Robinson to return as D.C.'s skipper

Robinson to manage Nationals in '06

WASHINGTON -- After more than a week of thinking things over, Nationals manager Frank Robinson agreed to terms Thursday on a one-year contract worth $650,000 to return for a fifth season with the franchise.

"After thinking about this thing [Wednesday] night, I said, 'Why drag this thing out and hang people out [to dry]?'" Robinson told MLB.com. "I told [general manager Jim Bowden] that I would agree to terms to manage this ballclub."

Last season, Washington finished fifth in the National League East with an 81-81 record. It marked the third time in four years that a Robinson-led team had a .500 record or better while operating under one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

At last year's All-Star break, Washington was 52-36 and in first place, but the team faltered in the second half, going 29-45. In four seasons with the franchise, Robinson's record is 314-334 (.485).

"We are happy to have Frank back," Bowden said. "He kept the team competitive even though it had one of the lowest payrolls in the [NL East]."

However, the 70-year-old Robinson will be returning without most of last year's coaching staff as hitting coach Tom McCraw, first-base coach Don Buford, third-base coach Dave Huppert and roving coach Jack Voigt were relieved of their duties. Bullpen coach Bobby Natal took a roving catching instructor's job with the Mets.

Only pitching coach Randy St. Claire, who revived the careers of John Patterson and Hector Carrasco, and bench coach Eddie Rodriguez will return, and there's no guarantee that Rodriguez will have the same role. There's a possibility he could become the third-base coach.

Robinson and Bowden will assemble the rest of the coaching staff. One source said Robinson will get a list of 25 candidates, while another said the process won't be completed until close to Spring Training.

"We want to go with a more hands-on, younger staff," Bowden said. "We want to have a group with high energy."

According to two baseball sources, Bowden offered Robinson a deal to return to the team on Dec. 5 at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. Robinson was offered the same salary as last season and was told that some of his coaches were going to be dismissed. Bowden also told Robinson that management would leave it up to Robinson to retain Rodriguez and Natal.

Bowden did most of the talking, and Robinson told Bowden he would think it over. Both sources said Robinson was unhappy with the contract and the decision to dismiss the coaches.

But after talking it over with family and friends -- including McCraw and Buford -- Robinson decided to manage the team for another season.

"I wouldn't have done it without my family and friends," Robinson said. "They encouraged me to go on and get this out of the way and get ready for the season. They are behind me."

McCraw, Huppert and Buford were under scrutiny for most of the second half. Under McCraw, the club finished last in almost every offensive category the last two years, while Huppert and Buford were criticized for not being aggressive enough on the basepaths.

Huppert is expected to take a Minor League job with the Phillies, while the Nationals are expecting to offer McCraw a Minor League job within the organization. McCraw and the Nationals will talk about the job sometime next week.

"Those people control the money. If they decide they want to spend it somewhere else, that's fine with me. I have no problem with that," McCraw said. "I have no anger, no hostility toward Jim or the organization."

According to a position player on the Nationals, the hitters became frustrated with McCraw's way of hitting.

"He taught us to have a plan and I understand that, but sometimes, it's more than a plan because if you are missing pitches right down the middle, then there's something wrong with the mechanics of your swing," the player said.

Buford was told that he didn't communicate very well with the players.

"I was never late. I was always early with the pitchers. I worked with the hitters a little bit. I worked with the outfielders," Buford said. "All the drills were energetic-type drills. I had good communication with all the players."

As for Voigt, he charted pitches during games, and his position will be eliminated. The team is planning to rely heavily on videotapes to scout opposing players.

Natal had been the team's bullpen coach since 2002. This season under Natal, Washington's relievers posted an ERA under 3.60.

Natal said he talked to Robinson on Thursday morning to inform him that he was going to take the job with the Mets for less money in order to spend more time with his wife and three children.

"We had conversations before, and I told Frank that the Mets were interested in me. I had to make a decision. I knew things were going to come to a head with Frank. I talked to my wife and boys, and they thought it was better for me to come home," Natal said. "I also have a strong passion for teaching catching. I'm going to miss the pitchers. I spent a lot of time with them."

Last October, team president Tony Tavares told MLB.com that the players didn't work hard before games. Robinson would like Tavares to come to him personally and prove to him what went wrong.

"I wish that person would stand up in front of me and tell me what he saw and what he has heard about this club not being prepared. He should ask the players if they were prepared. But he won't." Robinson said.

In other news, Nationals pitchers, catchers and injured players will report to camp on Feb. 18 with the first workout scheduled for the following day. Position players report on Feb. 23 and will work out the next day.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.