- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden appears to have had a pretty successful winter meeting.

First of all, he didn’t buy any Chevy Cavaliers at Cadillac prices like some of the other GMs appeared to have done.

Carl Pavano, four years and $39million from the Yankees?

Russ Ortiz, four years and $33million from the Diamondbacks? (Arizona led the lunacy parade, also giving Troy Glaus a four-year, $45million deal.)

“I could see that they were serious,” Ortiz told reporters after the Diamondbacks signed Glaus.

Funny, I could see they were delirious.

Just when you think baseball owners have come to their senses after preaching the supposed newfound religion of payroll flexibility, the Yankees marry up for four years with a career .500 pitcher, and the Diamondbacks make a four-year deal with a player who didn’t play four months last season.

Reverse the Curse? Not the curse of the Long-Term Contracts, which still plagues baseball. (Speaking of the curse, was this the deal the Red Sox made with the Bambino to finally win the World Series — that they would have to sign David Wells, an avowed Babe lover?)

All this started because, before the winter meetings, the Mets gave a three-year, $22.5million deal to Kris Benson, a pitcher whose biggest claim to fame is that his pinup wife has vowed to sleep with everyone in the Mets organization if she ever catches her husband cheating on her.

Maybe the Mets organization took up a collection among its employees to sign Benson.

Bowden, fortunately, was not among the crazies, though that may simply be a product of having a limited payroll that is one-fourth that of the Yankees. But sometimes you have to save GMs from themselves, and some of the front offices that left the winter meetings may someday wish they had to operate under a budget set by Major League Baseball.

Funny, if some of these owners showed the fiscal restraint they require of the one team all of them own — the Nationals — they wouldn’t be stuck with immovable objects like Sammy Sosa’s massive contract. (It’s been rumored that Bowden tried to convince the Cubs that the former baseball owner in the White House would pick up most of Sammy’s salary — you know, leftover guilt from when he traded Sosa away from the Texas Rangers.)

Granted, the Nationals still desperately need at least one other starter who can eat innings. But when you don’t have Cadillac Bud holding the purse strings tight on your budget, you don’t panic and do something stupid like give $33million to Russ Ortiz. There may still be some bargains to be had in the coming weeks — particularly now that probably most of the money on pitching (save for perhaps a deal for Derek Lowe) has been spent.

The two moves Bowden made were worth noting on several levels. The Nationals signed Wil Cordero to a one-year, $600,000 contract. He is 33 years old and did not get much playing time last year in Florida. But manager Frank Robinson loved his clubhouse leadership when he was with the Expos in 2002 and 2003, and Cordero gives the Nationals some depth off the bench, which they very much need.

Then there was the signing of Jeffrey Hammonds to a nonguaranteed minor league contract. Hammonds, who as Orioles fans know is the disabled list poster child, has been out of baseball since the Giants waived him in June; he played in just 40 games. If he can come back to be another bat off the bench and occasional outfielder, he will only cost about $350,000. And it will be fun, if he does produce, to watch another ex-Oriole in a Washington Nationals uniform.

The other level of success by Bowden worth noting is that he made the Orioles front office look silly. Bowden waited until after the Rule 5 draft — when players who are not on the team’s 40-man roster are available for drafting by other major league clubs — to make his deals.

Baltimore’s front office duo of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan (two against one, and Bowden still looks better) signed shortstop Chris Gomez — projected to be a utility infielder for the club — to a minor league contract before the Rule 5 draft, and did not protect him. So the Phillies took Gomez in the draft. If the Orioles want Gomez now, they will have to trade someone to Philadelphia to get him.

Making the Orioles look silly? Jim Bowden had a priceless winter meeting.

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