- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

The Nationals met with prospective managers Lou Piniella and Joe Girardi in recent days, but a host of outside factors still must be resolved before either high-profile candidate takes the job in Washington or any other position open around baseball.

Baseball sources confirmed Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten met with Piniella and Girardi late last week. The job has not been offered to anyone, though, and both Piniella and Girardi are not likely to accept any offers until they first meet with the Chicago Cubs, the other team actively pursuing both men.

The Cubs will interview their top three candidates — Piniella, Girardi and Bob Brenly — early this week, sources said, and the outcome of those talks could have a direct effect on the Nationals. Girardi, 41, is considered the front-runner to replace Dusty Baker in Chicago because of his longstanding ties to the city and the organization and has publicly lobbied for the job in recent days.

Piniella, though, is the biggest name on the market and could find himself contemplating multiple job offers, including one from the Cubs. The 63-year-old won’t come cheap: He’s expected to ask for a three-year deal worth as much as $4 million a season (nearly eight times what Washington paid Frank Robinson annually). And there’s reason to wonder whether he has interest in taking on another long-term rebuilding project after failing in a similar situation with the Devil Rays.

If that wasn’t enough, there could be another opening after the New York Yankees yesterday were eliminated from the American League Division Series for the second straight year. There are whispers longtime manager Joe Torre could be fired, and if that happens, Piniella (and possibly Girardi) immediately would become the leading candidate for that marquee job.

This much is clear: Piniella, who is doing postseason television work for Fox, and Girardi are at the top of the Nationals’ wish list, ahead of other potential candidates like Baker, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, Yankees first base coach Tony Pena and Mets coaches Manny Acta and Jerry Manuel.

Bowden and Kasten have attempted to keep their search out of the public eye; neither has commented on the situation since formally announcing Robinson’s firing last Saturday.

But Bowden has long professed his feelings about Piniella, calling the veteran manager the best he has known (the two worked together in Cincinnati in the early 1990s). Girardi, meanwhile, became one of the hottest available names after the Marlins fired him despite winning 78 games with a young, low-payroll team.

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

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