- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Frank Robinson didn’t have to deal with grand expectations during his three seasons in Montreal. With no owner, no fans, a bare-bones payroll and no permanent home, the Expos weren’t expected to do anything.

So imagine Robinson’s surprise yesterday when a reporter at the baseball winter meetings asked the manager if he’s worried about dealing with high expectations now that the club has relocated to Washington.

“If [interim general manager Jim Bowden] continues to make moves like he’s already made,” Robinson cracked, “they’ll expect me to win a pennant.”

Whether anyone truly believes the 2005 Nationals have a chance to win a pennant, the franchise is without question facing greater expectations than it ever had in Canada.

And if the Sammy Sosa-to-Washington trade rumors that showed up in multiple Chicago newspapers yesterday had any legs, one can only imagine the stir it would have created back home.

Unfortunately for Nationals fans, the Sosa deal never had a chance. A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that Bowden approached the Cubs on Saturday and inquired about the star slugger. The Nationals, though, were not willing to take on any of the $17million owed to Sosa in 2005, nor give up the quality of players Chicago wanted in return.

So much for that impossible dream.

Bowden would not discuss any specific trade talks he’s held over the weekend, saying only that “we have talked to almost everybody.”

While the Nationals are certainly willing to look at acquiring an offensive star, it won’t come at the expense of the club’s No.1 priority this winter.

“Whatever dollars we have to spend, it’s going to go to starting pitching,” Bowden said.

Despite his best efforts to hand out some of the $6million stuck in his pockets, Bowden was resigned last night to departing Anaheim without any major acquisitions. The club is expected to sign first baseman/outfielder Wil Cordero to a one-year deal, perhaps as soon as today, but that’s the best Washington could do during these four days of meetings.

Not that Robinson is discouraged.

Based on the players he has returning from last season in Montreal, and the previous acquisitions Bowden has made (Jose Guillen, Cristian Guzman, Vinny Castilla), Robinson likes his club’s chances in the ultra-competitive NL East.

“I feel like if we can continue to focus and not get carried away, not get complacent with the new home and give the effort that we’ve given the last two years, we could be in the thick of things,” Robinson said. “We are still a little thin, but we could put a pretty good eight players out there right now.”

Robinson is approaching his fourth season with the Expos/Nationals just as he did the previous three: unsure of his long-term future. Hired by Major League Baseball in 2002 to manage the vagabond club, he never has signed more than a one-year contract.

Robinson said yesterday he would like to manage the Nationals for another two or three years and then move on to a front-office position, but he also knows he’ll be at the mercy of whomever winds up owning the club.

“At the end of the year, if the new ownership feels like they would like me to be a part of this team, I would certainly like to be a part of this organization,” he said. “If they decide to go in another direction, I could understand that.”

Robinson also issued a challenge to local fans to make sure baseball succeeds in the 21st century where it twice failed in the 20th century.

“I think Washington has something to prove,” said Robinson, who with the Orioles played road games at RFK Stadium from 1966 to ‘71. “They lost a team 30-something years ago, and they’re saying this time may be the third strike. So I think they have something to prove, and I think they will do it. Hopefully, we’ll play the kind of baseball that they’ll enjoy coming out to see and support.”

Notes — Bowden said he expects to select one player, and perhaps even two, during today’s Rule 5 draft. The Nationals have two open spaces on their 40-man roster. Any players taken from another club in today’s draft must remain on the major-league roster for the entire season or else risk being lost. …

The Nationals plan to unveil their uniforms at 2p.m. Wednesday at ESPN Zone in the District. Outfielder Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Zach Day are scheduled to model the club’s new garb.

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