- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

Stan Kasten was coy Friday in announcing the retention of Jim Bowden as general manager of the Washington Nationals. Kasten refused to offer any details about Bowden’s deal, such as the contract’s length, other than to say Bowden is his “permanent” GM.

The new ownership group’s reluctance to divulge information can be frustrating to reporters who love to dig up contract terms and such, but it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s what is important: Bowden is here, and he’s here to stay. How long? It’s hard to believe his job isn’t safe for at least the next three years, perhaps longer.

Kasten and the Lerner family have been clear about their plan. They’re building for the long term, eschewing any temptation for a quick fix. And assuming they’re telling the truth, they can’t legitimately judge Bowden’s job performance until several years from now.

Sure, Bowden can and should be held accountable for the job he has done during the last year and a half. He has made some shrewd moves (trading for Alfonso Soriano, drafting Ryan Zimmerman and signing Esteban Loaiza and Hector Carrasco) and he has made some questionable ones (trading Tomo Ohka for Junior Spivey, selling Jamey Carroll for $300,000 and signing Cristian Guzman for $16.8 million).

But those moves all were made under the previous administration: Major League Baseball, which held Bowden to such a tight budget he might have pined for the days when he worked for Marge Schott.

Under the Lerners and Kasten, the Nationals are starting over. It’s almost as if the Nationals are an expansion team, albeit one with some infrastructure already in place.

Bowden is just now beginning the arduous process of revamping Washington’s minor league and player development systems. With the help of his top lieutenants — Tony Siegle, Bob Boone, Jose Rijo and Dana Brown — he already has taken some important steps.

The Nationals drafted Zimmerman last year. This year, they had two first-round picks — Chris Marrero and Colton Willems. Yesterday, the club gave 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez a $1.4 million signing bonus, an indication it will compete with anyone for top Latin American talent. The Nationals now have their sights set on the Far East, a new area for the franchise.

These are the kinds of moves that weren’t possible when MLB owned the team. But it’s going to take time for them to pay off. Other than Zimmerman, a rare talent who was able to make the leap from college to the majors in three months, the rest of these players won’t be in Washington for several years.

The Nationals will continue to take steps toward respectability, but there’s only so much Bowden and Kasten can do to ensure more wins than losses in the immediate future.

That might be difficult for fans to accept, especially those who have believed all along that everything would change once the Nationals were sold. A different ownership group might have appeased them, shelling out money to free agents in an attempt to compete right now.

But that’s not the Lerner-Kasten way. They are patient, and they want Nationals fans to buy into that concept.

“By being up-front and honest with our customers, we’re hoping that they adopt the program and become one of us,” Kasten said yesterday. “We want them to grow along with us. We want this to be their team, and we hope they get on board and enjoy the process as much as those of us who are in the front office are enjoying it.

“And when we all come out the other side, we’ll all feel that much better about the finished product.”

Like it or not, this is the way it’s going to be done.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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