Friday, March 10, 2006

Off With Their Heads!

Jim Bowden's contract was extended through the 2006 season yesterday. Our patience with him was not. This really isn't much of a surprise. In fact, I was surprised last winter when they only extended his contract through April 30. Now here we are in March, and April is at our doorstep and, well, we need someone to be the GM.

The Federalist was right on when he observed: "decisions can't be made in the absence of a decisionmaker---yes, even bad decisions or potentially bad ones. No outsider is going to take this job yet, nor will an offer be made to one until a new owner is named. Futher, if Bowden is eliminated, then Tony Tavares just delegates the job to one of Bowden's employees, perhaps Bob Boone." You know, Bob Boone, former failed manager of the Cincinnati Reds and current Interim Senior Director of Player Development/Assistant General Manager of the Washington Nationals. Yes, that is his actual title. At least Bowden is predictably unpredictable. Boone would probably go off the reservation.

I hate to say this, but we all know that the Nationals are pretty much a lost cause in 2006, partially because of the delay in ownership and partially because of the dramatic rise of the Mets and Phillies in the division. Tony Tavares is right when he says that the new owner won't be installed until mid-season, when it's very likely that the 2006 campaign will already be in the tank. If we're 15 games out at the All-Star break, what's the rush for a new owner to start tossing the front office?

Regular readers of this blog know that I try to get people to think outside of the fan's perspective and into the mindset of the businessmen (and women) that run this game. The new owner of the Nationals will not only be a businessman but a first-time baseball owner (unless it's Smulyan, but it won't be.) That means that in addition to dealing with all the paperwork and all the financing and whatever else, the new owner will have to learn an entirely new set of business processes.

Believe me, they are not going to start cleaning house in the field operations department. Why? The GM, manager and assistants have little to do with the team's immediate cash flow. The new owner will immediately move to capitalize on his investment by shoring up the profit centers of the business. That means marketing, ticket sales, and merchandising. I expect to see a sudden burst of mid-to-late-season promotional material in every conceivable media outlet. It will be much easier for the new owner to hire experienced marketing, sales and merchandising executives in July than to find a new GM.

In fact, I'll be upset if we do get rid of Bowden before the end of the 2006 season. This franchise deserves the opportunity to conduct a dilligent search for the best GM on the market, and we really won't know who is available until teams start shaking things up in October. Now that the team's future in D.C. is guaranteed, the Nationals can get the best candidate their money can buy. The last thing the team needs is another stop gap guy, the likes of which are usually in abundance come August. The best course of action would be for the owner to dismiss Bowden in October and hire a new GM by Thanksgiving in time for the free agency period.

I've also seen a lot of speculation about whether the new owner will get rid of Frank Robinson. People seem to accept as a forgone conclusion that both Robinson and Bowden will be fired. Bowden is not long for this world but it will not be nearly as easy to get rid of Frank. The man is a baseball icon, and men of his stature are not lightly tossed aside. That being said, his managerial skills are dubious and he is getting a bit long in the tooth. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see him around for this season and at least part of next season. As a fan, I think I need to see him in action again this year before I decide how I feel about him.

I think this franchise desperately needs some new blood in the front office, but we shouldn't lose sight of the equally dire need for new blood in the back office. With 2006 looking like a long shot, fleshing out the back office should be the new owner's top priority. Jim Bowden and his staff and even Frank Robinson should be replaced in due time, but not until a legitimate vetting of top candidates takes place. The new owner will leave a large footprint in the history of this franchise. He'd be wise to tread lightly at first.