Former major league general manager Bob Watson yesterday turned down the chance to become general manager of the franchise set to relocate to Washington in the spring. Watson said he arrived at his decision at least in part because of the potentially temporary nature of the job.
In a telephone interview from St. Louis, where he is attending the World Series, Watson said he met with Major League Baseball President Robert DuPuy yesterday but declined DuPuy's offer.
"I'm not coming that way," Watson said, "and that is final."
The franchise, formerly the Montreal Expos, is owned by the other 29 major league franchises, who have put it up for sale. Therefore, all of the front office and coaching positions are subject to the whim of a new owner. Names of interested buyers are currently being solicited by MLB.
Watson, who now serves as baseball's director of on-field operations, declined to go into detail about his thought process -- "It's my decision," he said -- but acknowledged that the new owner's right to bring in an entirely different management structure was a factor.
"I understand why you can't [make a commitment for] any longer," Watson said. "You don't have an owner. I understand that. That person should make the decisions."
Expos President Tony Tavares, who arrived in Washington two weeks ago and has been setting up the franchise's operations here, was surprised by the development yesterday evening. He said DuPuy had been the primary point person for the search, and he couldn't say where it would lead.
"I'm not involved directly in any discussion with Bob Watson," Tavares said. "But if that's what he said, that's what he said. We're working to fill the position."
One potential candidate is Pat Gillick, who served successfully as a general manager with Toronto, Baltimore and most recently Seattle. Gillick said last week that he would be willing to take the Expos' job even if he would be replaced by a new owner.
"The fire's still there," Gillick said.
The position is vital to the team's on-field operations because the GM will decide whether to bring back field manager Frank Robinson and his staff. Robinson, who preceded Watson as MLB's disciplinarian, managed the Expos in Montreal for three seasons.
The GM will also decide what players to pursue in free agency or via trade. Tony Siegle, a baseball veteran who is the club's assistant general manager and director of baseball administration, has been performing the duties of a GM, including preparing the club for potential arbitration cases with players.
Watson, who played parts of 19 seasons in the majors, has been a general manager twice before: for the 1994 and '95 seasons with the Houston Astros and the 1996 and '97 seasons with the New York Yankees. He has been in his current position since 2002, but said he would consider taking a general manager position.
"But it has to be the right place at the right time," Watson said. "Right now, I like my job."