Friday, June 30, 2006

Interim No More

It's official. Jim Bowden will be retained as the General Manager of the Washington Nationals. The other Nats blogs will give you your fill of indignant rage. I'll not add to that; if you've been reading The Curly W for any length of time you know where I stand. I'll try to take a step back and analyze this development objectively. To do anything else is to, as they say, urinate into the wind.

We're all asking ourselves the same question: why would Stan Kasten do such a thing? Why would he retain the man who has become such a lightning rod for criticism? My uninformed, off-the-cuff answer: because he doesn't want to rock the boat. Kasten's mantra has been stability and patience. Perhaps, in Kasten's mind, there is no better way to imbue this philosophy in this wayward franchise than to retain the services of the man who, for better or worse, has been the linchpin of the team's fortunes.

Perhaps Kasten is right. After all, Bowden has only had two years to shape a team that was gutted and left for dead by MLB only four years ago. He's had a small payroll, limited resources, and an uncertain future. His perpetual interim status (and that of the entire franchise) put him under a tremendous amount of pressure to be a rainmaker, to win now by any means necessary. Any of us would probably do the same if we were out to preserve our own steady paycheck. Thus, Bowden set about making move after move, snatching up any wisp of talent that might be circling the free agent drain, in the hopes that something, anything would provide that lightning we all know and hate. In light of all this, a rational person might conclude that Bowden's two years with the Nats offer neither a large enough sample size nor the right control factors to fairly evaluate his tenure.

However, the past two years are not the only body of work that Bowden has to evaluate. His ten years with the Reds offer plenty of insight into what kind of GM he will be now that his neck is no longer on the line. In Cincy, as in D.C., Bowden loved the art of the deal above all else. I'm puzzled as to why a professedly patient man like Kasten would want the impulsive Bowden at the helm. It wasn't that the Reds had a bad minor league system, or had bad drafts, or made bad trades, it was that Bowden couldn't stop dealing. He'd dial and deal all summer for the best player he could get. But he'd get those quality players in a vacuum, paying no attention to the overall composition of the team. I may be one of only a dozen people in the world who have suffered through Bowden baseball for fifteen years. And I'm only 28. Now that's depressing.

Bowden's love of the deal will not die with his interim status. He's in a bigger town now, with bigger media coverage and he'll be out to prove that he's a big time GM. Perhaps Kasten will rein him in, but why should he have to? If patience is truly going to be the force that brings the Nationals out of the ashes, then everybody in the organization needs to believe in that value. That's just never been Jim Bowden's way.

Nonetheless, I'm going to give him a clean slate for now. Let's see what he does this offseason, when the pressure to win now is off the table. And let's not all rush to condemn Kasten either; there's only so much upsetting of the apple cart one man can do in the name of progress. Those who crave upheaval only need to wait a few months (weeks?) for Frank Robinson's dismissal.

So go ahead: curse and stomp, and rant about how cheap Kasten is and how the Nats will be a second class franchise. Personally, I don't think that's the way this will pan out. Let's all take a deep breath, accept inevitability, and watch and wait. And hope. Above all else, hope.