Walking papers for Nats GM?

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So, what does Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo do for an encore after playing a key role in the signing of designated franchise savior Stephen Strasburg?

Would you believe lose his job?

Multiple sources insisted Tuesday that the Nationals are on the verge of announcing that Arizona Diamondbacks vice president Jerry DiPoto is about to be named Nationals GM, replacing Rizzo, who has been interim GM since replacing Jim Bowden earlier this season.

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Mike Rizzo (above) became the Washington Nationals' interim general manager when Jim Bowden resigned March 1.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

"It could happen in the next 24 hours,'' insisted one major league executive who said he had it on good authority that DiPoto, the former reliever who has overseen Arizona's pro scouting the last four years, will be hired by Nationals president Stan Kasten.

Kasten is as close-mouthed on the subject as he was on the pursuit of Strasburg, which ended successfully when the San Diego State right-hander agreed to a four-year, $15.1 million deal.

"I am no help on the GM subject,'' Kasten wrote in an email Tuesday.

The Nationals have made no announcements during the course of their GM search. Kasten is known to have interviewed Rays VP Gerry Hunsicker, who decided not to pursue the job, and contacted former Twins GM Terry Ryan, who was not interested. He also gave multiple interviews to Theo Epstein's assistant GM in Boston, Jed Hoyer, believed to be another finalist for the job. A name floated in some circles was former Mets GM Steve Phillips, but he told associates he had no interest because of his job at ESPN.

"I can tell you with all honesty that if this is 'going down' it is news to me,'' DiPoto wrote in an email Tuesday. ''At this point there really isn't anything to report that hasn't already been reported. I will continue to be respectful of their process and patiently wait for their decision."

Rizzo had been with the Diamondbacks for seven years, primarily as scouting director, when the Lerner family hired him as assistant GM and VP of Baseball Operations after they took over in 2006. The Nationals' draft in 2007 was ranked as the best in baseball by Baseball America.

When Bowden resigned March 1 in the wake of an investigation that produced skimming allegations connected to the team's operation in the Dominican Republic, Rizzo became interim GM. In the ensuing months he has engineered some significant roster shuffling, the most notable being the acquisition of outfielder Nyjer Morgan(notes) from Pittsburgh. He also fired manager Manny Acta; under interim Jim Riggleman, the Nationals were 17-14 entering play Tuesday night.

The good relationship Rizzo had established over the years with Strasburg's adviser, Scott Boras, also held him in good stead during negotiations, leading to a signing many regarded as critical to the credibility of the franchise.

"If they let Mike go now, they really will have some explaining to do,'' one Rizzo loyalist said Tuesday. "He changed the face of the club, got some of the bad apples out.''

The Nationals almost certainly will have to make a decision soon. This is the time of year that most clubs are preparing next year's budgets, and the contracts of most of the key people in scouting and player development come up at the end of October.

HITTING THE CORNERS

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Aubrey Huff.
(Associated Press)

Huff enough? When the Tigers made a waiver deal Monday for Aubrey Huff(notes), there was some thought that Detroit was planning to cut ties with struggling slugger Magglio Ordonez(notes), before his $18 million option for 2010 could vest. But it appears the Tigers are not planning to take on the players' union in what would almost certainly become a case for a grievance if Detroit dropped him, just 80 plate appearances from the option kicking in. The left-handed hitting Huff will spell Miguel Cabrera(notes) at first, play some at third to give Brandon Inge(notes) time to rest his ailing knee, serve as DH with Carlos Guillen(notes) able to play left field, and also play some outfield. "If you can hit,'' one Tigers official said, "you can play outfield in this league.'' The Tigers made the move the day after the club went 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position.

The "other" Nats pick: Unlike Strasburg, who waited literally until the last minute to sign, Stanford pitcher Drew Storen, Washington's other first-round choice, signed immediately after the draft. In his eagerness to begin his pro career, Storen accepted a $1.6 million bonus, below the amount MLB slotted for the 10th overall pick. His sense of urgency has been rivaled by a quick promotion: Storen, projected as a closer in the big leagues, began in Class-A Hagerstown but already has risen to Double-A, to favorable reviews from Washington officials. "His fastball is 96-97, and I love his makeup,'' said one Nats scout. "This kid has a chance to get here pretty quickly.''

Selloff in Houston? Don't bet on it, even after the Astros sent Ivan Rodriguez(notes) to the Rangers, the team where it all began for Pudge, for two prospects. The Astros began Tuesday night 10 games behind the Cardinals and four games under .500, but Houston owner Drayton McLane still is disinclined to send a message to Astros fans that the team is conceding the season with just under a third of the schedule left.

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John Smoltz.
(Associated Press)

Fungo hitting: John Smoltz(notes), released by the Red Sox on Monday, clears release waivers Wednesday, which means he can sign with any club for the big-league minimum. The Cardinals have signaled their interest, but scouts who noted a drop in Smoltz's velocity from his first start ("not profound, but noticeable") have serious reservations that Smoltz could bounce back quickly enough to work out of the 'pen. The Marlins and Dodgers have also been linked to Smoltz. "He needs to get back to the National League,'' one scout said. … Et tu, Manny? Since his grand slam on Manny "bobblehead" night, Manny Ramirez(notes) is batting just .250, ranking him eighth among Dodgers with at least 50 plate appearances. He has just seven RBIs in that span, compared to 21 apiece by Matt Kemp(notes) and Andre Ethier(notes), and two home runs. The Dodgers are 9-14 in that span. … Twelve home runs in just 56 1/3 innings, the most allowed by any reliever, spelled the end of Kevin Gregg's(notes) days as a Cubs closer. Gregg gave up No. 12 to Kyle Blanks(notes), a three-run blast that made losers of the Cubs on Monday night.

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