With ESPN set to broadcast the Mets-Nats game on its (ESPN2) “Sunday Night Baseball” showcase this weekend, the network has been facilitating interviews with its many employees who have connections to the Nats. Aaron Boone talked to MLB.com, Manny Acta talked to the District Sports Page, Alex Cora talked to The Nats Blog, Buster Olney talked to Federal Baseball. (Okay, no Nats connection there.)
And I talked to Jim Bowden. Whatever you think about the team’s former GM — who will broadcast the Rays-Angels game on ESPN Radio Monday night — I would argue he’s turned into a fine radio host, and that his thoughts on several key Nats issues remain interesting.
Thus, seven questions with Bowden.
1. Should Mike Rizzo attempt a last-minute move?
Bowden: I think you leave the team alone, unless you can add a bench piece and/or a bullpen piece. If you can pick someone up that can help, you do it, but this team is showing signs of turning things around. They’re withing striking distance. It can be done. Washington has underachieved all year. To me, let the team alone and let them do their thing, because they’re better than their record. To me the best move is probably no move. Just let them play. They’ve got nothing to lose. I’m telling you, there’s gonna be a team — whether it’s Arizona, Cleveland, the Yankees or the Nationals — there’s gonna be a team no one’s expecting will make a serious run here, and Washington’s got as good a chance as anybody.
2. What of Dan Haren?
Bowden: They talked to Oakland, Texas and St. Louis, all three teams. They told me they’re asking for a lot back, which they should. And they’re within striking distance. Unless you get overwhelmed, it would be silly to give up when you’re this close.
3. Do you think they’ll get in?
Bowden: If I had to choose now, I would still take Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But we’ve seen it happen before. You don’t know for sure how Pittsburgh’s going to react with the pressure on them. They’ve never had this pressure in two decades; they’ve haven’t played a month of September like this in years. My gut says they’re gonna hold on, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing.
4. I don’t know if you heard, but Scott Boras raised the possibility of a 12-year deal for Bryce Harper when he was in Washington recently. Do you think that’s actually realistic?
Bowden: I’m surprised he didn’t say 15 years at this point. I’m surprised he didn’t look at Pujols, and say 15. Scott’s history has always been with the intent of breaking records, and whether that be length or whether that be dollars, that’s always been one of his goals. That being said, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a deal like that for Bryce Harper would make sense for the team. I would always be most concerned about the age of the player at the back end of the deal. That’s my biggest concern. And if you can finish a Harper deal at age 32, based on the way revenues increase in this game, I would feel like there’d be a deal for Bryce Harper at that length that would make sense, even if it breaks records. With a position player with his talent and ability, how much money can you save if you lock him up? As long as you can do it in the prime years, I don’t think it’s outrageous to break a record. At age 26 or even 24 it becomes extremely risky, but if you’re doing the right numbers, it can be a big savings. And I’d only do it for a few players — Trout, Harper, Machado might be the only three players in the game where that type of deal would make sense, because of their age and ability and talent and the very little baseball risk you have with those guys.
5. What do you make of the Danny Espinosa thing? To see where he is now after where he was last year is kind of stunning, and a lot of fans still think there’s something going on with his shoulder we don’t know about.
Bowden: Based on my experience, I think it’s physical. I really do. When a guy has a nagging injury or multiple injures, you don’t see the performance, and then everybody gets down on the player. I always like to judge players when they’re 100 percent, and I don’t think he’s 100 percent myself. That being said I’m not sure where he fits with Washington, so I think it probably would make sense to Washington to deal him. If Rendon’s going to go to third and Zimmerman to first, then you have to decide if you have a better second-base option. But I think he’ll rebound and bounce back, and be a low on-base-percentage, power-hitting second baseman.
6. Okay, so do you think Zimmerman’s future is at third or first?
Bowden: I think Zimmerman’s future is at third, but you don’t want to lose a half-dozen games because of his arm. That doesn’t make sense. Figure out the shoulder and the arm and leave him at third. That being said, I think he could be a Mark Teixeira-type, Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. But my personal opinion is you’ve got to figure out the shoulder, you’ve got to figure out the throwing issues. Whether it’s health, mechanics or mental, it’s all about solving that, because you need him to be a plus-plus third baseman for your pitching staff.
7. Obviously they’re healthier now and playing some weaker teams, but some people have suggested that the team is playing better because the pressure is off and they’re looser now, they don’t have any burden of expectations or whatever. Do you buy that?
Bowden: I can’t speak to that without being in the clubhouse every day. But we play 162 games. In most seasons, it takes that long with your ups and downs to figure out what kind of team you really have, and what kind of team you are. I do know talent-wise what the team is. This team should have been competing with Atlanta for a division title. That’s what they should have been. But sooner or later it’s hard to believe the team wouldn’t eventually have played like this, because it’s too good not to, in my opinion.