The Washington Times - March 1, 2009, 11:27AM

Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden resigned Sunday morning after four-plus years on the job and zero winning seasons, saying he had become a distraction to the team. “Unless you are Manny Ramirez, there is no place for distraction in baseball,” Bowden said during an emotional press conference. “I want to be able to turn the page and I want this franchise to be able to have everybody, from the media to the fans, focus on what this game is about. It’s about players. It’s about what happens on the field.”

Bowden’s resignation comes less than two weeks after SI.com reported that the top prospect formerly known as 19-year-old Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez - who received a $1.4 million signing bonus under Bowden’s watch in July 2006 - is actually 23 year-old Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo and just days after the team fired Bowden’s assistant, Jose Rijo. Both men are under investigation by the FBI and Major League Baseball’s department of investigations, which are looking into allegations regarding the skimming of Latin American players’ bonus money. Bowden has denied any wrongdoing.

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Bowden was on the hot seat even before the Smiley fiasco. The Nationals have regressed since they finished 81-81 in 2005, their inaugural season in D.C., bottoming out last season at 59-102. Bowden famously failed to trade outfielder Alfonso Soriano in 2006 when it became clear he’d leave that offseason for a big money contract, and the Nats got only a compensatory draft choice in return when one of the game’s best power-speed threats signed an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs. Last season the Nats failed to sign the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow, in a dispute over somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000. Bowden was also arrested for drunk driving in April 2006.

The Nationals appeared to be making progress with player development under Bowden’s watch, as Baseball America ranked the team’s farm system as the ninth best in baseball in 2008 after a last-place ranking in 2007. However, the botched Crow negotiations and slower-than-expected development of some of the organization’s more high-profile prospects led the publication to drop them back to 21st in its 2009 rankings even before the Smiley revelation. His biggest accomplishment as Nats GM may be drafting franchise cornerstone third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in 2005, though many were pleased by the recent signing of free agent slugger Adam Dunn to a two-year, $20 million deal. Only time will tell if Bowden’s trades for high-upside outfielders Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes will pay dividends, but the fact is that most of his other moves have not.

Team president Stan Kasten hasn’t named a replacement for Bowden. “I can tell you that we are not missing a beat,” he said. “Our staff has a meeting tomorrow morning - first thing. I’m not going to say anything to you about the next steps for a while. There is a reason for that. It would be unwise to speculate or guess what’s going on. I have some things I’m working on and things I have to think about.”

Bowden’s resignation gives the Nats a sorely needed opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and the franchise is better off now than it was yesterday. “It’s an emotional decision,” Bowden said. “It saddens me, but I feel it’s in the best interest of two of the things I love the most - that’s the Washington Nationals and baseball.”

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo by Peter Lockley/The Washington Times

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