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Royals look east, bring in Hillman

TREY HILLMAN In Japan Series TREY HILLMAN In Japan Series

Trey Hillman has a daunting task. It's his turn to try leading the Kansas City Royals back to respectability.

A winner in Japan and in the minor leagues with the New York Yankees, Hillman was hired yesterday to take over a long-struggling Royals team that hasn't been to the playoffs since the late Dick Howser guided Kansas City to the 1985 World Series title.

"In baseball circles on a national level, this couldn't be perceived as a better hire," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

The 44-year-old Hillman has never played, coached, or managed in the majors. But he was always successful as a minor league manager, and his Nippon Ham Fighters are playing in the Japan Series for the second consecutive year.

"There is not a more qualified person out there to lead," Moore said by teleconference. "He's been a winner his whole life. There's a lot of guys with great bubble gum cards who aren't great managers."

Kansas City has seen plenty of them.

Tony Pena, Tony Muser, Bob Boone, Hal McRae, John Wathan, and Billy Gardner all failed to get the talent-thin Royals into the playoffs. All but Buddy Bell either got fired or quit under pressure. Bell announced in August this would be his last year after the club refused to give him a contract extension.

Now, Hillman steps into what has been a managerial graveyard. He spent 13 years managing in the Yankees' minor league system and three times was a manager of the year.

Hillman, given a multiyear contract, will be introduced at a news conference Monday, after which he will fly back to Japan to finish managing his team there.

Kansas City also plans to retain Bob McClure as pitching coach. In his two seasons, McClure has been credited with helping to develop Zack Greinke, Brian Bannister, and other young pitchers who appear ready to help the Royals, who avoided 100 losses for the first time in three seasons.

Hillman has spent the past five years managing in Japan. He was a second baseman in Cleveland's minor league system and advanced as high as Triple A. But his managerial skills have always seemed sharp.

"He won at every level, was manager of the year at three different levels," Moore said.

NY lines up candidates

Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi, and Pena were asked to interview with the Yankees as possible replacements for Joe Torre. Mattingly's agent, Ray Schulte, said GM Brian Cashman reached out to start the manager interview process. "Don confirmed his interest and will travel to Tampa early next week to meet with Yankee ownership," Schulte said. "We're going to be interviewing maybe as many as five, six candidates, and we'll see how that goes," said team senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner. "The job, there's been no real decision on that yet. They're going to be real interviews, and probably starting next week." . . . Orlando Hernandez had surgery on his right foot, and the Mets expect the veteran righthander to be ready for spring training. Hernandez had a bunion removed from his second toe, an ailment that interrupted his season and contributed to the Mets' collapse down the stretch. Hernandez, 42, was 9-5 with a 3.72 ERA this year, but the injury limited him to just three relief appearances after Sept. 11. Hernandez is entering the second season of a $12 million, two-year deal . . . Third baseman Corey Koskie became eligible for free agency when the Brewers declined his $6.5 million option for 2008. Koskie, 34, gets a $500,000 buyout. He did not play this season after dealing with the effects of a concussion he suffered in 2006. Koskie will remain on the team's 40-man roster until he declares for free agency.

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