- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Washington is the nation’s eighth largest media market, but for baseball’s purposes in 2005, it is Kansas City, Milwaukee or even Montreal.

As long as Major League Baseball owns the relocated Expos, the team will be run like a small-market franchise.

Contrary to published reports, club president Tony Tavares said the team has not received any payroll figure from baseball for the next season. Speculation based on the anticipated Washington revenues suggests it will be higher than the $41million spent last season in Montreal.

Nevertheless, it will still be at the bottom of the sport’s economic food chain, a familiar place for general manager Jim Bowden, who spent 101/2 years as the Cincinnati Reds’ GM. He knows about small-market strategies, and they don’t include bringing in a big bopper outfielder or top-line starter.

Bowden, who has the reputation as an aggressive trader, is unlikely to emerge from the weeklong general managers meetings without making any deals. Yet that doesn’t mean he won’t be active this winter.

“We plan on making five offers to [free agents] before our 8a.m. meetings [today],” he said.

Among the players Bowden covets are Cincinnati outfielders Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns. But Bowden’s goal may not always be simply acquiring players through trades and free agency. Small-market teams must think about future deals — not ones for later this winter but for next summer — and having the players to make those deals.

“Let’s say we need a starting pitcher,” Bowden said. “If I can sign two starting pitchers as free agents, I may use a starting pitcher and this piece to go get another piece. You always have to be thinking that way. And sometimes you want to sign too many players so you have something to trade in July, when you can get the best players. That’s the time to trade. So you have to have extra pieces.”

What could prove to have a negative impact on Washington and other small-market teams is a study to determine whether baseball’s nonwaiver trading deadline should be pushed back from July31, most likely to Aug.15. Sandy Alderson, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said some teams want the deadline changed because it is difficult for teams to determine by July31 whether they remain in the postseason chase.

“This is the impact of the wild card, where so many teams still have a chance at making the playoffs,” said New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who is in favor of pushing the deadline back.

But Bowden is against changing the deadline, arguing that with more buyers and more time for contenders to use acquired players, it is more likely a small-market team will get quality young players in deals.

“If you are in a small or middle market and you are out of it, that is your best shot to get better,” he said.

Another small-market tendency that should be watched is how Washington builds its bullpen — not with a high-profile closer but with relatively unknown and reasonably priced middle relievers.

“In a small market you have to build up your bullpen to compete,” Bowden said. “You can’t compete with Atlanta’s payroll for a starting rotation. If I can’t beat you in the first five innings, then I have to beat you in the sixth, seventh and the eighth to win in a small market. I may not be able to beat you in the ninth, but in the sixth through the eighth, I can beat Atlanta and the other teams.

There are three areas Bowden has stressed as immediate needs: third base, shortstop and pitching. The team has exchanged offers with free-agent third baseman Tony Batista, who was a fan favorite in Montreal last season, and Bowden reportedly is interested in signing long-time Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

One of the players he doesn’t want to move is catcher Brian Schneider, who has been the target of some interest at the meetings.

Though Bowden may be the temporary GM of a small-market team, he still spoke out yesterday against a proposed plan to study the use of instant replay on close umpire calls. The vote among general managers was 15-15, which killed the study, and Bowden was the only GM to speak out against it. Ironically, Bowden supported the use of instant replay several years ago.

“What has happened is that Sandy Alderson and the umpiring staff have done such a great job of eliminating the egos of umpires and have really emphasized getting together as a group and really making sure they try to get the call right,” he said, citing the two calls umpires reversed after conferring during Game7 of the American League Championship Series.

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