UPDATED AT 10:05 P.M.
The Nationals have selected Jim Riggleman as their 2010 manager, promoting the former interim skipper to the full-time position.
Riggleman was informed of the decision earlier today, according to multiple club sources. A press conference is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Thursday to formally announce the move.
Riggleman, who owns a career record of 555-694 with one playoff berth in parts of 10 seasons as a big league manager, appeared to be the frontrunner for some time out of a pool of candidates that included former major league skippers Bobby Valentine and Bob Melvin, plus former All-Star first baseman Don Mattingly.
The 57-year-old Rockville native was well-respected by Washington players and staff members after taking over for Manny Acta during the All-Star break and posting a 33-42 record the rest of the season as interim manager. Though his contract expired Oct. 31, he didn’t pursue other jobs, and the Nationals recently supplied him with a new laptop and BlackBerry.
All of Washington’s coaches from this season were assured by general manager Mike Rizzo they would be retained either on the big league staff or elsewhere in the organization, according to a club source, another sign that pointed toward Riggleman’s return. (Former bullpen coach Randy Knorr already agreed to become manager at Class AA Harrisburg.)
The 59-year-old Valentine, who went 1,117-1,072 in parts of 15 seasons with the Rangers and Mets and spent the last six years managing in Japan, would likely have wanted to hire several outsiders to his coaching staff.
The Nationals wanted to interview Mattingly for the job, but the Dodgers hitting coach declined the request after his team was eliminated from the playoffs. Rizzo also spoke to Melvin, who previously managed the Mariners and Diamondbacks and could be in line to join Washington’s staff as bench coach.
Hired in October 2008 to serve as Acta’s bench coach, Riggleman was immediately pegged as a potential replacement if the Nationals decided to make a change, though he wasn’t originally seen as a likely long-term solution.
After two fairly unimpressive stints managing the Padres from 1992-94 and the Cubs from 1995-99, Riggleman spent the next decade serving on several different clubs’ coaching staffs. He was bench coach for the Mariners in 2008 and was became interim manager in midseason after John McLaren was fired. But after posting a 36-54 record, he was considered but not selected as Seattle’s permanent manager.
Riggleman, a light-hitting utilityman who never made it to the majors as a player, understood the reality of his situation. He was an attractive fill-in skipper but would have to catch a break to retain a job long-term.
“Would I like to have something more long term? I think all managers would like to have your club in spring training, get it started in spring training and run with it,” he said upon taking over for Acta on July 15. “But I would have done that in 2000 if I didn’t lose enough in ‘99 [with the Cubs]. I didn’t get to take my team back in 2000. Ultimately, you’ve got to win some ballgames and create your longevity the way some great managers have done.”
The Nationals did improve under Riggleman’s 75-game watch, both in the win-loss column and in the field, with a renewed emphasis on defense and fundamentals. And after closing out the season on a seven-game winning streak, he earned more rave reviews from players and front office officials.
“I think Jim’s done a really good job handling the ballclub since the All-Star break,” Rizzo said Sept. 30. “I think he put us on pace to really focus in and bear down on the fundamentals of the game, to play cleaner, more efficient ball. He’s got the guys playing at a high level of attention. I think he’s done the best job he could with the ability level he had on the field.”
In other news…
Stephen Strasburg will return to the mound in the Arizona Fall League on Saturday. The Nats’ top-rated prospect hasn’t pitched since Nov. 2 due to a mild neck strain that kept him from appearing in last weekend’s AFL Rising Stars Game. Strasburg, who pitches for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, will face the Peoria Saguaros. The AFL regular season ends Nov. 19, so it’s unlikely the right-hander will make another start before then. However, he could pitch in the AFL championship game Nov. 21. The Desert Dogs are currently 13-11 and in first place in the East division, leading the Mesa Solar Sox by one game.