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Insider

Plenty of options for Nationals to consider

6/23/2011

Jim Riggleman shocked the baseball world Thursday when he abruptly resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals. Earlier in the day, Riggleman told team vice president and general manager Mike Rizzo that if his 2012 club option was not exercised by the conclusion of the game, he would step down.

The Nationals defeated the Seattle Mariners 1-0 behind the combined shutout pitching of Jason Marquis and Tyler Clippard. The Nats have won 11 of their past 12 games and 16 of their past 21 and are in third place in the National League East. The team is 38-37, which marks its best record this late in a season since 2005, when Frank Robinson was the team’s manager. When Riggleman walked into his office after the game, Rizzo explained that the club was not prepared to exercise the contract option at this time. Riggleman then resigned. Rizzo tried to talk him out of it, but to no avail.

Rizzo then told the media he was disappointed that Riggleman is letting the team down and putting himself first, going as far as calling him “selfish.” Just last week, Rizzo told reporters the Nationals played hard for all 27 outs under Riggleman.

Riggleman walks away from the balance of the $600,000 salary he was owed this year and a club option for the same amount in 2012.

It was obvious in spring training that Riggleman wanted a long-term contract and that he was very disappointed that the club had committed to a five-year deal for Rizzo and was not willing to, at the very least, pick up his club option.

Riggleman clearly deserved the club option to be exercised. In time, in all likelihood, it would have been. Riggleman was in his third year as the Nationals' manager and clearly understood that the ownership works at a slower, more methodical pace than that of most clubs but, in the end, has a tendency to do the right thing. In all probability, the Nats would have picked up Riggleman's option.

I think Riggleman won't be a manager in the major leagues again. His final major league managerial record is 662-824. You can’t put yourself ahead of the team. Chuck Tanner used to remind me of the old cliche, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” There are only 30 managerial jobs in major league baseball. It is a privilege and an honor to have one of the positions. Riggleman agreed to the contract he signed, but he didn’t live up to it. He should have had the security and the confidence of the job he was doing. Hey, he took the Nationals from fifth place to third place in the NL East. He was working for an ownership that was willing to spend the money going forward in an attempt to win. He had Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brad Peacock and many others to look forward to having on the big league roster. He was watching the development of Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen and Jordan Zimmermann and the leadership of Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. The future is bright in Washington, and Riggleman could have been the team's leader in the dugout, at least through 2012, and with possible success to go along with it.

He walked away from his job over a contract that wasn’t finished, an option that likely would have been picked up and a future that could have been special. This will be a decision Riggleman will soon regret. Longtime managers Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda spent their careers working under one-year contracts. They always lived up to their deals and never threatened to leave because they didn't get a long-term deal. Have confidence in your ability, do a good job and the rest will take care of itself. Apparently, Riggleman doesn't believe in such a statement.

The bizarre, shocking and stunning resignation will become a phenomenal opportunity for someone else to take over.

On an interim basis, the Nationals could turn to bench coach John McLaren, third-base coach Bo Porter, special assistant Bob Boone or Davey Johnson, a longtime manager and a current senior adviser for the Nats. If the team wants a long-term solution from within their organization, it could hire Randy Knorr, the manager of the Nats' Triple-A Syracuse team, or Trent Jewett, who is a coach on the Nats' major league staff.

Washington also could go outside the organization and hire Chip Hale, the third-base coach for the New York Mets. Hale worked with Rizzo when they were both with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Others outside the organization the Nationals could consider hiring include: Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A manager; Tim Bogar, the third-base coach for the Boston Red Sox; Tony Pena, the bench coach for the New York Yankees; Terry Pendleton, the first-base coach for the Atlanta Braves; or Joey Cora, the bench coach for the Chicago White Sox.

And if the Nats want to shock the baseball world, they could go after ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine, who certainly will understand that, even under a short-term deal, this is a possible great job now and into the future.

Whoever gets the opportunity to become the Nationals' manager, he just might get a long-term job without a long-term commitment.