- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Washington Nationals have chosen Manny Acta as their new manager and will make a formal announcement introducing the 37-year-old in the next few days, baseball sources confirmed last night.

Team president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden were still working out the final details of what is believed to be a two-year contract with Acta, but the team is planning to hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an end to their six-week search for Frank Robinson’s replacement.

After spending the last two seasons as the New York Mets third base coach, Acta will become the youngest manager in the major leagues. The Dominican native turns 38 on Jan. 11.

Acta, who first met with Bowden, Kasten and members of the Lerner family during a day-long interview in Washington on Oct. 24, did not return messages last night. Bowden and Kasten, who remained silent throughout the search process, did not respond to e-mail or phone messages yesterday.

Originally thought of as a long shot to win the job, Acta ultimately became a stronger candidate late last month after higher-profile candidates Lou Piniella and Joe Girardi withdrew their names from consideration. He emerged from a pool of at least nine contenders, in the end possessing more of the traits desired by the Nationals than anyone else who interviewed.

Kasten and Bowden had said all along they were looking for a young, enthusiastic manager who would work well with a growing team that is not expected to seriously contend until at least 2008. In their judgment, Acta fit that bill.

A positive, upbeat coach who has a reputation for getting along well with players, the former minor league infielder has experience beyond his relatively young age. After spending six seasons as a light-hitting infielder in the Houston Astros’ farm system, he turned to coaching and quickly moved up the ranks.

Acta got his first managerial job at the age of 24 with short-season Class A Auburn (N.Y.) and spent eight years as a minor league manager before becoming third base coach of the Montreal Expos in 2002. In three seasons on Robinson’s staff, he further cemented his status as an up-and-comer, earning him a job with the Mets in 2005 after Expos GM Omar Minaya moved to New York and added him to new manager Willie Randolph’s staff.

That reputation earned Acta the job managing his native Dominican Republic’s powerhouse all-star team in last spring’s World Baseball Classic and made him a popular man this fall. In addition to the Nationals, the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants also interviewed him for their managerial openings before he left for Japan to coach a team of major league all-stars.

Acta returned to the United States on Thursday, at which time he was informed by Bowden he was still in the running for Washington’s job. He was set to interview with Oakland today at the GM meetings in Naples, Fla., but he informed the Athletics on Friday that he was no longer interested, one of the first indications he was closing in on a deal with Washington.

The terms of Acta’s contract with the Nationals weren’t clear last night, but sources said he’s likely to receive a two-year deal. As a first-time manager, he probably won’t command a huge salary; Robinson, 71, last year made $650,000, which ranked in the bottom half among the 30 teams.

He’ll face a daunting challenge in Washington, hoping to turn around a team coming off a 71-91 season that ended with Robinson’s dismissal after five years with the franchise.

Kasten and Bowden have said they don’t intend to pursue any big-name free agents this winter and they have all but given up hope of re-signing slugger Alfonso Soriano, who is free to begin negotiating with other teams today. The 30-year-old is expected to earn a five- or six-year contract worth as much as $18 million a season.

The Nationals may still try to make one last-ditch effort to bring Soriano back, hoping that Acta’s hiring might persuade the outfielder (who is from the same town in the Dominican Republic) to return.

Even so, Acta figures to inherit a team filled with holes, most notably in its starting rotation, which currently consists of right-hander John Patterson (who is coming back from forearm surgery) and four open slots.

The Nationals, though, are likely to show patience with their young manager, just as they will show with the team. Bowden and Kasten have made a flurry of roster and front-office moves in the last five months designed to restock the organization’s farm system, bolster its scouting department and build a contender after the team moves into its new Southeast ballpark in 2008.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

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