A week ago, Mike Glab weighed in on Jim Bowden’s tenure as Reds’ GM. Today, he takes on Bowden’s trade work with the Nationals below.
At last, Jim Bowden will be working in a relatively stable environment in Washington. Ownership issues are settled, his title is no longer qualified by the interim tag and the Nats open their new ballpark in March.
Bowden’s taking a different tack in opening a stadium this time around. Last time, when the Reds were gearing up to open Great American Ballpark, Bowden shot for the moon in 2000 and traded for Ken Griffey, Jr. hoping the superstar would lead the team to glory just as the new place opened its doors in 2003. Sadly, the plan flopped and Bowden was canned midway through GAB’s inaugural season.
This time, though, Bowden seems to be going in the opposite direction. That is, accumulating young, unproven phenoms to populate a roster that last year lost 89 games and avoided the cellar by a mere two games. During the off-season, Bowden snared outfielders Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge as well as beanpole righthanded pitcher Tyler Clippard, none of them older than 23. Only Paul Lo Duca, Aaron Boone and Dmitri Young on the 40-man roster have reached their mid-30s. Clearly, Bowden hopes the new facility will draw fans while the young players gel.
Now, working without Marge Scott breathing down his neck nor being saddled with an orphaned organization, Bowden will show us what he’s got.
Like any good GM, Bowden caught lightning in a bottle last year with the late-career resurgence of Young. The first baseman put up some decent numbers in the hitters’ mausoleum that was RFK Stadium. Nationals Park can’t help but be a better environment for offense and Bowden showed faith in Young by rewarding him with a $10M, two-year contract. The pact won’t be the albatross Griffey’s deal was for the Reds; Bowden will have some financial latitude to tweak or even remake his roster if needed.
Bowden’s made 29 deals since taking over the Nats in early November 2004 (Download nats_trades_under_bowden.xls here). He hasn’t shown any tendency to favor one opposition GM over another in his second go-round running a team. He has made three deals with Boston’s Theo Epstein and two each with the Giants’ Brian Sabean, the Rockies’ Dan O’Dowd, the Brewers’ Doug Melvin and the Snakes’ Josh Byrnes. The O’Dowd swaps are a continuation of a favorite relationship initiated when Bowden was in Cincy.
He’s spent a lot of time ridding the Nats roster of ancient or no-longer bankable names like Tomo Ohka and Royce Clayton as well as players who had a little bit left in the tank but were of no value to a perpetually rebuilding team. These included Jose Vidro, Livan Hernandez and Daryle Ward.
As in Cincinnati, Bowden split his deals almost equally between leagues and favored doing business with the National League West and the American League East.
His biggest trade, for Alfonso Soriano, could be construed as being in the vein of the Griffey deal. Bowden hooked up with Jon Daniels of the Rangers in December 2005 to bring Soriano to Washington for his walk year in exchange for the youngish Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge as well as Armando Galarraga. Bowden made noises indicating he’d like to sign Soriano long-term although nobody but a fool would’ve bet Washington could win a bidding war for him. After losing Soriano in the fall of 2006, the Nats selected pitchers Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmerman in last year’s amateur draft as compensation.
The entire Soriano experience may reveal more about the presence of Stan Kasten as the Nats president than Bowden’s acumen. Bowden swung the deal with Daniels before Kasten was hired by Washington. Kasten has made it clear his team won’t be backed into a gargantuan no-trade deal, which is precisely what Soriano received on the open market.
Bowden got himself into hot water with the one trade he has made with his old club. In July 2006, Bowden shipped a package of five players to his Cincinnati successor, Wayne Krivsky, for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner. Soon after the trade, Krivsky learned that one of the pitchers Bowden had sent over, Gary Majewski, had been given a cortisone shot in his pitching shoulder prior to the deal. Krivsky filed a grievance with MLB, claiming Majewski was damaged goods. Each of the two GMs exchanged charges in the media that the other was playing fast and loose. “It’s in the hands of our lawyers,” Krivsky told ESPN. The case is still being decided as of this late date. It’s a safe bet, though, that Krivsky and Bowden won’t be doing much business together for the foreseeable future.
Looking at Bowden’s overall record, including 10 ½ years with the Reds and three and a half with Washington, it’s hard to ascertain if he’s a miracle worker or a bum. Cincinnati almost won a division title in the strike year, 1994 and did win the demi-flag the next year. The Reds spent seven years in the upper half of their division during his term and four years in the bottom half. The Nats under Bowden have done nothing but fight for last place. Of course, the Nats under a brain trust of Branch Rickey, Dave Dombrowski and Albert Einstein wouldn’t have done much better.
It’s likely that Bowden is a middling GM, one who won’t single-handedly destroy a team but who probably can’t raise the dead either. The Nats right now are the dead. It’s Bowden’s moment to discover if he has a magic touch.