Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Jim Bowden Should Stay

If I had the ear of the Nationals new owners, I'd tell them something that few in the Natosphere would agree with: Jim Bowden should be signed to a multi-year contract as general manager of the Washington Nationals.

I have a different perspective on Bowden than many in the DC area. As a former Cincinnati resident and Reds fan, I've closely followed Bowden's entire career. He became the youngest GM in major league history when he was hired by the Reds before the 1993 season at the tender age of 31. During his ten years with the Reds, he consistently displayed a knack for making bold roster moves and impact signings for a small market team with a tiny payroll. As Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty points out, Bowden's marquee moves include trading Dave Burba for Sean Casey, acquiring Pete Harnisch, Denny Neagle, Kevin Mitchell and, of course, Ken Griffey Jr.

Bowden was fired by the Reds during the course of the 2003 season along with manager Bob Boone and others. The Reds replaced Bowden and Boone with lame, stay the course managers (Dave Miley and then Jerry Narron) and current GM Dan O'Brien, whose only feat so far has been signing Eric Milton, the worst pitcher in the majors this side of Jose Lima. In his column Daugherty laments the loss of Bowden, saying the Reds would have been better off keeping him.

I completely agree. Jim Bowden is prolific at signing talented, yet largely unsung players with limited financial support from a stingy owner. Sound familiar? The Nationals' $48.5 million payroll at the beginning of the year is nearly identical to the payrolls given to him by Reds owner Marge Schott and later, Carl Lindner. During Bowden's tenure, the Reds signed and/or developed the core of a very potent offensive team, including Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Sean Casey, Wily Mo Pena and others. Wouldn't you love to have guys like that on the Nationals, a team that actually has decent pitching? Given time, Bowden can make this possible.

Speaking of pitching, many in the media and Natosphere have stated that Bowden's biggest folly this season was giving away too much pitching, wearing out the rotation and bullpen down the stretch. These charges are true, but hindsight is always 20-20. The Nationals revolving door of injuries meant that Bowden had to put out one fire only to race to the next. The Tomo Ohka trade, for example, has been highly criticized, but taken in context it made sense at the time. Jose Vidro had just gone down with a serious injury that could have cost him the season. The team had to make a move to fill that void at second base. Ohka, at the time, was performing terribly on the mound and causing issues in the clubhouse. However, Spivey soon went down with a season-ending injury of his own, and Ohka found new life in Milwaukee. Bowden could not have predicted any of these things. He went with the best information he had at the time and took a chance.

Many also decry the loss of Zach Day and Sunny Kim to the Rockies. Again, these moves made sense at the time. Like Ohka, Day had clubhouse issues and a sub-par performance for the Nats. In return, Washington got Preston Wilson, who performed well in the clutch despite his high strikeout totals. Consider what would have happened to the season if we hadn't had Wilson to spell Wilkerson in center field and in turn, allow Wilky to cover first while Johnson was injured (again). Who would have played first? Baerga? I shudder to think...without Wilson the Nats would not be .500 this year. The Sunny Kim incident was regrettable but necessary in order to keep Tony Blanco, a future prospect, with the team. Blanco may someday be a huge asset for this team; can you say the same for Sunny Kim? He was getting shellacked before the Rockies picked him up off waivers.

And finally, Bowden even did what he could to resolve the Guzman problem by acquiring Deivi Cruz for the stretch run. If you remember, Cruz was all set to be the starter at shortstop until Vidro got injured yet again. Guzman and Cruz had to play SS and 2B and the rest is history.

I like Jim Bowden because he embodies the attitude the whole team should have: he never gives up. He is always working the phones and looking for a deal, even late in the season when playoff hopes are slim. This is a much better alternative to a conservative, stay-the-course GM like Dan O'Brien. Critics may dismiss Bowden's zeal as merely an audition for his job next year, but I've been following him for 12 years now, and he's always like this. Bowden displays the kind of tenacious, never-say-die attitude that a scrappy, upcoming team like the Nationals will need in 2006 and beyond.