riggleman, who turned 57 on Monday, has told friends in recent weeks that he feels good about his chances of landing the job. He led the Nationals to a 33-42 record after taking over for Acta in July and has the support of many in the team's front office and executive suite.
Nationals notes: Kasten said he was "happy" for Acta, who was hired last month to manage the Cleveland Indians. "When I've been asked by teams about Manny, I've been very positive in terms of how he was while he was here," Kasten said. "I think in the right circumstances, he's going to be successful, and he has the potential to be a long-term manager somewhere." . . .
Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' No. 1 overall draft pick in June, was named pitcher of the week by the Arizona Fall League for the week that ended Sunday. Strasburg won his only one start of the week, pitching five innings and allowing four hits and one earned run while striking out six.
Strasburg was forced to miss Saturday's AFL all-star game because of a strained muscle in his neck, but the Nationals do not consider the injury to be serious.