- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

As much as Jim Bowden has professed his desire to make wholesale changes to the Washington Nationals’ roster, the general manager has made only one move of consequence to date: Friday night’s demotion of Ryan Church to Class AA Harrisburg in exchange for fellow outfielder Alex Escobar.

That hardly constitutes the kind of roster overhaul this club has talked about since it started tanking in the standings. But it’s all Bowden can do at the moment, because the franchise continues to be hampered financially as it transfers ownership from Major League Baseball to the Lerner group.

Though Bowden insists he has the freedom to make whatever roster moves he finds appropriate during the transition period, club sources said that’s not the case. The team cannot make any changes that would add to payroll until the Lerners officially take control later this summer.

The logic is simple: Though the Lerners have been approved as owners and will be taking over shortly, their money is not yet invested in the team. Major League Baseball remains in financial control, and club president Tony Tavares must adhere to a strict budget.

As much as the Nationals would like to unload several underperforming veterans, they can’t afford to eat the contracts.

“Is the financial part a factor? Absolutely, it’s a factor,” Bowden said. “Has it been a part of our discussions? Yes, no doubt the financial part is playing somewhat of a part, especially now in May.”

With no hope of contending this season, and with incoming president Stan Kasten planing to rebuild the organization from the ground up, the Nationals would like to start getting a look at several minor league prospects. Bowden rattled off a list of names he’s ready to call up to Washington, including pitchers Bill Bray, Shawn Hill, Saul Rivera and Santiago Ramirez and position players Frank Diaz and Kory Casto.

But in order to create room for those young players, the club would have to find a way to move veterans off the 25-man roster, either by releasing them, trading them or sending them to the minor leagues.

The Nationals can’t afford to release anyone making more than the league minimum. They’re not receiving good trade offers. And they can’t demote struggling veterans with no minor league options.

“We’ve been very limited on moves we can make because of lack of options the players have on this club,” Bowden said. “That has really restricted player movement. Second of all, our trade discussions have not gone as we would like, but normal for this time in May.”

All of that has left this club in a holding pattern — frustrated by its performance on the field but unable to do much about it until its new owners are formally handed over control.

“None of us like to lose,” Bowden said. “The players don’t like to lose. The front office doesn’t like to lose. And no one likes watching the same thing day in and day out. The way you do it is you do it with change. We’re trying to do it, but we’re not going to make a move just to make a move. I’ve never believed in that.”

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