Kasten: "Bowden, Bowden, Bowden."

And so, the Lernasten Nats have let the baseball world in on something they resolved "a while ago"---the Nats will, on a "permanent" basis, retain general manager Jim Bowden "in the same capacity":

Neither Kasten nor Bowden would say how many years the latter will remain with the club, but it's believed that Bowden will get to see such 2006 draft picks as outfielder Chris Marrero and right-hander Colton Willems reach the big leagues, which is expected to happen within four years. [Ed: Let's hope; although the Nats figured to do well, the draft isn't exactly firm science.]

"I look for Jim to be here for a very long time," Kasten said. "All contracts are private, but in terms of GM contracts, even their duration is private. It's just between me and the GM. Nobody knew how long [Braves GM] John Schuerholz's contract was. There is a reason I do it that way.

"I want people to regard a GM as permanent, part of the fabric of creating the long-term plan. They are never to be regarded as interim, short-term, one year or two years. If you announce the end date of a contract, you start counting the days and asking, 'What about his next contract?' "

Not bad for a man who, twenty months ago, wasn't the first or perhaps even second option---or was, as reported at the time, something like the second, third, fourth, or fifth option. (Obligatory hat-tip: Capitol Punishment, October 2004 archives.) But here he is. How about a round of gaudy-looking track suits on the house!

* * * *

Let's get the preliminaries out of the way: If nine out of ten Nats bloggers were stranded on a desert island, they'd choose to . . . strand Jim Bowden on the desert island instead.

I'm going to try earnestly not to frame this post from that perspective; I might fail, but I'm going to try. That said, this decision seems odd. Perhaps it is pragmatic in a certain short-term sense, and in another sense it seemed predictable enough:

  • Bowden definitely cozied up to the Lerners;
  • "Bowden" and "shameless" tend to appear in sentences together, and Bowden's quotations over the last few months that were dedicated to the Stan Kasten Vision(tm) appeared rather shameless.
I trust that Kasten, at this point, has his stuff straight. But, however much Kasten may value stability, it's an odd choice. First, I would have imagined the new ownership desired to effect front office decisions that, if nothing else, acted on a symbolic level to remove the stench of MLB's "caretaking" era of this franchise. Instead, Kasten retains the rent-an-exec? Really, it makes as much sense as Hans Gruber bargaining for the release of the nine members of the Asian Dawn; it just doesn't add up, Powell.

Second, this sure as heckfire is a strange time to announce Bowden's job security; currently, this team is being beaten down like principle in a conference committee. I suppose---to the extent the team's performance isn't being blamed on circumstance---this is a sign that the Lernastens find fault with Frank, not Jim. Not many are going to defend Robinson's managerial effectiveness too vigorously, but I don't think this would be entirely fair to Frank. And now, we're back to the patronizing game of, as Bowden told the Times, not "put[ting] a timetable on any of those decisions, except to say that we'll make the decisions that are in the best interests for the long term of this franchise."

* * * *

In reading the coverage of Bowden's long-term retention, I noticed a theme in all of the articles. For instance, from the Nats.com article:

For Bowden, it will mean that for the first time in his career, he will have money to play with. He didn't have that luxury during his 10 years with the Reds . . .

It's amazing how much subsequent events shape past perception. Go back before 1996 or so, when writers like Peter Gammons [Ed: Get well, Gammo] predicted, post-strike, that the biggest problem facing the game was big-market/small-market disparity. Reasonable (and unreasonable) minds can agree or disagree to the extent this was actually true, but no matter what happened subsequently, the Cincinnati Reds were not cheapskates in the years straddling the infamous strike; as it turned out, 1994-95 were two of the three best seasons the Bowden Reds enjoyed.

In 1994, the Reds were 66-48 and in first place in the NL Central when the strike hit; in 1995, the Reds went 85-59, won the division, and made the league championship series (and were swept by Atlanta). And, in these seasons, Bowden had money to spend. What follows are Cincy's opening day ("OD") and end of season ("EOS") payroll rankings, as reported by sports economist Rodney Fort's website:

YR      OD      EOS
94 6 4
95 7 3

[OD Index File; EOS "Official" Index File.]

These numbers aren't cited for the proposition that Bowden's a bad GM (really, there are other ways to evaluate that), and to his credit, Bowden's '99 Reds were a very, very good team despite something like the twentieth-ranked payroll. That was his "lightning in a bottle" season, of course. It is merely untrue, in my estimation, to say that Bowden has never had money at his disposal with which to work. [Note: This is not to say that Bowden didn't have to work under the eccentric and often cheap Marge Schott, but as this Cincy Inquirer column notes, while Schott was a first-rate cheapo when it came to administrative- and farm system-related matters, she opened the checkbook for trades and player salaries. The subsequent ownership did not, of course.]

Then again, the money might not matter much, at least in the short-term. Continuing with the Nats.com account:

. . . and during his tenure with Washington to date. But the money will not go to big free-agent spending -- most of it will be dedicated to the farm system.

The cynical---and perhaps realistic---interpretation of this is the Lernastens intend to run the big league club on the cheap for awhile, and Bowden---a rather visionless man, but also someone willing to be lucky---will be relied upon to do what he does best (and, many would say, worst): mixing-and-matching, trying things on for size, fiddling around, restlessly aiming to find a combination that fits. Meanwhile, the youngsters develop, and the seed money spent on that endeavor pays off.

I don't know. I guess I'll say more later.

* * * *

One final thing: This was fine when Bodes was a temp and all, but if he's really around for the long haul, can't Nats.com find a better picture of the guy than this???!!!!

I mean, Nats.com keeps running this picture, and it's a friggin' embarrassment. The ball in the air, the tongue out of the mouth? This guy is our team's GM?

Hmmm. Some might argue that's precisely the point, come to think of it.

Moreover, I don't mean to pile on Nats.com too much. After all, this picture of Bodes in the Post---

---is pretty freaky, too. Fire Bowden!

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