September 9, 2008

NTP's Big 500th - The Shadow GM

Our 500th entry at Nats Triple Play should be the time for sober reflection. Unfortunately we don't do so good at reflection, particularly when sober, so we'll just say, "Holy feck we've wasted a lot of time on this over the last 3+ years!" and move on.

The recent spate of winning baseball has been a welcome respite from what seemed to be an inevitable march toward the franchise's first 100 loss season. But some fans have been quick to note the downside; a hot September could mean no major changes in the team's management structure. In other words, GM Jim Bowden might salvage his job.

The general Natospheric response to this scenario can be loosely characterized as:

Jim Bowden is teh Devil! The team will never amount to anything with him at the helm. He all big splash and no long-term plan. The Anacostia River will rise up and swallow Nationals Park like a modern Atlantis! He has a terrible draft record. He's obnoxious and has strained relationships with a host of fellow executives, agents, players and media. He wears leather pants and rides a segway!?!

Many of the folks who profess that Bowden is a terrible GM also kind of like a lot of the young Nationals in the dugout and down on the farm. On the face of it that's a problem. You can't discredit a general manager by lauding his acquisitions. The obvious solution, as any half decent DC political hack could tell you, is to re-frame the question. For the Anti-Bowden Brigades, JimBo's body of work in Washington is easily bifurcated. The failures are 100% Bowden. The successes? The unappreciated work of a shadowy composite figure. For ease of reference, let's call him Stan Rizzo.

  • Bowden wasted millions of payroll dollars on Paul LoDuca, Felipe Lopez, Rob Mackowiak and Johnny Estrada. Stan Rizzo shed deadweight salary by trading Jose Vidro, Brian Schneider and Vinny Castilla.

  • Bowden signed Dmitri Young to an albatross of a 2-year $10M extension. Extending Ronnie Belliard for 2 years/ $3.5M? Stan Rizzo.

  • Jim Bowden traded for Jose Guillen, Preston Wilson, Junior Spivey, Brian Lawrence and Austin Kearns. Stan Rizzo traded for Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Emilio Bonifacio, Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez.

  • Stan Rizzo built the DSL Champion Nationals and the playoff squads from Potomac and the GCL. Jim Bowden is solely responsible for Hagerstown, Harrisburg and Columbus.

  • Bowden's minor league free agents? Jerome Williams and Mike Bacsik. Stan Rizzo got Joel Hanrahan and Steven Shell.

  • Bowden jettisoned Jamey Carroll, Rick Short and Brendan Harris. Stan Rizzo... well, Stan hasn't been so hot in the "scrappy white infielder" department either. But he probably called up Pete Orr.

You see my point. If Bowden gets marked down for Vinny Castilla and Pedro Astacio, he also gets credit for Ryan Zimmerman and John Lannan. If he missed on the trade for Kearns and Lopez, he turned Glenn Gibson into Elijah Dukes, which may turn out to be one of those Doyle Alexander - John Smoltz deals (even if I didn't think so at the time.)

There's a case to be made for canning Jim Bowden, and a fairly strong one at that. But it should be made without cherry-picking the man's record. You like Bonifacio's speed, Gonzalez's defense, Flores's arm? Marvel at Zimm's glove, John Lannan's poise, Elijah's scary combination of power and plate disciple? Then you should acknowledge that the First Great Nationals Team will, at least in part, be erected on the foundation laid by Jim Bowden's first three years in Washington.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Your straw man doesn't exist. The case isn't about cherry-picking. The case is that his teams lose more than they win.

Indeed, I've always said that Bowden's done some good things. In fact, your list of "good" isn't even really the right list (Bonifacio for Rauch goes on the 'good' list?? Dumping Vinny's salary for Brian Lawrence goes on the bad list?? Why is Rick Short even on the list????)

Here's a whole bunch of actually honest to god good things Bowden's done: Loaiza in 05 was great. Dukes seems like it'll be at least a wash with the potential to be a fantastic deal. Perez and Redding were nice little pick ups that have worked out well. Hanrahan seems like he's become a useful part. Lannan was a find in the late rounds in 2005. Adam Dunn was a great pick way back when. Pete Schoureck worked out brilliantly. Ron Gant was a revelation. Paul Konerko. He's done all those good things and more.

But the net sum of the good and the bad adds up to more losses than wins. It's been four years with him at the helm, and we've never been worse and the outlook for next year isn't much better.

You try to mis-characterize me as some cherry-picker with an axe to grind, but you're the one who is making he argument that despite the losing, losing, losing... that he's still someone we should keep. My argument holds up stronger the less you focus on the minutiae. Yours depends exclusively on cherry-picking and excuse-making, because if you add up the parts and look at the sum, there's no case for Bowden.