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Nationals closer but remain mum on manager search

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals expect to hire a new
manager within about two weeks, culminating a search that team
president Stan Kasten sought to frame Friday as "orderly,
methodical, professional."

What Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden wouldn't do during an
informal, hour-long session with reporters in an RFK Stadium
conference room was give any specifics about their look for Frank
Robinson's replacement -- not names of candidates, not even a number
of candidates.

That's keeping with the general secrecy they've sought for the
search, in part because, Kasten said, he doesn't want other teams
to know what the Nationals are up to.

"I have a belief that when you do business deals, they're best
done privately," Kasten said.

Here's about all he would offer: "This past week we have moved
into a different phase. .… We're getting closer, even though we
don't have a timetable."

Kasten did say it "shouldn't be longer" than two more weeks.

Other teams have been more speedy or more forthcoming with
information about their managerial searches this offseason. The
Texas Rangers, for example, regularly tell reporters which
candidates are coming in for interviews and when.

With the Nationals, information often has come from candidates
themselves. Lou Piniella publicly said he wasn't interested in
taking the job in Washington, shortly before he was hired by the
Chicago Cubs. Joe Girardi's agent said he withdrew his name from
consideration.

Trent Jewett, a former Pirates third-base coach who now manages
Pittsburgh's Triple-A Indianapolis affiliate, said he met with
Bowden and Kasten last week.

"They're very diligent in their approach. It's a big
responsibility and they're doing it the right way," Jewett said in
a telephone interview. "The direction as far as where they want to
be is something that's intriguing, and at the same they are
realistic and have a handle on where they are right now and how to
bridge that gap."

Where the Nationals are right now is a rebuilding team that's
finished last in the NL East the past three seasons.

"Let's face it: We have a building job in front of us," Kasten
said.

To that end, Bowden did offer the closest thing to a job
description for the new manager.

"It's very important that whoever manages this team is
well-equipped to handle a building team, a team that needs to be
developed, and knows how to do it. That's going to be very, very
important in this position," the GM said. "You've got to be able
to handle young pitchers."

Kasten indicated Friday's session with reporters was prompted by
what he termed a mistaken perception that the team's managerial
search has been a haphazard one.

"It's an expansive search, cutting across all classes of
experience -- young, old, veterans, first-timers," he said.

On other topics:

• First baseman Nick Johnson "had a little bit of a setback"
in his recovery from a broken leg, Bowden said, and will have
arthroscopic surgery to remove scar tissue, probably Monday. Bowden
said Johnson has had "some mobility issues" but "he should still
be ready to go by spring training."

• Kasten said "there's nothing really I can or am willing to
tell you about [Alfonso] Soriano," the left fielder who's filed
for free agency.

• The Nationals don't plan to bid on Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, which isn't surprising, given the team's rebuilding
state. Nor is going after big-name free agents this offseason
"part of the game plan," Kasten said.