- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — On his first day at baseball’s general managers meetings, Washington GM Jim Bowden released a player, Rocky Biddle, because of money concerns.

Bowden, however, insisted that won’t be the norm for the relocated Montreal Expos, who finished 67-95 last season.

“I can tell you that we are going to be aggressive in trying to do things to improve this team,” said Bowden, who has been on the job a week. “We had the second-worst record in the league and the fourth worst in baseball last season. So while there are a lot of good young pieces here in place, there is a lot of work to be done to get to the level where we want our Washington fans to be proud of.

“If we can improve the team, there is no timetable. If we can do it today, we will do it today. If it is a week from now or a month from now, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is let’s get it better.”

Still, there is plenty of uncertainty about how much Major League Baseball, which still owns the franchise, will be willing to commit to field a competitive team for 2005.

Yesterday the team announced it was releasing Biddle, a reliever who led the team with 34 saves in 2003 but struggled last year with shoulder problems. He posted a 4-8 record, 11 saves and a 6.92 ERA in 47 games (nine starts). Biddle’s season ended Sept.6 because of a torn right labrum, and he had surgery Oct.5 in California. Biddle, 28, earned $1.9 million last season and was eligible for arbitration.

“Looking at the way our staff is configured, one of the most important things in our job is to structure your team as best as you can within the financial parameters that you have,” Bowden said. “This particular player is arbitration-eligible, and the dollars that he would get through that process would not fit within our budget as to how we want to spend our money. And the performance last year was not worthy of those kind of dollars.”

As Bowden begins trade talks and other possible player moves, it remains unknown what those kind of dollars means.

“I don’t have a final number [on the 2005 payroll],” Bowden said. “I have a pretty good idea of the range it will fall in. Until that number is finalized, there is no point in estimating what it will be. But certainly I think our payroll will be higher than it was in Montreal [an estimated $37 million last season], and that is very positive.”

The status of the franchise as Bowden sits down to do business with other GMs, though, remains awkward and unsettled, just as it was in Montreal the past three seasons. But he said officials from other clubs are pleased the Expos appear to have a permanent home and soon will have a new owner.

“People are pleased that the team is moving to Washington,” he said. “I think baseball sees it as a very bright future. It is an exciting time. Although everyone feels the waters are sort of muddied right now, they’re really not. This franchise is going in the right direction. You know you are going to end up with strong ownership, no matter which group gets it, and you know the payroll is going to start increasing with the revenues, and that is good for baseball.”

Meanwhile, third base coach Manny Acta is leaving to join former Expos GM Omar Minaya, who became the New York Mets’ head of baseball operations after the season, in New York.

In other Washington baseball news, first baseman-outfielder Brad Wilkerson homered for the major league players in their 7-3 victory Sunday on baseball’s Japan tour. Wilkerson is 3-for-8 with two doubles, a home run and two RBI in the last two games of the tour. Wilkerson, the only Washington player on the trip, has started the last two games at first base, with David Ortiz shifting to designated hitter.

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