December 11, 2005

The Bowden Manifesto

On the heels of the report that Jim Bowden will not be offered the General Manager's job in Boston, and will therefore likely be with us at least through next April, I've embarked upon a reexamination of his brief tenure with the Nationals. Yesterday I offered some thoughts on Trader Jim's major preseason acquisitions. It's easy now, in hindsight to grade these moves based on their success or failure, but I'm less interested in the outcome than in the process and thinking that went into the decisions.

Bowden's first major in-season roster shuffle involved swapping Endy Chavez to the Phillies for Marlon Byrd. At the time, both outfielders were having down years and the trade was mostly about securing something in return for Chavez, who had worn out his welcome with the Nationals.

Claudio Vargas was the first Nationals starting pitcher exposed to waivers in 2005. The decision was glossed over at the time, because he pitched horribly for the Nationals, contributing just 12.7 innings over 4 starts, with an ERA of 9.24. There was some discussion of whether it was necessary to waive Vargas, but he was out of minor league option years. Arizona claimed Vargas off waivers.

An injury to second baseman Jose Vidro was the catlyst for a trade that sent starting pitcher Tomo Ohka to the Brewers for second baseman Junior Spivey. At the same time Bowden claimed starting pitcher Ryan Drese off waivers from Texas to replace Ohka in the rotation. The Ohka-Spivey trade was motivated by the belief that neither Jamey Carroll nor Brendan Harris could be an everyday second baseman, though Spivey's numbers in Milwaukee were comparable to the stats Carroll was putting up at the time. Ohka was in manager Frank Robinson's bad graces despite posting a 3.33 ERA over 10 games for the Nats in 2005, but it was Drese's availability that made Ohka expendable.

Easily the most talked about trade of the season was the deal that sent starting pitcher Zach Day and minor leaguer J.J. Davis to Colorado for centerfielder Preston Wilson. The Wilson trade occured at a time when the Nationals were short of outfielders, with Brad Wilkerson subbing for an injured Nick Johnson at first base and Ryan Church rehabbing a bad shoulder. Wilson was another established veteran, in the Vinny Castilla/Jose Guillen mold. He was advertised as a defensive improvement in centerfield, although his numbers didn't bear that out. Day was another starter who fell out of favor with the coaching staff after being injured.

A little success can be a dangerous thing, and that's what the Nationals experienced in the first half of 2005. The need to impress a new fanbase, combined with an improbable 5 1/2 game lead in the NL East put Jim Bowden in a "win now" frame of mind. He traded for recognizable veterans like Preston Wilson and Junior Spivey rather than attempting to develop younger players like Ryan Church and Brendan Harris. Combined with manager Frank Robinson's affinity for veteran players, Jim Bowden's acquisitions prioritized short-term success.

Some of that focus is reasonably attributable to the instability of Jim Bowden's own situation, but he evidences a clear preference for veterans and prospects from outside the Montreal/Washington organization, and no particular desire to lay the foundation necessary to revitalize the farm system and improve the long-term prospects of the franchise.


Watson said...

Even when/if the nationals get an owner the mentality still might be win now. While you and I would appreciate the idea of building an organization from the ground up that process doesn't put people in the stands.

King said...

We should have a co-GM system, too. DePodesta and Bowden would be a hoot.