Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bodes For The Future?

Jim Bowden's definitely walking tall. His team's in first place. His newly-acquired players are fitting in and excelling. He has his cherubic mug on TV, looking like the perfect model of the huckster.

But, is he selling us a bill of goods? Is he really the reason they're winning?

Bowden certainly deserves a modicum of credit, but not all. Bowden didn't assemble the core of this team. The much-maligned Omar Minaya did. And many of the pieces that Bowden brought in have failed, or been average. The ones that have worked out were afterthoughts, mostly.

Bowden stumbled into a decent situation. He's made some improvement, but most of his were superficial tweaks. One of the things we may make when evaluating him is the same kind of mistake we made when assessing this team's chances; we're using the wrong year as baseline.

The back-to-back 83-win seasons put up before last year's disaster are probably the true baselines. Bowden was given the framework for a near-.500 team. There was simply more talent on this team than last year's record indicates. Injury, uncertainty, and never-ending road trips conspired to make the team look worse than it was.

The team's strength has been its pitching staff. And Bowden is only responsible for one major addition to it: Esteban Loaiza. There's no one who thought Loaiza would turn out as well as he has. Even Bowden couldn't have expected him to be this solid -- as evidenced by their resistance to offer him the multi-year contract that Loaiza wanted. By the time he signed, the Nats were pretty much bidding against themselves.

Livan, Patterson, Armas, etc were all holdovers from the Minaya regime. Omar had signed or traded for each of them. And he, more than Bowden, deserves the credit for their success.

It's too early to evaluate the Drese and Ohka transactions. It's pretty safe to say that their ERAs will be higher by the end of the season!

With the bullpen, it's another case of luck. The only addition that he's made were the signings of Antonio Osuna (he of the 42.42 ERA and the creaky arm) and Hector Carrasco. Osuna was a decent gamble, but they really were counting on him to be more. Carrasco was a decent signing, but it was as a non-roster invitee. They gave him almost zero chance of making it. Injury is the only reason he's up, but I suppose that Bowden deserves credit for having some arm depth.

In both cases, he's been saved by the emergence of Gary Majewski. Majewski, who was acquired in a STEAL of a deal from the White Sox (along with Jon Rauch for Guillen 1.0, Carl Everett) Gary has been the setup guy that Osuna was supposed to. And, Bowden stumbled into Majewski. Remember, they shipped Gary to New Orleans in favor of Joe Horgan. Yeah, that Joe Horgan.

And even Bowden hasn't appreciated the rock in the bullpen, Chad Cordero. How many times did you hear Bowden wanting a "40-save closer". That was one of his constant refrains, even through April. You haven't heard much of that lately, have you? Had the right deal come along, Bowden would've brought someone else in to fill the role that Cordero's excelling at. Do you think for a moment, that had Danny Graves been available in April, that he wouldn't be wearing a Nats cap now?

Offensively, even when you adjust for park, this team is challenged. Bowden has made noises about wanting to acquire one more cleanup-type bat. He did well to trade for Guillen. Complaining about that deal now makes one akin to the nutballs who call my office from time to time complaining about how the FBI is tracking them. (All that's presupposed on Guillen getting his anger under control though.) I still don't understand the point of picking up his option so early, but that's a different topic.

What more can you say about Cristian Guzman? It looked like a bad deal when he signed it, and that was back when we expected him to hit Carlos Baerga's weight. It looks worse now. (Even before you remember that we lost a draft pick because of him)

Vinny Castilla, his other big signing, has played well, despite being a freefall since April turned to May. He's been excellent defensively though.

Our best offensive player, Nick Johnson, was shopped around all during spring training. And even coming out, he was probably going to be platooned with Wil Cordero (another Bowden signing).

Bowden is taking credit for Ryan Church, but Church only got the job by default when Endy Chavez failed. Even then, he had to battle JJ Davis (Bowden signing) and Jeff Hammonds (Bowden Signing) for playing time. He made the team by default and earned playing time only by default, 'thanks' to Terrmel Sledge's injury. Bowden was the last person to give Church a chance. Now, he's saying that he knew he had it in him all along? Yeah, right, Bodes.

Junior Spivey has played really well so far, but the question of a short-term second base answer for Tomo Ohka is debatable, and something we can't fairly assess now.

I'm not saying that Bowden has been a bad GM. It's just that he's getting (or taking) credit for what is in some cases serendipity -- a move he didn't make; a trade his predecessor made, etc.

Now, it's true that all GM's benefit from this to some degree. But, it's important to look through the PT Bowden persona.

And despite his proclamations to the contrary, the jury is most definitely still out.

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