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Posted: Monday June 15, 2009 12:38PM; Updated: Tuesday June 16, 2009 7:39AM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >
DAILY SCOOP

Nationals could replace Acta with Valentine; pitching market thinning

Story Highlights

Valentine is especially good with young players and rebuilding teams

The notion that Strasburg will ruin the bonus scale forever is quite a bit overdone

With the Rockies rolling, will they transition from sure sellers to probable buyers?

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Bobby Valentine
Bobby Valentine last managed in the major leagues with the Mets back in 2002.
AP
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Manny Acta appears to be on his way out as Nationals manager, and while respected ex-big league manager Jim Riggleman reportedly will be installed as the interim manager, team higher-ups also have begun internal discussions about permanent candidates. One of those candidates to replace Acta, according to National League sources, is Bobby Valentine, who is currently in his seventh season as manager of the Chiba Lotte Mariners in Japan.

No outside candidates have surfaced for Acta's job to date, but word is that interim GM Mike Rizzo will consider Valentine, who would seem on the surface to be the perfect fit for a young, rebuilding team with public relations and attendance issues. It isn't known who else may be on the Nationals' short list as Acta runs short of time with the 16-45 team.

Nationals people are said to love Acta's patience, but apparently they themselves have run out of patience with this horrid club, which is nearly 10 games worse than the second-worst team in baseball.

Of course the highly questionable, already deposed ex-GM Jim Bowden is most responsible for the failures of this team. But even with Bowden's ill-conceived roster, the Nats were hoping for something more than this.

It was an impossible assignment for Acta from the start, with a conglomeration of poor-fielding, badly behaving outfielders. Acta, 40 and in his first managerial job, was not up to the task. But the question then becomes ... who is?

Well, Valentine -- who reached the 2000 World Series with the Mets and won a championship with Chiba Lotte -- is known for turning losers into winners. He has always liked a challenge. This definitely is a challenge. The Nationals are 29 games under .500 at a time no other team is more than 10 games under .500.

Some teams have shied away from the high-energy, high-profile Valentine, as the trend in baseball is to have more powerful GMs and less powerful managers (the "Moneyball" formula). Only two big-league teams have offered Valentine jobs since he went to Japan. Oddly enough, word is that Valentine was closer to taking the Devil Rays job than the Dodgers job. That's probably because he saw the D-Rays as a challenge. Both offers included a significant pay cut from his $4 million Marines salary. He has long been known for being especially good with young players and rebuilding teams.

Fans of Valentine in Japan -- tens of thousands of them -- reportedly are putting together a long petition list for the management of the Chiba Lotte Marines in a last-ditch, low-percentage effort to keep Valentine as manager. But a return to Chiba Lotte seems unlikely, as ownership doesn't want to pay his $4 million salary in coming years. The Marines ownership has said all year that it doesn't intend to bring back Valentine after the Japanese League season ends in November.

Valentine declined comment via e-mail, while Rizzo and Nationals president Stan Kasten haven't returned calls since it was reported that Acta was going to be fired. Sources have indicated that the firing could come as early as Monday.

Riggleman, who grew up in the D.C. suburbs and is a product of Richard Montgomery High in Rockville, Md., is going to be named the interim manager, according to foxsports.com, which first reported that Acta was on his way out. But it's not known whether Riggleman has a chance at the full-time job.

Plans change. Sources close to the Nationals indicate that Acta originally was under the impression that he had the year to do the job -- or at least until a full-time GM was named. Rizzo is expected to get the full-time GM job at some point, as the Nationals-owning Lerners seem to be supporters of his, so maybe that announcement will come fairly soon.

While Acta thought he had time to prove he could do the job, ultimately he proved unable to fulfill an impossible duty.

No, a Strasburg signing won't affect the National debt

As for the Nationals' other major ongoing issue, the idea going around that a big signing bonus for No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg will ruin the bonus scale forever is quite a bit overdone.

The bonus structure survived when Louisiana State pitcher Ben McDonald became the first $1 million bonus recipient, which was four times the previous record of $250,000 for University of Evansville pitcher Andy Benes. And when J.D. Drew received an eye-popping $7 million, it hardly led to a string of $7 million bonuses. In fact, Mark Prior, Pat Burrell, Mark Teixeira and David Price are the only players to match or exceed Drew's $7 million since Drew signed in 1998 (and Price's deal is backloaded).

For all the constant worry about things getting out of control, first-round bonuses actually have stayed about the same since 2002.

Strasburg is expected to seek a $50 million bonus from Washington, a figure nearly five times Prior's record. He won't hit that figure, but if he signs, he'll surely break the record.

 
 

One small-market GM said his team was prepared to pay Strasburg $15-20 million on the off chance Strasburg fell to them. Strasburg is viewed by scouts as a special talent at a time that Washington needs one. However, a big outcry among other teams' execs could occur if Washington gives Strasburg two or even three times Prior's record of $10.5 million. Some are suggesting that the draft may never be the same.

But just because one 103-mph thrower gets crazy money from a desperate team (Washington has no choice at this point; "It's a perfect storm" for Strasburg, one executive says), that doesn't mean future phenoms will approach his figure, just as no one approached Drew's deal in a vast majority of years.

Regardless, there seems to be a movement afoot for a draft overhaul. No one should be surprised if MLB tries hard to install a slotting system at some point in the near future.

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