- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

The Washington Nationals likely will name their new manager within the next two weeks, according to team president Stan Kasten, who insisted the search to replace Frank Robinson has proceeded as planned despite perception around baseball to the contrary.

“This past week we’ve moved into another phase, and I think we’re maybe within two weeks [of making an announcement],” Kasten said yesterday. “I don’t know that it’ll be sooner than that. It shouldn’t be longer, I don’t think. But that’s about where we are.”

In a hastily organized meeting at RFK Stadium with beat writers, Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden made their first substantive comments about the managerial search since it began more than a month ago. Kasten has insisted on conducting a private search from the beginning but has become concerned about what he says were false reports that have led some to believe the team has no direction.

“I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea that because news was being reported on a kind of haphazard basis, the process was proceeding haphazardly,” Kasten said. “I assure you the opposite is true.”

Kasten and Bowden still won’t divulge specifics, but it’s believed the two have identified a small number of finalists for the job and are preparing to zero in on their ultimate choice. Various reports have named 10 different candidates who have met with the Nationals — including Mets third base coach Manny Acta, Yankees first base coach Tony Pena, Phillies Class AAA manager John Russell, Pirates Class AAA manager Trent Jewett and Lou Piniella and Joe Girardi, who both removed themselves from contention — but Kasten insisted some candidates still being considered have not been publicly revealed yet.

It doesn’t appear the silence will last much longer, though. On the day Robinson was fired after five seasons with the franchise, Kasten said he hoped to have a new manager in place before baseball’s Dec. 4 winter meetings. He reiterated that point yesterday while stressing that the team’s methodical search has gone according to plan.

“We have spent an awful lot of time because we have the time,” he said. “I told you that first day that I thought we’d have it done by the winter meetings. There wasn’t any particular need to have it done before that. And I think we’re going to be on that schedule.”

High-profile names like Piniella, Girardi and Dusty Baker initially garnered most of the attention, but over time it has become apparent the Nationals are looking at lesser-known candidates with less major league experience.

The intent, team officials say, is to select a manager who fits in with a young team that isn’t expected to compete until 2008 or beyond.

“It’s very important that whoever manages this team is well-equipped to handle a building team, a team that needs to be developed,” Bowden said. “Knowing how to do it — that’s going to be very, very important in this decision.”

Kasten and Bowden discussed several other subjects during yesterday’s meeting, including:

• First baseman Nick Johnson, recovering from a fractured right leg, will undergo arthroscopic surgery Monday to remove scar tissue that has hampered his mobility.

Bowden called it “a little bit of a setback” but said it shouldn’t prevent Johnson from being ready for the start of spring training.

• The team plans to continue to talk with free agent Alfonso Soriano, but is prepared to let him sign elsewhere and accept two compensatory draft picks in return.

“Either way, we’re going to be fine,” Kasten said.

• Kasten said the team has no plans to pursue top-tier free agents this winter and will focus instead on second-tier acquisitions and a large number of six-year, minor league free agents. Many of those will be pitchers who will be given a chance to earn spots in a starting rotation that currently has only one given: right-hander John Patterson.

• The team plans to announce next week that it has completely overhauled its scouting department, consistent with ownership’s plan to rebuild the organization from the bottom up.

• Top prospects like outfielder Kory Casto and left-hander Matt Chico will be given chances to win major league jobs next spring, though the team will try to avoid rushing any young players before they’re ready.

Kasten did say he believes the organization is closer to winning on the major league level than he originally thought and believes the club can contend as soon as 2008.

“I think we are on track to have the team where we want it to be in time to move into the new ballpark,” he said. “That’s a very exciting prospect.”

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