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Bowden clouds his future

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

Jim Bowden never expected to hold the Washington Nationals' general manager job for four years.

When he was hired by Major League Baseball in the fall of 2004 to take over the relocating Montreal Expos, it was on an interim basis. Bowden, who had been fired by the Cincinnati Reds about 16 months earlier and was doing television work on-and-off for ESPN, figured he would do what he could to make the new ragtag Nationals as competitive as possible, then hand over the reins to a permanent GM once new ownership was named.

But then the ownership derby dragged on, and Bowden kept getting six-month extensions on his contract. And in perhaps his most significant accomplishment since coming to town, he picked the right horse in that derby, latching on to Mark Lerner well before he and his family were selected to buy the franchise.

It is that relationship with Lerner that ensured Bowden would remain on the job to this day, and it's the primary reason most have believed Bowden will remain on the job for several more years.

It didn't matter how the Nationals performed on the field. The Lerner family and team president Stan Kasten made it clear they wanted to build the franchise from the bottom up, with the emphasis on scouting, drafting and development.

Because of it, no one reasonably could evaluate Bowden's job performance until all those prospects he acquired actually had an opportunity to reach the big leagues or flame out.

There was, however, one caveat to that line of thinking. Bowden couldn't be judged on the Nationals' win-loss record, but he could be judged on his conduct.

Bowden's dissenters (and there are plenty around baseball) always have believed that would be his ultimate undoing, and a couple of high-profile events in the last month have given those dissenters reason to believe his job is now on the line.

First, word got out that Bowden (and special assistant Jose Rijo) were interviewed by the FBI as part of a larger investigation into the skimming of money from Dominican teenagers' signing bonuses. Bowden has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and he has emphatically insisted he simply was interviewed, not interrogated.

But no other major league GM has met with the FBI on that matter (as far as the public knows). And that has given Bowden's dissenters reason to believe he's in more trouble than he's letting on.

The FBI story had fallen out of the spotlight over the last two weeks, but another Bowden interview - this time with AM-980 on Wednesday - landed him back in the news and gave those dissenters even more ammo against their favorite target.

During a conversation with hosts Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban about Chad Cordero's contract status, Bowden revealed the club's intention not to tender the injured closer a contract at the end of the season.

That procedural decision makes all the sense in the world, and Cordero was the first to acknowledge he expected it would happen. But Bowden's decision to announce it over the air before telling the player or his agent has created a new firestorm.

Cordero and his family were embarrassed by the move and had all but decided not to re-sign with the Nationals over the winter. Bowden did call both Cordero and agent Larry Reynolds on Friday to apologize, a move the pitcher appreciated, but there's still reason to doubt whether one of the franchise's longest-tenured players will want to come back in 2009.

That's two strikes against Bowden in the last month, neither of them having anything to do with the product he's putting out on the field but everything to do with his conduct.

Will that be enough to cost him his job at season's end? Many of those detractors believe so, though Bowden's superiors within the organization continue to support the GM.

Either way, a decision is going to have to be made come October about the man who has guided the baseball operations department for four years.

The on-field results have not been positive, though that's just as much a result of ownership's plan to rebuild than individual roster decisions Bowden has made. The off-field developments are of more concern and may be what ultimately convince Lerner and Kasten that a change needs to be made.

Stuck in the middle, waiting to learn his fate, will be Bowden. He may have lost the "interim" tag on his job title more than two years ago, but he very well might feel these days like it still applies.