Sunday, October 17, 2004

BOSTON — Bob Watson, vice president of on-field operations for Major League Baseball, is the front-runner to be named general manager of the Washington baseball franchise, sources close to MLB said yesterday.

Commissioner Bud Selig said he expects a general manager to be hired soon. Sources said baseball’s first choice is Watson, who was the first black to become a GM when he was hired to run the Houston Astros front office in October 1993.

Selig also said his goal is to have an owner selected for the relocated Montreal Expos by the end of the calendar year.

“That would be in the best interest for everybody,” Selig said last night before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park. “We’re going to try to do it as quickly as we can.”

MLB owns the beleaguered franchise as a result of the deal made nearly three years ago when the 29 existing owners purchased the Expos from Jeffrey Loria for $120million. That set in motion the deal for Loria to buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry for $158million. Henry, in turn, joined the group that purchased the Red Sox for $700million.

Even if MLB manages to sell the Expos and have new ownership in place by the end of the year, the majority of roster moves for the 2005 season will have to take place between now and then. That means baseball will assemble the team that will take the field next year, no matter who eventually owns the club. It is unclear if the new owners would have to retain the inherited general manager or manager.

Watson was hired in 1995 to replace Gene Michael as GM of the New York Yankees and presided over the 1996 World Series champions, the first of many postseason appearances in this current Yankee run. Watson was fired in February 1998 and replaced by current Yankee GM Brian Cashman.

In February 2002, Watson was named vice president of on-field operations for baseball. He replaced Frank Robinson, who left to take the Expos managing job.

Watson played from 1966 to 1984 with the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees and Atlanta Braves, appearing primarily as an outfielder, first baseman and then designated hitter in 1,832 games. He batted .295 with 184 home runs and 989 RBI. In 1976, he scored what was recognized as the one millionth run in major league baseball history.

Former Baltimore Orioles general manager Pat Gillick also has expressed interest in the Expos general manager position that has been vacant since Omar Minaya resigned recently to take a similar position with the New York Mets.

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