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Nationals could replace Acta with Valentine; pitching market thinning

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.

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.

The pitching market is taking some serious hits lately.

If the Padres were already frustrated by Jake Peavy's veto of the trade to the White Sox, now they have to beside themselves. With Peavy out "eight to 12 weeks" with an ankle injury, according to the Padres trainer, the team's hope to save the remainder on his contract (close to $60 million right now) is likely delayed by a year.

This, of course, is not the fault of Peavy, who received the no-trade powers in return for agreeing to take what was seen as a below-market contract for an ace. But you have to wonder how many teams will eagerly give out full no-trade clauses in the future. The Braves are the one team that has made it policy never to give them out, and GM Frank Wren recently contended in a phone interview that "it's never prevented us from getting one player."

The rest of the trade market appears to be diminishing, as well. Erik Bedard reported "stiffness" before being scratched from Saturday night's start at Colorado. With the Astros winning, Roy Oswalt is all but certain to stay in Houston. "They could never get what they wanted for him, anyway," one AL executive said.

And now it appears that the Indians will at least wait for the returns of Grady Sizemore and Jake Westbrook (throwing 92 mph in a recent rehab start) before deciding whether to do any heavy selling. They might eventually consider shopping Cliff Lee, but the reasonable $8 million option for 2010 may be seen as a reason to hold on since Cleveland isn't about to give up next year even if it makes the ultimate call to wave the white flag for this one.

The Rockies are on a roll with 11 straight victories, but word out of Colorado is that the team will wait until after the season to make a decision on manager Jim Tracy. Folks scoffed when GM Dan O'Dowd said this was a much better team than it was showing. But apparently it was.

Ian Stewart is doing a superb job since supplanting the struggling Garrett Atkins at third base. Speaking of Atkins, a career .290 hitter who's hitting .193, O'Dowd said, "I wouldn't have believed it. This guy has been one of the most consistent offensive players."

Stewart has been brilliant lately both ways, increasing the need to trade Atkins at a time it can't be done, not with his $7.05 million salary. That's OK -- after the way they started, they'll take it.

The big question now is whether the Rockies, who are 3 1/2 games back in the NL wild-card race, will transition from sure sellers to probable buyers.

The Rockies were credited by many draftniks with having one of the better drafts last week, merely by taking high-ceiling left-hander Tyler Matzek from Capistrano Valley, Calif., with their first pick, No. 11 overall. (Other teams thought to have drafted well include the Nats, Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners.)

Matzek's agent, Greg Genske, was telling folks they wanted a "precedent-setting" deal, which is being taken to mean more than the $7.3 million that Genske's Newport Beach neighbor (Scott Boras) got for Rick Porcello. That's not happening. But if the Rockies can offload a contract or two they might be able to pony up $3-4 million for the very talented Matzek.

• The Red Sox now "aren't in a hurry" to trade Brad Penny, who hit the mid-90s in his last start vs. the Yankees, even with John Smoltz seemingly ready to go. While it appears they have too much pitching, they also know there's no such thing. The market also hasn't been great so far for Penny, thanks to his $5 million salary. Perhaps with the pitching market dying, though, he'll begin to look better to someone.

• Rockies closer Huston Street is being heavily scouted. Among the teams that need a reliever are the Yankees, Rangers and Angels. The Rays, Cubs and Twins might also consider bullpen help.

• The Cardinals continue to scour the market for a bat.

• Giants lefty Jonathan Sanchez is on the market, but scouts say his stuff has slipped in recent starts.

• A's rookie Vin Mazzaro is impressing scouts with his "heavy ball." With Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Josh Outman, the A's are determined to build around their young staff.

• In explaining that he's feeling fine now, Johan Santana revealed that he felt soreness earlier. His velocity was down on Sunday during his terrible performance in a 15-0 loss to the Yankees -- from 94 in his previous start to 92 tops -- but he insisted, "I'm good."

Ervin Santana hasn't been the same since returning from injury. "His stuff is way down," one scout says.

• There are renewed worries about Dontrelle Willis after a brutal, eight-walk performance at Pittsburgh, the home of Steve Blass. I wish Willis well in overcoming his demons.

Tom Glavine isn't as likely now to file a grievance against the Braves and may just settle into retirement, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported. It's nice to see that discretion prevailed with Glavine, who had a case but also has made $129 million in baseball (according to baseballreference.com). Also good to see Globe people continuing to do a great job despite their mistreatment by management.

• The Yankees probably did a smart thing by taking a flyer on Slade Heathcott, a five-tool high school outfielder, with their first pick in last week's draft. His father's in jail for drugs, his mother's out of the picture and Slade was academically ineligible for a short period. However, he was considered to have very high upside.

• Yankees reliever Brian Bruney was over his head trying to take on Mets superstar closer Francisco Rodriguez. After Bruney called K-Rod's postgame celebration a "tired act," Rodriguez said he didn't know who Bruney was before amending that to say he's a "nobody" who's always hurt. The next day they nearly came to blows. K-Rod doesn't need to be mixing it up with an alleged "nobody." And players on the DL should be seen and not heard.

• Best of luck to Diamondbacks reliever Scott Schoeneweis, who just returned after taking some time off following the untimely death of his wife, Gabrielle.

• Condolences to Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham, who lost his younger brother, Jon, in a car accident this week.

• Red Sox owner John Henry got a little carried away when he Tweeted "MT curse," regarding Mark Teixeira after the Red Sox made it eight straight this year over the Yankees. I am a threat to say equally irresponsible things on my own account. You can follow me on Twitter at SI_JonHeyman.

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