- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

You can say he made mistakes, both on and off the field. You can say his teams had a collective .439 winning percentage in his four years here. You can say he alienated co-workers, fellow baseball executives, agents and media members with his abrasive style. And you can question whether he did anything illegal.

But you can’t say Jim Bowden didn’t leave his mark on the Washington Nationals.

Bowden’s official tenure as GM of the Nationals ended Sunday morning with a resignation announcement that had equal doses of emotion, defiance and finger pointing. (Blaming the media for this? Please.) He departed Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., with his career in shambles, perhaps never to be seen again in a major league clubhouse.

Bowden may physically have left the building forever, but his presence will remain with this franchise for quite some time. The Nationals, for better or worse, still are very much a Jim Bowden production.

Glance up and down Washington’s roster. With only a few exceptions, every player of consequence was acquired by Bowden.

He traded for Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham, Scott Olsen, Wily Mo Pena, Anderson Hernandez and Garrett Mock.

He signed Adam Dunn, Cristian Guzman, Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, Daniel Cabrera, Willie Harris, Saul Rivera, Joel Hanrahan, Steven Shell and Wil Nieves. And then he re-signed Guzman, Young, Belliard and Harris.

He selected Ryan Zimmerman, John Lannan, Chris Marrero, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann in the amateur draft, and he selected Jesus Flores and Terrell Young in the Rule 5 draft.

You could argue that the only significant players inherited by Bowden when he became GM in November 2004 still on the roster are Nick Johnson, Shawn Hill and Collin Balester.

So no matter who winds up leading Washington’s baseball operations department the rest of this season - and sources both within the Nationals and around baseball still believe it will be Mike Rizzo - he will take over a team dominated by the fruits of Bowden’s labor.

In some ways, it’s a good place for the new GM to start. Rip Bowden all you want, but the man did acquire some good (or at the very least, intriguing) players. A franchise trying to rebuild could do a lot worse than a core of Zimmerman, Dunn, Milledge, Flores, Lannan and Olsen, with guys like Dukes, Balester, Hanrahan and Zimmermann perhaps on the cusp of joining them.

Those players provide a foundation for the Nationals to build around. That foundation wasn’t there two years ago.

Which isn’t to say this roster isn’t also littered with question marks and wasted money. Kearns, Young, Johnson and Pena stand to earn a combined $20.5 million this season, and it’s quite possible none will be in a Washington uniform come Opening Day.

The new GM’s biggest challenge might well be finding a way to remove any or all of those players from the roster without having to eat all their salaries. It will be revealed in very short order whether he possesses one of Bowden’s best qualities: the ability to get a deal done.

But even if those moves are made, ridding the organization of some of Bowden’s most costly mistakes, the former GM’s indelible stamp will remain on the Nationals for the rest of 2009 and even beyond.

Bowden took a lot of criticism (and rightfully so) for fielding a team that lost 102 games last season. But he was mostly praised for the moves he made this winter, adding three impact players - Dunn, Olsen and Willingham - to a roster that already figured to be healthier, more mature and more productive this year.

The sabermetric whizzes over at Baseball Prospectus, using their fairly reliable PECOTA prediction formula, have the Nationals winning 80 games this season. That may be a bit too optimistic, but even if Washington emerges from these lowest of the lows to win 75 games, credit will be heaped upon all corners of the organization, from Manny Acta to Stan Kasten to the new GM to the players themselves.

Bowden’s name certainly won’t come up. This franchise will make a real effort to distance itself from its disgraced former GM.

But make no mistake: Even though he’s no longer with the Nationals, Jim Bowden’s presence will be felt around this organization for a long time.

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