Robinson To Return As Washington Nationals Manager

By Carla Peay
Updated: December 16, 2005

Nationals try to compete in the ‘Hot Stove’ league

WASHINGTON, D.C.–For the Washington Nationals, uncertainty remains the order of the day. By last count, there were still eight different groups standing in line to pony up $450 million to buy the Nationals, although only three are considered to have a real shot at getting the team. The lease for the new stadium has yet to be signed, as Major League Baseball, Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. City Council continue to haggle over the cost and the location. But amidst all the unanswered questions, fans of the team have just been assured of one thing – that Hall of Fame Manager Frank Robinson will return.

Robinson stated his desire last season to return, and expressed his desire for a three year contract, but instead inked yet another one-year deal. Also returning to the Nationals coaching staff are pitching coach Randy St. Claire and bench coach Eddie Rodriguez. Not returning are hitting coach Tom McCraw, first base coach Don Buford, third base coach Dave Huppert, bull-pen coach Bob Natal, and roving coach Jack Voight.

Meanwhile Vice President and General manager Jim Bowden, who recently signed a contract extension that runs through April, is doing his best to stay active in baseball’s hot stove league, in spite of conditions that could arguably make it difficult to sign free agents. The Nationals recently lost starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who signed a three year contract with the Oakland Athletics. Loaiza had expressed his desire to remain with the Nationals, but they were unable to match the offer by the A’s, who signed Loaiza to a deal worth more than $21 million. The best offer from the Nationals was for two years at $8 million. Loaiza posted a 12-10 record with an ERA of 3.77 and was considered a reliable workhorse for the team.

Filling in as an emergency starter during the final month last season was right hander Hector Carrasco, who posted a 5-4 record with a 2.04 ERA. Carrasco had also hoped to return to the Nationals, but he was lost as well to a team who was able to offer him a contract that the Nationals were unable to match. Carrasco signed a two year deal with the Los Angels of Anaheim for 6.1 million.

Although pitching remains Bowden’s top priority, he did make a splash last week by trading for All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Soriano was obtained from the Texas Rangers for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armondo Galarraga.

“We were looking for a guy who can score 90 to 100 runs and hit in the middle of the lineup. He is an impactful offensive player and we want him in the middle of our lineup long with (Jose) Guillen and (Nick) Johnson”, Bowden said in a recent conference call with the media. During the recent baseball owners meetings in Dallas, teams looking to acquire Soriano discussed the possibility of playing him somewhere other than second base, a move which Soriano is reportedly not in favor of.

“He’s a great athlete who could play in a variety of positions”, Bowden said of Soriano, but hasn’t discussed with him what position he will play, stating that the team will do whatever is in the best interest of the club. Soriano could see some time in left field, or at second base, depending on the health of Jose Vidro, also an All-Star second baseman, whose knee problems have plagued him for three seasons now.

As to the questions regarding ownership and the new stadium, Bowden admitted that it was a concern for some of the free agents he’s pursuing, but not all of them.

“It depends on the player”, he said. He also admitted that he’s not overly confident about obtaining the kind of pitching he’s hoping to find.

“Teams are spending a lot on pitchers. They’re more expensive now than they were three months ago”, he stated. Along with pitching, Bowden lists his priorities as improving the team’s depth on the bench, especially from the left side of the plate.

Bowden is comfortable with one promise.

“I can promise we’ll have an owner by spring training (mid –February)”, he said. Then added, “I hope”.