- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

As the day draws closer for the takeover of the Washington Nationals by its new owners, so too does the day of decision on the fate of some of the franchise’s employees. Chief among those is general manager Jim Bowden.

It remains difficult to envision a partnership between Bowden and soon-to-be team president Stan Kasten.

Bowden is a lightning rod, and Kasten doesn’t like stormy weather. And Bowden remains a connection to the era of Major League Baseball ownership of the franchise, in some ways a bitter time for many Nationals fans.

Bowden also still faces a DUI charge in Miami Beach — not the sort of thing that helps a new owner establish a fresh image for the franchise. It is the sort of issue, however, that would distract a new owner from Bowden’s baseball acumen and ability as a general manager.

An examination of Bowden’s success in building a team here is difficult because the situation of the Nats has been so dysfunctional. Some moves have worked, others haven’t. But he has been trying to build a competitive roster, in most cases, with spare parts.

Maybe, then, the best way to judge Bowden is by his work in Cincinnati, where he was GM for little more than 10 years. And don’t judge Bowden by the crazy Marge Schott years, when he wheeled and dealed his way to the 1995 National League Championship Series. But evaluate him on his record thereafter, when he built a team through the draft and deals that involved prospects and minor leaguers.

That Reds team has a 42-36 record this year and has battled all season for first place in the NL Central. It is a roster constructed through player development that, for the most part, was put together by Bowden before he was fired in July 2003.

Outfielder Adam Dunn is among the league leaders with 24 home runs and 45 RBI. Over the two previous years, Dunn hit a total of 86 home runs and drove in 203 runs. He was drafted in the second round by Bowden in 1998.

Outfielder Austin Kearns is batting .269, has 13 home runs and 43 RBI and ranks second on the team with 74 hits. He also was selected in the first round by Bowden in 1998.

Outfielder Ryan Freel is batting .302 and has emerged as a solid player. He was signed as a minor league free agent by Bowden in November 2002.

Shortstop Felipe Lopez has 22 stolen bases, leads the team with 80 hits and has a .285 average. He is an All-Star shortstop who hit 23 home runs, drove in 85 runs, scored 97 runs and batted .291 last year. He was obtained by Bowden in December 2002 in a four-team trade.

Bowden also obtained third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who leads the Reds with 19 doubles and has driven in 36 runs, in a trade with the Texas Rangers in June 2001. He picked reliever Todd Coffey, the Reds’ most reliable arm in the bullpen, in the 1998 draft — in the 41st round.

Even the Reds’ top starting pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, can be considered Bowden’s handiwork. The Reds got Arroyo by trading Bowden favorite Wily Mo Pena, an outfielder Bowden had acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees for Drew Henson and Michael Coleman.

Bowden has taken heat over the years for the Ken Griffey Jr. trade. But it was a deal that, if you are the Reds GM in 2000, you had to make. It was the son of a favorite son coming home. And finally, after four years of battling injuries, Griffey appears to be on his way to a second healthy and productive season, with 13 home runs and 41 RBI.

Now, it takes a village to raise a baseball team. There are scouts and assistants and all sorts of people whose expertise goes into selecting players. But the one who gets the blame and the credit is the general manager, the man in charge of getting the players.

So you’ve got to give Bowden his due for laying the groundwork for a winning team, even if it’s not the one he is in charge of now.

Who knows? Years from now, if Ryan Zimmerman, Justin Maxwell, Colton Willems and Chris Marrero are the core of a successful Nationals franchise, Bowden can lay claim to that — and he’ll probably have to do it from a distance, then, too.

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