Davey Johnson says he wants to return in 2012

MIAMI - As much chatter as there has been in the Nationals organization about manager Davey Johnson wanting to return to manage the team in 2012, Johnson has mostly deflected or dodged the question to this point.

Sitting in the dugout before the team’s season finale against the Marlins, Johnson finally tipped his hand, saying what most have suspected he felt all along: He wants to come back.

“I didn’t plan on starting this job, but when I start something, I like to finish it,” Johnson said. “We haven’t finished anything yet.”

The Nationals will conduct an official search for the next manager, though general manager Mike Rizzo has said it will be a quick process. If Johnson is indeed back as the manager next year, he’ll have a team he thinks is ready to compete in 2012.

That wasn’t the case at the beginning of this season, he said; Johnson thought the Nationals still had too many question marks to warrant the level of optimism that surrounded the team. But he foresees a different picture in 2012 - the team will have few open spots, and will begin the season with a healthy Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann at the top of the rotation.

“Coming into 2012, there will be very few questions. The competition will maybe be for one or two jobs,” he said. “When that happens, you have a chance to contend. Because of the people in that room over there, that’s why this job is attractive to me - the challenge to get to that (contending) level.”

The decision process, though, isn’t quite that simple; Johnson said he’d return if the Nationals’ front office decides he’s the best person to take the team forward in 2012. If he’s not, he will help pick his successor in his role as a consultant.

But fortunately for general manager Mike Rizzo, Johnson has a shortcut to the end of the process.

“I know that I’m the best candidate,” he said. “I also like to work for smart people, and I think I’m working with them.”

It’s likely the Nationals will interview third base coach Bo Porter and Triple-A Syracuse manager Randy Knorr, who are both seen as future major league managers. But considering Rizzo went right to Johnson when manager Jim Riggleman resigned in June, it doesn’t seem like there will be much suspense with the Nationals’ managerial search.

For his part, Johnson doesn’t seem worried about it.

“I know what I’m going to be doing for the next month - relaxing, playing golf, catching fish, playing with my dog,” Johnson said. “I might have to paint my house.”