By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Stan Kasten, the incoming president of the Washington Nationals, yesterday announced he would keep Jim Bowden as the team's general manager when new ownership takes over later this month, providing stability to the front office during a period that could bring significant upheaval on the field.
"Jim is very smart," Kasten said last night at RFK Stadium. "By smart, I mean analytical. I love that. I also think he's very resourceful. . . . And right now, as we're building this -- needing to speed the process up as quickly as we can, needing to shave any unnecessary steps -- I need someone resourceful. I think Jim is really good at that."
Kasten would not discuss the length of Bowden's contract, saying only that he considered the move "permanent." Bowden's current deal with Major League Baseball, which has sold the team to the family of Bethesda real estate magnate Theodore N. Lerner, runs through October.
"It's a great opportunity," Bowden said. "I think every GM dreams about being a GM of a big-market club, being able to work for first-class ownership and being able to work for a president that knows how to win."
Bowden will have the power to make trades, build the Nationals' minor league and scouting departments and determine who will manage the club. Manager Frank Robinson's contract runs through this year. Asked about Robinson, Bowden said only, "We'll make decisions that are in the best interest, long-range, for this franchise."
That echoes Kasten's mission. The marriage of Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves, and Bowden, who ran the Cincinnati Reds for more than a decade, has been developing for months, since Kasten visited the Nationals' spring training site in Viera, Fla. At the time, each was forging ties with the Lerners.
Kasten, who originally headed his own bid to buy the Nationals, eventually joined the Lerners' bid. After being named the winning bidders, the Lerners named Kasten -- who has a small ownership stake in the franchise -- as the team's president, and they have consistently deferred to Kasten on decisions regarding the organization's structure.
"This is Stan's decision," said Mark Lerner, the son of Ted Lerner and the team's general partner. "We support that, but it's his decision."
Bowden, 45, met Mark Lerner shortly after Bowden was named the Nationals' general manager in November 2004. The pair hit it off personally, and Bowden frequently joined Lerner family members when they visited RFK. And though Bowden said, "I was told upfront that Stan was going to make the decision," it's clear his relationship with Mark Lerner and others helped.
"He established a relationship with the winning group very early on," said one Nationals front-office member, who asked to remain anonymous because of the uncertain nature of other positions in the organization. "He was very smart about that, and he showed them how hard he worked at this."
Bowden, though, is a polarizing figure in baseball. He can be alternately gregarious and short-tempered, and his mood swings have left some players, coaches and front-office members wondering which character they'll encounter on a day-to-day basis. Fiercely competitive, he has a reputation for being impulsive and living in the moment, a quality that could be tempered by Kasten's plea for patience.
But Bowden, too, has extremely ardent supporters who laud his creativity and his ability to think several steps ahead of others working on the same problems. He has an almost insatiable appetite for work, frequently sleeping only a few hours in a night.
His record with the Nationals is mixed. Some of his moves -- such as signing pitcher Esteban Loaiza and drafting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman last year -- have worked out. Others -- such as signing light-hitting shortstop Cristian Guzman to a four-year deal -- have not. And the result of his splashiest move, trading for second baseman Alfonso Soriano and moving him to the outfield, could be determined in the coming month, when the Nationals will either trade Soriano for prospects or try to sign him to a long-term deal.
Tony Tavares, the outgoing president of the Nationals, was thrown together with Bowden, and he immediately came to respect Bowden's analytical nature.
"It's time for this franchise to have some stability," Tavares said. "This is a good step in that direction. You've got somebody who's smart, somebody with a plan, somebody who's been involved with building things here, who's going to keep it going in the right direction."
Bowden has an unresolved charge of driving under the influence of alcohol stemming from an April incident in Miami. One of Bowden's attorneys, John Bergendahl, said the trial, originally scheduled for next week, has been put off indefinitely. Kasten would not comment on what impact the case had on his evaluation of Bowden other than to say, "I've made the decision I've made."