- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

PITTSBURGH. — The All-Star Game is not just an exhibition game. It’s a convention for midseason speculation, and it was rampant yesterday at the Westin Hotel, baseball’s headquarters for the 2006 midsummer classic — who will be traded, which manager will be fired, whether Washington will get a baseball team (sorry, just an All-Star Game reflex).

The Washington Nationals were part of the speculation. Alfonso Soriano spent much of his time answering questions about whether he thought he would be traded and what team might trade for him.

But the speculation surrounding the Nationals was not just who might leave but who might come to Washington.

Lou Piniella, step to the front of the line.

Piniella is working for Fox as a baseball analyst. But the former manager (1,519-1,420 with the Yankees, Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays) is spending his time here fending off rumors he will replace every manager on the hot seat. He says the rumors make his work on Fox more difficult. There are some places he goes where he can’t spend time in the clubhouse picking up information because his name has been linked to possible openings there, such as Chicago, where he is being touted as the likely successor to Dusty Baker, and Philadelphia, where Charlie Manuel is on thin ice.

And then there is Washington, where the decision by the Lerner/Kasten ownership to retain general manager Jim Bowden has led to speculation Frank Robinson may not be back next year as manager.

“It’s a little embarrassing for me to see my name pop up in different places,” Piniella said. “It’s all speculation, nothing more or nothing less. I respect the job that the 30 guys that have them are doing, and I would only wish that they all do well.

“As far as me, I am very happy doing my broadcasting with Fox, and much later on, we will see what happens,” Piniella said.

Though Bowden has insisted Robinson is his manager if he has any say, it is difficult to believe Bowden won’t make a run at Piniella. The Nationals general manager has made it clear Piniella was his favorite manager to work with when they were together in Cincinnati.

Bowden was not actually the general manager during Piniella’s stint with the Reds (1990, when he won the World Series, to 1992). But Bowden was an assistant in player development and scouting and then was promoted to director of player development and scouting during Piniella’s tenure. He must have made a heck of an impression on Piniella; as much as Bowden admires Piniella, the feeling seems to be mutual.

When asked what he thought about Bowden remaining as the Nationals GM, Piniella gushed.

“I think it is an excellent choice,” Piniella said. “Jimmy is an excellent baseball man. He’s been a friend for a long time, and I was very pleased to see that he will be the permanent guy. With the new franchise, I’m sure he’ll do just an outstanding job.”

Wow. Sure sounds like love.

The Nationals may not be a good fit for Piniella, who also has been rumored to be the heir to Joe Torre’s throne in New York. He spent three years managing in Tampa Bay under the guise of player development before stepping down in 2005 and is not believed to be interested in any job for which rebuilding is the operative word.

But Piniella still could have an impact on the managing job in Washington should he wind up somewhere else — Chicago, for instance. Baker denied it publicly last year but told friends privately he would love to manage in Washington.

Then there remains the elephant in the room: Bowden’s second favorite manager not managing the Nationals — Davey Johnson, who is on the payroll as a special consultant to Bowden.

Of course, I wrote that Bowden had “zero” chance of staying as general manager, so maybe Robinson should take heart that this All-Star speculation means his job is secure.

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