The Major League Baseball franchise that is scheduled to begin play in Washington next spring will announce its first major hire today when the club names Jim Bowden its general manager, possibly on an interim basis, according to two industry sources.
Bowden, 43, was general manager of the Cincinnati Reds for 101/2 seasons before being fired in July 2003. In Washington, he will inherit a tenuous situation -- and for an indefinite period of time. The team, formerly the Montreal Expos, is owned by the 29 other major league clubs, and is up for sale. A new owner could completely overhaul the front office.
Bowden could not be reached to comment. Expos President Tony Tavares said last night that there is an announcement "on baseball matters" scheduled for today, "but I do not comment publicly on searches that are ongoing."
With baseball's general managers scheduled to meet next week, Bowden's hiring was essential, even though the Expos -- who have a limited budget -- are unlikely to be major players in the free agent market. Tavares has said repeatedly that he wanted to have a GM in place before deciding on whether Manager Frank Robinson should return for a fourth season with the club.
Bowden apparently got the job over former Expos and Boston Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who said yesterday he spoke with baseball officials on Friday about the position.
"The opportunity looks interesting," Duquette said in a telephone interview yesterday. "There's a lot of work to be done. There's some challenges that come with building a team."
Those challenges apparently will be met by Bowden, who has experience working within a strict financial structure. When he became general manager of the Reds in 1993, he was just 31, then the youngest GM in major league history. The Reds won the National League Central and reached the League Championship Series in 1995, when they had the second-highest payroll in the National League, but were swept by the Atlanta Braves.
After that, the club's management -- led by then-owner Marge Schott -- ordered the payroll slashed, and Bowden earned respect for making the team competitive within a limited budget. The Reds won 96 games in 1999, but the Houston Astros won the Central title, and Cincinnati lost a one-game playoff to the New York Mets for the wild-card berth.
In 2000, Bowden -- who already had earned the nickname "Trader Jim" for his willingness to deal players -- made his most significant move, trading with Seattle for all-star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., whose father was a member of Cincinnati's famous "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970s. The trade was designed, at least in part, to re-ignite enthusiasm for baseball in Cincinnati during a political push for a new ballpark.
The city eventually built the stadium -- the Great American Ball Park opened in 2003 -- but injuries to Griffey made the next three years difficult. The Reds won only 66 games and finished last in 2001. En route to another last-place finish in 2003, Bowden and manager Bob Boone were fired in July.
Since then, Bowden has done some work for ESPN as a baseball analyst.
"He's dying to get back in the game," one associate said last night. "He'd do a good job in that situation, because he's enthusiastic about getting another chance, and he knows how to work in a small-market situation."
In the meantime, little progress has been made thus far in determining what group will ultimately determine the futures of Bowden, Tavares and others who baseball hires to run the club for now. Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said yesterday that the league has received "quite a few" inquiries from potential buyers interested in bidding on the Expos, but he said the sale process is in the preliminary stages.
"We're just asking, 'If you have an interest, let us know,' " said Levin.
Although league sources said they had originally hoped to have the inquiries gathered by yesterday, Levin said that there is no firm deadline for applications and that inquiries continue to be received.
Several bidders said they have received applications, which included very detailed questions about the partners in their groups, their financial worth and how they plan to finance the purchase of the Expos.
"It's a little lengthy," said Jerry Burkot, a spokesman for the William Collins-led Virginia Baseball Club, which tried unsuccessfully to lure the Expos to Northern Virginia. "We've looked at the [stadium] deal, and we have looked at pursuing it and most likely we will."
The applications must be accompanied by a $100,000 deposit, a portion of which is refundable depending on whether the applicant bids for the Expos and how much the applicant bids.
The Washington Baseball Club, led by businessmen Jeffrey D. Zients and Fred Malek, also has received an application.
"We have clearly expressed our interest in bidding on the team to baseball and have received the necessary applicant information," said Malek. "We're actively working on it and we will submit our application in the near future."
Other would-be owners who have expressed interest in buying the Expos include a group led by former New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson, a group led by Memphis businessman and Howard University graduate Brian Saulsberry and a syndicate headed by New York real estate developer Mark Broxmeyer. Former Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks President Stan Kasten is also interested in leading or joining an ownership group.
Baseball's 29 owners collectively purchased the Expos in February 2002 for $120 million, and the team has lost millions since. The league is anxious to unload to the Expos. The league hopes to have an owner selected by the new year at a price of at least $300 million.
Staff writer Dave Sheinin and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.