In the aftermath of the Crow non-signing, opinion has split quickly and decisively into two camps: either "Bowden is unfit to manage a Dairy Queen, much less a major league baseball team!" exemplified, as per usual by Steven at FJB or "Crow's an over-entitled prima donna and his agents are morons!" most commonly found in the comments at Nats Journal. There's more than a grain of truth to both of these positions and, as the slightly more level-headed proprietor of Nationals Farm Authority notes, "there is more than enough blame to go around to both parties."
Based on imperfect knowledge of the negotiations, which is all that any of us have, my initial reaction is to side with the team on this one. If Crow and the Hendricks brothers were looking for a $8-9M deal and a major league contract as recently as 3 days ago, that suggests to me that their expectations were unreasonable from the get-go, and that they thought "The Plan" could put the Nats over a barrel. If so, there's a very good chance that they overplayed their hand. Crow will go back into the 2009 draft, considered to be deeper in frontline pitching talent. Maybe he'll get a better deal, maybe he won't. Maybe he'll blow out his elbow and become another draft day cautionary tale to frighten college juniors. In any case he's postponed his major league career, and the attendant chance at big money, by at least a year, which ought to have factored into his and his agents' thinking.
As for the Nationals, this is a blow, no sugar-coating it. The front office has been deflecting attention from the "product" on the field (losers of 8 straight!) for the past two seasons by pointing to the farm system and yelling "Build from Within!" until they were hoarse. That's all fine and good, but you can't do that and then very publicly skimp on topflight amateur talent. The stadium won't be brand new next season and the team is running out of avenues to misdirect fan attention. The future sure as heck isn't now, and if it doesn't get here soon, there might be nobody left to see it.
That said, you can't lay this failure solely at the feet of Jim Bowden. The signing of a top draft pick is an organizational initiative. If Bowden fell spectacularly short over $700-800K, then so did the Lerners and Stan Kasten. There are no winners here, but as a wise man once wrote, "there is more than enough blame to go around".
UPDATE: Spin is in, but even taken with a grain of salt, you can't say that JimBo is reticent about the negotiations process. I'm curious. Given what we know now, one-sided and self-serving as it may be, what should the Nats have done about Crow? Avoided him altogether in the first place? Paid the $9M? Met his last minute $4.4M demand? What's the "right" play?
For me, the most disheartening part of the interview isn't that they wouldn't pony up $4M for Crow, it's that they wouldn't have signed Marcus Jones and J.P. Ramirez but for the failure with Crow. That's the red flag in this conversation. If Ramirez is worth $1.6M he's worth it whether Crow signs or not. If you draft 50 guys, you ought to budget to sign 50 guys at whatever they're worth to you. A franchise, particularly this franchise, should never be in the position of having to choose between draft picks. Pick the guys you want, and stick to the numbers you have in mind. That's fine. But don't short the budget. That's dangerously close to CHEEEA...