The Washington Times - February 18, 2009, 05:32PM

The Nationals have yet to finish above .500 during Jim Bowden’s four-plus years as general manager. Instead of making progress, they have regressed significantly. The Nats went 81-81 in 2005, their first season in Washington, and followed that up with a 71-91 record in 2006 and a 73-89 mark in 2007. They staggered to the worst record in baseball last season at 59-102. Tuesday’s SI.com report that $1.4 million bonus baby Esmailyn Gonzalez - a switch-hitting shortstop believed to be 19 - is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo should be the final straw. Bowden has screwed up in every way a GM can and it’s time for the Nats to fire him.

What follows are the prime - but not the only - examples of how Bowden has failed in his duties as GM, neatly categorized for your reading displeasure:

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Trades

Bowden’s biggest trade blunder is the one he didn’t make. The Nats acquired Alfonso Soriano before the 2006 season, and he proceeded to hit .277 with 46 home runs, 95 RBI and 41 stolen bases in his contract year. As the Nats slumped to an eventual last-place finish and it became apparent that Soriano would command a huge-money deal during the offseason, the smart move would have been to trade him to a contender for what likely would have been an impressive package of young players and/or prospects to build around. Instead, Bowden held on to Soriano and then watched helplessly as he signed an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs. All the Nats got in return for one of the game’s best power-speed threats was a compensatory draft choice.

Free agency

The Nationals recently signed free agent slugger Adam Dunn to a two-year, $20 million contract. The 29-year-old first baseman/outfielder has hit 40-plus homers in five straight seasons and is an on-base machine, and would be a good addition to a contending team. However, the Nats don’t have the pieces necessary to contend this year or next, and teams in their situation should be spending money on the draft and player development, not big names who will be gone before they experience any kind of real success. This is a shortsighted move made by a GM desperate to save his job and appease a restless fan base that still feels the sting of having Maryland native Mark Teixeira spurn them for the Yankees - nothing more, nothing less.

The draft

The Nationals used their 2007 first-round pick (No. 6 overall) on left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler and rushed him to the majors that September, only adding to the expectations that come along with receiving a $2.15 million signing bonus. That pressure may have contributed to Detwiler going just 8-8 with a 4.86 ERA in advanced Class A last season. The Nationals used their 2008 first-round pick (No. 9 overall) on the best college pitcher available, Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow, and then failed to sign him. Baseball America’s Jim Callis reported that Crow wanted $4 million and the Nats refused to go higher than $3.3 million. To recap, the Nats lost the rights to the best right-handed starter in college baseball over a mere $700,000, then signed Dunn to a $10 million-per-year deal less than six months later.

International scouting

The Nationals attempted to make a splash in the international market by signing Gonzalez - then believed to be 17 - in July 2006. Many in baseball thought the Nats overpaid, as no other team was willing to give Gonzalez more than $700,000 and scouts questioned his speed, range and arm strength. It appeared Gonzalez had justified the Nats’ lofty opinion of him after he hit .343 to win the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League MVP award in 2008. That is, until Tuesday night. This situation has the potential to get even uglier, as Gonzalez’ buscon - defined by SI.com as a person who trains amateur youth baseball players in exchange for a percentage of future signing bonuses - is a man named Basilo Vizcaino. Vizcaino is a childhood friend of former Reds pitcher Jose Rijo - now a special assistant to Bowden - and a protege of Jose Baez, Washington’s director of operations in the Dominican Republic. The close relationship between the three drew the attention of the FBI and Major League Baseball’s department of investigations, which have been looking into allegations regarding the skimming of Latin American players’ bonus money, SI.com reported.

Off the field issues

Since 23-year-old Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has been skewered in the media for his infamous bong photo, I should probably mention that Bowden, then 41, was arrested for drunk driving in Miami, Fla., in April 2006.

Get the picture? Enough is enough. It’s time for Bowden to go.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.