Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Church On Sunday (And Every Other Day, Too)

I've said it before, and I will say it again. If he is ever given a REAL chance, Ryan Church could be a very fine baseball player for Our Washington Nationals. Yet, he's never become what so many fans and baseball officials alike, first believed.

Whether its a Bad Attitute, Injury Proneness, Can't Hit The Breaking Pitch, Church has always been judged on what He Can't Do, rather than what he's capable. And, its always bothered me. Former Manager, Frank Robinson consistently put Ryan in his doghouse. Its well documented (the amount of stories on Church are abundant) that "someone" in the Nationals' Organization has consistently trashed Church to the media. We've all read those stories for two seasons now.

The lastest doubt, was Ryan refusing to head to Mexico to play Winter Ball in the Mexican League, to learn how to hit the breaking pitch. And, Washington's continued acknowledgement that up and coming prospect, Kory Casto, will be given every opportunity to win the left field starters job.

Now, maybe, just maybe, the stars may well be aligning. New Nats Manager, Manny Acta told me last week that he has Ryan Church as his starting left fielder, come the open of Spring Training. General Manager, Jim Bowden, went out of his way, last week, in my chat with him, to praise Church's batting skill, bat speed and his hand/eye coordination. Not denying, that Ryan Church has the capabilities to be a solid, power producing, player, in the middle of the batting order. Nats Radio Broadcaster,Charlies Slowes, at the Caravan last week, mentioned that Ryan Church should be put out in left for three months to see what he can do.

Then, today, Barry Svrluga over at The Washington Post, has an UPBEAT article on Ryan's preparation for the upcoming 2007 campaign. Church realizing, finally to some, that he's to blame for being sent to New Orleans to start the 2006 season, and it just floored him: "I was devastated, and it affected my whole year," Church told Svrluga. "I was just like the other guys down there that don't belong there, and I sure . . . didn't belong down there. But it was my fault."

When someone has their back against the wall, you find out about their character. You find out whether they wilt, or recover. I believe Church is a fighter, and is ready for that breakout year. Yeah, they messed with his head. Yeah, he's been injured, and Yeah--he needs to hit that breaking ball. But, the fact, that he admits everything that's happened, is of his own doing--is a very good sign.

Now, if only the Baseball Gods will also allow Alex Escobar to play injury free as our everyday center fielder. I can live with an everyday outfield alignment of Church, Escobar, and Austin Kearns in right field. These three provide power, defense and some speed. The Washington Nationals are not suppose to compete this season. Yet, GM Bowden says The Nats will put the very best players on the field each and every day.

I have no doubt Church, along with Escobar and Kearns are THE VERY BEST CHOICES--Right here,Right now.

Put them out on the field, let them play--Lets see what happens. Its time for baseball. Its time for some FUN!! "Come on CHURCHEEEE"

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Last Winter Caravan Stop

I badly wanted to attend Monday afternoon's Nationals Caravan Appearance at the New Stadium Complex on South Capitol Street, but, unforunately, real work got in the way, forcing me to miss it. Although Miss Chatter and Dan Steinberg both made the event, for posterity sake. And, I am thankful for their coverage.

Later, I caught up with both of them at The ESPN Zone for the final Winer Caravan Stop for Our Washington Nationals. The usual suspects were in tow, from the past week, except for the FRESH APPEARANCE from Star Third Baseman, Ryan Zimmerman. " Z" picked up on the tour over the past three days, during its stops in Fredericksburg, Richmond and Tidewater (his hometown), Virginia, then returning to DC for its final day.

About 100 folks showed up for the so-called Celebrity Cookoff. Zimmerman, faced off against Nook Logan and Mike O'Connor to cook a pre-selected hot meal, to be judged by Nationals Vice-President of External Affairs--Alphonso Maldon, The ESPN Zone Head Chef, a local TV news person and a youngster selected from the audience.

Each player worked along side an ESPN ZONE CHEF. Since the players were concentrating so hard on making the meal, there was not much conversation. So, Radio Voice--Charlie Slowes took questions and My BEST FRIEND--SCREECH hammed it up!

The best quote, by far, came from a young questioner, who asked the three players what nicknames, if any, they had for any of their Nationals' Teammates. Ryan Zimmerman, brought the house down, when he told Charlie Slowes--"I always call Chad Cordero--"Chief TOM-TOM!!"

Its a good name. I really liked it.

After about 30 minutes of preping and cooking their selected meals, the judges took the taste test. Zimmerman and O'Connor scored 48 points, but Nook Logan took home the title, by scoring 52 points. During his victory speech, he told Charlie Slowes "I want to thank my Cook, for Cooking THE MEAL!!" Everybody busted out laughing. Later, all three players would sign their Chef Aprons for their helpers, then sign autographs for all the faithful fans in attendance.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Final Chapter With Jim Bowden

Washington Nationals Executive Vice-President & General Manager, Jim Bowden, sits in a small odd rectangular office, as small and as odd shaped as Team President, Stan Kasten, at RFK Stadium. In fact, their respective offices connect through an adjoining Conference Room. Sitting at his desk, Bowden can look up to his right to a Gigantic Marker Board. On that board, is the ever evolving list of players currently invited to Spring Training--2007. A list that seems to grow--daily. Which, at last check, 37 of those listed on the Spring Training Roster were pitchers.

At a time, when Our Washington Nationals are searching for new footing and a solid future, 2007 could, potentially be a difficult year to swallow for many Nationals Fans. The team, by most all accounts, may not be too good. Even Team Owner, Ted Lerner, recently stated, The Nationals are not working for a World Series Ring this season.

As I continue my conversation with Jim Bowden, I asked him, what can Nats Fans look forward to this spring?

"First of all, we have a whole lot of talented players that get overlooked because of Alfonso Soriano electing Free Agency, and the fact that our starting pitching is in complete disarray, which is why, we all have the conclusion we have. But, we do have a lot of solid young players, still on this team to build around---Ryan Zimmerman, and Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, Brian Schneider—We have a start. We have a really good young bullpen with (Chad) Cordero, (Luis) Ayala and (Jon) Rauch leading the way. We got things to build on. You are never going to be good until you have starting pitching, no one goes to the Post Season without starting pitching. And, until we get that, we WILL NOT BE a team that can go to the post season. But, every trade we work on, every draft pick we work on, EVERY DAY, that's all we are doing, is having all our top people, look at PITCHING, PITCHING,and PITCHING."

"Eventually, we will get there. When will we get there? Its going to happen, when WE LEAST EXPECT IT. I remember, when we had claimed (Northern Virginia Product & Pitcher) Pete Schourek (while Bowden was the Cincinnati GM) off waivers from The Mets, he had the highest ERA among all pitchers in Major League Baseball. Then, the next year, he was second in Cy Young. People didn’t really see that coming. He got to the right age and everything came together. You have no idea how quick a young prospect, all of a sudden, GETS IT!! And, the one thing we are going to get to do, is give people the opportunity. We are not going to have a rotation that’s just stuck with a veteran older player, who’s there for a stop gap year or two. We will have a rotation that is completely evolving. Opportunities will be there for a young pitcher, who wants to step up and take advantage of it. Is there going to be growing pains? SURE. The rotation we have in April, will not be the same rotation we have in June; nor be the same one, we have in September."

Pitching, Pitching & Pitching is your favorite phrase??

"It is HOW YOU WIN!!"

With the starting pitching for 2007 is total disarray right now, I asked him, who, in the off season pickups might actually be sleepers in the rotation. Bowden flat out stated, he's not depending on any of them, for the long term.

"We are not building a team this off season. We are building a long term team. So, we are drafting a Colton Willems, trading for Johny Nunez, trading for Shairon Martis. These guys are in "A" Ball and not ready for the Big Leagues. The work we are doing now, is for the back end of the organization. Its like building a skyscraper, we are not building THE PENTHOUSE right now. We are building the foundation. We are building THE BUILDING, the right way. So, we haven’t been active this off season. We decided not to put that money in the Major League Payroll. We decided to put that money in the development and scouting system, so we can win for the long term. Our process in different than, what we have done in the past. Our emphasis is on more trading, drafting and signing the young players, to build a strong farm system."

But, I contined my line of questioning, to find out if, as fans, there is any hope for those pitchers signed by The Nationals this past off season?

"If you are referring to 6 year free agents, I would tell you this: If we have 14 candidates to start in spring training, besides John Patterson, I can’t tell you who ANY OF THE OTHER FOUR ARE GOING TO BE!! And, I won’t be able to tell you until Opening Day. And, no one will be able to tell you until Opening Day, either. You may have a scout, who has an opinion? Or, Manny Acta may have an opinion; or I may have an opinion; who has that best shot. But, with this group of 14, the only people who will determine those that go north are those actual pitchers, that get on the mound, pitch and compete at Spring Training."

Now, looking up at his BIG BOARD--The Spring Training Roster, Bowden continued, raising the level of his voice, more and more, as he spoke:

"Now, who are those people?--(Jason) Simontocchi, Shawn Hill, Beltran Perez, Mike O’Connor, Tim Redding, Jerome Williams, Jason Bergmann, Levale Speigner, Colby Lewis, Joel Hanrahan, Matt Chico, Chris Michalak, Winston Abreau, Louis Martinez, ARE THE BEST CANDIDATES, AS OF NOW!! But, I would not want to eliminate, (Mike) Bacsik, or (Anastasio) Martinez, (Josh) Hall, (Eduardo) Valdez, or (Felix)Diaz—JUST IN CASE!! And, you know what? Don’t be surprised, if someone from accelerated camp, like Garret Mock, or Collin Balester, come out of nowhere and find themselves in the rotation. Our pitcher that starts game four of this season, my not even be in Big League Camp right now—neither might be the guy pitching Game five (of the 2007 season). THAT'S THE TRUTH!!. Its going to be an evolution. Its going to be based on pure competition. The one thing the pitchers here know--if you want to pitch in the Big Leagues—THIS IS THE BEST OPPORTUNITY YOU WILL EVER, EVER HAVE!! (and he could not emphasized the point more)"

He was so excited, rising his inflections to a new level, enjoying the moment. That, I caught him off guard with my very next question. Over the past two seasons, Bowden has been able to trade lefthanded, veteran, reliever, Mike Stanton, twice, for draft picks to Boston (two youngsters) and San Francisco (for Martis). Knowing the success he's had at dumping off veterans, at the trading dealine for prospects, I asked him--If I leave this office, right now, fly to Las Vegas, make a bet that come July 31st (the trading deadline), you will trade (Lefthanded Free Agent Reliever) Ray King for two prospects, will I win that bet?

Bowden gave his only "no comment," of the interview, smiling with pursed lips, "Next Question", he stated (but the body movement and inflection was terrific, A GREAT SMILE!!). He wasn't going to answer, but he wasn't going to deny me. I am calling it a YES!! (SBF Commenting Here), and will be making that wager. That question and subsequent non-answer, was my favorite moment of the entire chat.

My final question surrounding pitching was the mention, in various publications, that The Nationals will carry 12 pitchers on the 25 Man Roster this season. And, with the knowledge that Rule V Draftee, Jesus Flores, must stay on the roster all season long, or be returned to The New York Mets. Will this greatly affect the bench, and In Game Decisions, by Manager, Manny Acta?

"At this point, at least on paper, I just can’t imagine having under 12 pitchers, because, we certainly want to protect all of our pitchers (from injury)—health is extremely important. I just can’t imagine going under 12, unless it’s the first month of the season (more open dates—many weather related cancellations). Does it hurt our positioning to acquire a young catcher that Davey Johnson, John Stearns (Former Managers, Now Scouts), and Manny Acta think will be an everyday catcher in the Big Leagues someday? Given our situation, trying to build for the future, we’d be pretty foolish, if we would rather keep a 34 year old veteran player, over a young catcher, you think will be an everyday player with 25 to 30 Home Run power, given our situation and direction. That would be a pretty foolish decision."

From there it was time to talk about the everyday Washington Nationals Lineup, and the biggest news for fans, of late, has been, the reported, handing of The Starting Centerfield Job to Nook Logan? No doubt, Logan has the speed and defensive capabilities, but, as he showed late last season, struggles offensively. So, I mentioned, I was surprised to hear this, so soon, before Spring Training has begun?

"You have to catch the ball!! We have to improve our defense. In this ballpark (RFK Stadium), you have got to catch the balls, in the gap, or you will lose everyday, 8-0! With our inexperience, with our pitching staff, that we have out there, it is going to be extremely important, that we have good defense. Nook Logan, is he going to hit? We don’t know that. He’s going to get the opportunity to show he can, or can not hit. We also have to evaluate whether Alex Escobar is healthy. Escobar could end up in centerfield if he (Logan), does not hit enough. We know he (Logan) can play defense. Right now (with our pitching problems/defense), we want him to catch everything he possibly can into the gaps."

I have said (SBF Here), on many occasions, that Alex Escobar is a 5 tool player, capable of performing great things. Yet, his constant injury problems have curtailed his career, mightily. I asked Bowden, if both Escobar and recently required, Chris Snelling, will ever get over the injury bug?

"I don’t have the answer to that. The funny part was, when I had Reggie Sanders (in Cincinnati), we had the same thing (injury problems). Will Reggie Sanders ever get healthy. We (Red's Baseball Brain Trust) debated, FOREVER, because a lot of opinions were, that he never will (Bowden now opening a large spiral bound book, on his desk, of every player in The Major Leagues, flipping to Sander’s Stats). And, the interesting thing about Reggie is that, all of sudden, in 2002, when he turned 35 years old (pointing at Sanders record in the book), he got healthy. And, he started playing everyday. In ’02, ’03 & ’04, he had a run where he did (remain healthy and productive). I can’t tell you, if Escobar and Snelling are going to be healthy. I do know, they have a lot of potential, if they do!"

He did go on to say that both Escobar and Snelling will get every opportunity to show themselves in Spring Training, as well as, up and coming rookie Kory Casto. Which begs the question, what about Ryan Church? To many fans, he is a favorite, and for various reasons, has never been able to become an everyday starter. Why has Ryan Church not made it, yet?

"Ryan Church as produced in the At Bats, he’s had in the Big Leagues. Certainly, he has struggled against breaking balls and off speed pitches away. He can definitely hit a fastball. For him to get to the next level, he’s going to have to hit that breaking ball and change up. You can’t hit .180 on non fastballs and stay in The Big Leagues—which he has done. But, that being the case, I think Ryan has worked, really hard, with Bill Harrison (Visualization Expert-Optometrist) this off season. He has tremendous eyes, he has tremendous depth perception. And, his hands are, from the setup position to contact, is as good a bat speed as you need in the Major Leagues to be a .300 hitter, 30 (Home Run), 100 (RBI) guy. Does he develop into that? I think he really has the potential to do that, you have got to get the At Bats to do it. Does he come in here and beat out Kory Casto, Chris Snelling and (Alex) Escobar? He (Church) will be given EVERY OPPORTUNITY to do that. But, we are going to put the best players out there, and that’s what we have done before."

When it comes to putting the best players out there on the field for Our Washington Nationals, there has been no player more vilified, by fans, than Cristian Guzman, for his under performance in 2005. Cristian was injured and out all of 2006. He's back this year, and, for now, is handed the starting shortstop position. Is Guzman on a short leash, if he does not play well?

"We will put the best team on the field that, we can. We think that team is Guzman at short, and Lopez at 2nd. But, we are certainly blessed with an All Star Shortstop, in Felipe Lopez. And, if our best team, includes Felipe at short, and someone else at second, then that’s what we are going to play. Contracts do not come into play when it comes to putting your best team out there (on the field). We put the best players out there."

But, one of Our Nationals very best players, Nick Johnson, is reportedly, recovering slowing from his off season broken right femur. In fact, Washington was so concerned, they recently signed veteran, journeyman, first basemen, Travis Lee, and invited him to Spring Training. Is Nick Johnson making progress? When can we expect his return?

"I think in our situation, the one thing, we do not want to do, is bring him back too soon, where he’s limping and because of his leg, we now hurt a knee--Because of a leg (problem), we now hurt a hip. So, the important thing is to make sure that we don’t rush the process. The most important thing is, we want Nick Johnson long term. He’s a young guy—in his prime. Solid hitter with a high on base percentage, who had a below average defensive year for him (2006), but is a Gold Glove caliber first basemen. He will get back to that form, I am confident. Will he be ready come Opening Day? I don’t know that. Will he be ready May 1st? I don’t know that. I will not be able to tell you that, neither will the doctors, by the way, or Nick, until he gets back on the field and gets ready. I have seen players, where they (The Doctors) tell me, 'Jim, it's a fracture, expect him out 4-6 weeks.' He (the player) played 8 days later. And, I have seen situations where the players was suppose to be out for 3 weeks, he’s out four months. So, there is one thing I have learned (as a GM), is the body heals differently with every player. No doctor, no player, no GM can give you an accurate time table."

What about the effect on Austin Kearns? Is he out of it, mentally, feeling guilty for his involement in the incident with Johnson (Kearns sled, cleat first, into a sliding Johnson--leading to the broken leg)?

"I don’t think he's out of it. I was proud that Austin scored 86 runs, drove in 86 runs (in 2006), hit 24 home runs, played healthy for the first time in his career, playing every day. I think Austin is going to continue to get better and improve. He’s only 26 years old. He has not hit his prime yet." (SBF here, Bowden didn't seem worried, at all, the matter of Nick's injury now past Kearns).

My time with Jim Bowden was running out--in fact, you might say I was on borrowed time, at this point. But, I had to get in one final question, about, Fan Favorite, Jamey Carroll. Carroll was The Nationals' utility man, extrordinaire, during their Inaugural Season of 2005. A blue collar worker, that never complained, and gave his very best, each and every time out on the field for Washington. Unfortunately, over the 2005/2006 off season, The Nationals sold off Carroll to the Colorado Rockies, to a great disappointment of many fans, and Manager Frank Robinson. Many believed, that move enabled the Nationals to bring Damian Jackson (a true non favorite in 2006) on board. I finished my Chat With The GM asking Bowden, whether he regretted getting rid of Jamey Carroll?

"Sure, I think it was a mistake. Jamey had a lot of character. It was a budget decision. When we (Baseball Think Tank) took it to Tony Taveres (Nats President under MLB Ownership), we wanted to sign Royce Clayton, because we were concerned that, if Cristian Guzman did not hit, we did not want to watch the same thing we had watched the year before (2005). So, we knew that Jamey Carroll could not play short. He was a great utility guy at 2nd and 3rd (base), but our concern was, if Guzman couldn’t play short, who was going to play shortstop everyday and catch the ball for our pitching staff? We wanted to have Clayton. We went (to Taveres) and the response was: ‘You can have Clayton or Carroll, you can not afford both.’ Given our situation, I said, we need the shortstop. We can’t feel comfortable enough in the present situation. As it played out, Guzman got hurt, as it turned out Clayton was our shortstop, AND AS IT TURNED OUT, IF WE DIDN’T HAVE CLAYTON, WE WOULD NOT HAVE HAD KEARNS, LOPEZ AND WAGNER!! Because, they (Cincinnati) would not have done Lopez without getting Clayton back (in return). So, would I rather have Lopez and Carroll, yes. Do I regret the fact that we couldn’t keep both Carroll and Clayton, and, have Clayton there with Carroll--Yeah, that was a mistake."

With that last answer, my "Chat with The GM" came to it official conclusion. I had so much more to ask him, but I, flat out, ran out of time. Bowden was very interested in everything I had to say, and he enjoyed our back and forth commentary. So, much so, he asked me to stay in touch. Obviously, I will. Alot goes on behind his office doors in the development of Our Washington Nationals. So much, that we never will know about, yet, I was able to get a small peek at some of that back room action in a Major League Front Office. I am very grateful for Jim Bowden's time, he shared with me.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Chatting With The GM

For a long time, I wanted to meet with him and find out where he stands on so many issues concerning Our Washington Nationals. To some fans, he is a polarizing figure, the heat of all their frustrations with the team. To others, he is an absolute genius, creative, and willing to go the extra yard to make a deal. And, no doubt, I have expressed my criticism of his work, at times, in the past. But, like most all beliefs, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I wanted to find out my own answers, from my own perspective (not someone elses), to that, and so much more.

The General Manager of The Washington Nationals is personally responsible for virtually each and every player, manager and coach that steps out on the field representing our town--Washington, DC. Whether you have money to spend or not for players and development, the image of The Nationals is forged by the vision of its own GM. No one, and I mean--NO ONE, dictates the moves of the baseball operations, like a General Manager.

Recently, I reached out again to The Washington Nationals, to see if Executive Vice-President & General Manager, Jim Bowden, would be kind enough to sit down with me, to discuss, my many questions about Our Nats. Sure enough, the response was positive. On Monday, January 22, I received a call from Jim Bowden, personally. He asked me to stop by his office at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, January 24th at 10AM. I was given 30 minutes, and it would be strictly adhered to. 30 minutes, no more.

Our discussions were wide ranging and covered many topics that, I believe, fans are always asking. Throughout the half hour, Bowden was engaging, expressive, pointed at times--but, undeniably--confident in his answers. I tried to get everything out on the table, exchanging ideas and thoughts. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to everything, 30 minutes goes by quickly in a captivating conversation. There were no ground rules, although he wasn't going to talk about potential trades and manuevers. But, if Bowden did not wish to answer a question, he would just say, "No Comment." (and that only happened once). As previously in my Chats, I recorded the entire interview on my Video Ipod with Belkin Recording Device. All the quotes are EXACT!! This post, is the first of two with Nationals General Manager, Jim Bowden. The Final Chapter following by this tuesday morning.

When The Montreal Expos were sold to Major League Baseball in 2002, they still had one of the finest Minor League Operations in the game. Year after year, this franchise could produce talented young players. And, make no mistake about it, for years The Expos were a viable competitive team. Unfortunately, its Canadian Owners never found a way to keep that talent, once it reached the Big Leagues. By the time The Expos were transferred to Washington, The Nationals were a bare bones skeleton operation, barely functionable. In December 2004, Jim Bowden was named the Interim GM by MLB. I asked Jim: How bad were the constraints with Baseball as Owners?

“I’ve had obstacles and constraints throughout my entire career, so, whether I was in Cincinnati working for Marge Schott, or working for Major League Baseball, everybody has constraints. If you look at the other 29 teams, everyone has types of parameters and obstacles. YOU LOOK AT IT AS A CHALLENGE!! YOU DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT IT!"

"Look, we (The Expos under MLB) had ZERO BUDGET in the Dominican. We were not able to keep our good scouts. We were not able to keep our good development people. We were not able to draft the best players, because we could not afford to sign them. The organization continually had to trade their star players, because you couldn’t afford to keep them. And, in many cases, when they (Omar Minaya-then the GM & Tony Taveres, President) were told, prior to me getting here, the team was going to contract—THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO CARE ABOUT TRADING A FARM SYSTEM!!"

"So unfortunately, Jason Bay (Pirates All Star) is gone, and Grady Sizemore (Indians promising young centerfielder) is gone, and Cliff Lee (Indians lefthander starter) is gone, and Chris Young (Padres All Star) is gone. If you just put those four players back on this team right now, we are having a WHOLE DIFFERENT CONVERSATION!! And, 'The Plan' is completely different, because you are really close to winning. But they (MLB) were going to contract (The Expos). The team was for sale. They were running a business the right way, you can’t complain about Major League Baseball, when you look at what they bought Montreal for and what they sold it for. The word “Genius” should go on Commissioner (Bud) Selig’s plate for what happened here. It was in the best interest of Baseball, what he did. And now, look at the end result. They got the best owner they could (The Lerners). They got the best President in the game (Stan Kasten), and look at the future here. Although, there may well be short term pain, when you get to do everything the right way, for a long period of time--we saw in Atlanta, what happens (success)."

But, obviously, there is a perception, valid or not, there were deals to be made that could have helped this franchise, but, MLB turned down as owners?

“Everyday, of course. The same way it is today. There are deals you can make everyday, but you can’t go beyond your budget. So, you can’t make those deals. You always bring it to the people I work with and say: 'We have an opportunity to make this deal, and its really good to work with.' But the answer is: 'You are over budget.' We understand that and come back. The difference is, when The Lerner Family purchased the club, we had an opportunity to make such such a deal, which was not consistent with our plan. And, not consistent with our budget—two things right out of the get go. The Kearns, Lopez and Wagner Deal was not in our plan. It added payroll, that we did not have in the budget. Just like Esmailyn Gonzalez (16 year old Dominican Talent), there was no money in the budget for Gonzalez ($1.5 Million). We (Baseball Operations Staff) took it to Stan. This is a good baseball opportunity for what we are doing. We would like it approved, we understand its not in the budget. He agreed. We went to Ownership, got approval AND WE DID IT! That’s a major difference between when Major League Baseball owning the team, and The Lerner-Kasten regime. Remember, every club has restrictions, so yes, there were restrictions (Pre Lerner Ownership), of course there were—every club has budget restrictions. The Yankees have cut payroll this season by $12 Million, even they have had restrictions."

Since the official handover of Our Washington Nationals to The Lerner Group by Major League Baseball, the direction and operation of this franchise has changed drastically, as Bowden re-interated in making the big trade with Cincinnati and later signing Gonzalez. Yet, before the deal was final, Jim Bowden actively sought, the then available GM's job with The Boston Red Sox. At one point, calling it "The Dream Job". I asked him, how he feels about interviewing for that Red Sox job now? Any regrets?

"Had I known that this would be the ownership group and Stan would be The President, I wouldn’t have been interested in Boston. I think the Nationals General Manager's Job is the best job in ALL OF BASEBALL, because of the Ownership Group the Commissioner Selected. I don’t think you are going to find better owners. And, in the long run, the fans of Washington will be very appreciative of having first class ownership, that knows how to build an organization the right way."

Many would say that, since Stan Kasten became President of The Nationals, the way you conduct your business has changed? Why so?

“I have never in my career, ever been blessed with the opportunity to do things the right way. That means being able to make the right decisions in acquiring personnel, scouting, player development, amateur drafting and free agency. When you have the capabilities, abilities and the resources to get the best in the game. So—YES, my job as General Manager since they (The Lerners & Kasten) took over is a much different job, than I have ever had before, because you are allowed to do things the right way. I have never worked for anyone in my career that is smarter than me (Kasten), like I do now. Stan has taught me so much and helped me along, so much, in my career, because of all his experience that he’s had over the years."

Can you be more specific on how Stan Kasten has helped you, changed you?

“On a daily basis, it would be a book. It would be almost like an encyclopedia, its like every single day. Its funny, the world doesn’t know the real Stan Kasten, because he is a very private person. He’s not a public person. He’s a brillant man with a lot of depth, really a quick alert thinker. Is he the only person ever to be The President of Three Sports Franchises (Braves, Hawks, Thrashers) at the same time? (I believe so-SBF responds). I think he is the only one to do that? And, when you are involved with that many sports; and that many General Managers; and that many Head Coaches; and that many Managers; and that many players; the experience he’s had, and the abilities he’s had to learn, besides having to an extremely high IQ—OFF THE CHARTS! Allows for someone who can always on a daily basis help me to get better, help the organization get better and help direction. And, he’s always open, if I have a thought or idea or question. He’s available 24 hours a day, 7 Days per week, for me to call him, or email him to say, what do you think of this?; What do you think of that? What do you think of this concept? Stan is a great sounding board, and a great person to work for."

I tried really hard to get Bowden to say specifically say how Mr. Kasten has changed and improved him as a GM, so I will not speculate, he wouldn't get too specific. Though one thing is sure, since The Lerner takeover, there is a a lot less public acknowledgement and talking of possible team manuevers and transactions from The Front Office. Mr. Kasten told me, that he personally stepped in on the Alfonso Soriano non-trade last july 31st. The Washington Nationals do a majority of their work, behind the scenes, with a lot less flash/flair, not to be recognized until a conclusion is reached.

But, I would be remiss, if I didn't ask him whether he has any troubles dealing with other teams, as its well known, there are mixed opinions about him?

“I’ve made a trade with every team in baseball. I have never had a problem with relationships with General Managers. People write things all the time. My question is: ‘Pick up the phone and call the General Manager and ask him directly.’ If you don’t have that quote, call Brian Cashman (Yankees GM), call John Schuerholz (Braves GM), call the General Managers, Kenny Williams (The White Sox), go ahead, call ‘em. Perception becomes reality, and sometimes that's unfortunate, but, we all understand it.”

And, Bowden did not back down concerning the Cincinnati Reds General Manager, Wayne Krivsky's, continuing complaints to Major League Baseball, saying former Nationals Pitcher, Gary Majewski was damaged goods, and the Nationals knew it, before trading Gary to The Reds in last summer's big trade. Was anything hidden from Cincinnati?

"NOTHING ( and he got fired up)--We were extremely honest and upfront with the entire situation. Gary Majewski was healthy, the last 10 appearances with us, nine were shutouts. There (sort of chuckling) was no reason for us to believe, we had done anything wrong. We had an MRI in May (on Majewski, before the trade). There was nothing wrong with his shoulder. I was very clear, with Wayne Krivsky. I said, ‘Wayne, have your trainers talk to our trainers, your doctors, talk to our doctors. We will provide any medical information you want on any player in the deal, get it directly from them.' Their trainer DID TALK DIRECTLY, to our trainer—Tim Abraham. He was honest and forthright, every bit of information, that they (The Reds) wanted, was answered, every question honestly. We did nothing wrong."

Recently, Tim Abraham resigned as Team Trainer. Did this incident have anything to do with his leaving the club? “It had nothing to do with it--family decision (Tim’s wife recently gave birth to a baby).”

From this point, we moved on to chatting about the current team, the very real possibility that Our Washington Nationals may not be any good in 2007--and many fans might be upset and do not wish to support a losing team? Fans want to win now. We live in an instant gratification society. Your thoughts?

“That's the way we understand it with Baseball, with the internet, and the newspapers, DirecTV and cable and TIVO. Everybody wants to see it today. But, you know what, I think in Washington, DC, its different than most cities. Because, in Washington, DC, we have the most intelligent fans in the world. No offense to St. Louis, Cleveland, Boston, New York and some other great cities. I think the most intellectual baseball fans, are here in Washington. I found out in my first game here, when there was a man at second, nobody out, ground ball to the right side, move the guy up to third and the hitter got a standing ovation. Fans here are really smart, they really have vision. I am in the streets all the time. Whether, I am in the Grocery Store, or the Drug Store, or in Georgetown, in Alexandria—The Fans say ‘Keep the path, we understand. We want (Alfonso) Soriano too, but you did the right thing, you can’t put that much money on one player, because you weren’t going to win anyway.’ So, the difference between here and a lot of other cities, is the fans GET IT. NOT EVERYBODY, because we all want to win TODAY! But, for the most part, the intellectual fans really do get the long term plans. And, that means, there will be some suffering. Does that mean they enjoy seeing Ryan Zimmerman develop, and Austin Kearns develop, and (Felipe) Lopez develop, and (Brian) Schneider, and (Chad) Cordero develop? I think they do."

But, I have got to tell you, there are many fans out there that feel, since the team will not compete, for a few years, all those core players (minus Zimmerman) should just be traded off, to get younger. Because, once The Nationals do compete, those players will be older and on the downside of their careers?

"First of all, I think when you refer to players that are 25 to 28 years old, to say they are going to be too old when we get there (competitive) is just not accurate, and not fair. If a player is 32 or 33 now, I can’t tell you the answer to the question, because we see players now, that play until they reach 40 (years old) and can play. And, we see guys that are 32 years old and are finished. Its not an exact science, but for someone to say, ‘When you are ready to win that Kearns and Lopez and Cordero, and Schneider and (Nick) Johnson and Zimmerman are going to be too old.'---is simply NOT TRUE! And, the only way you can answer that, is to tell that fan ‘Do me a favor, look at the two teams that were in the World Series last year, look up how old they are?' and compare that to what our guys will look like, two or three years from now. And, YOU WILL SEE THAT IS JUST NOT THE CASE!!"

We sort of got off on a tangent about the healthy amount of Nationals Blogs and comments (both positive and negative), that are out on the internet each and every day. I believe there are, at least, 30 Nats Blogs and Chat rooms. And, I LOVED HIS RESPONSE--especially about his critics.

“That’s what makes those websites so much fun, because of people like that--its like talk radio. They are not suppose to like anything you do. They are suppose to show both sides, but, they want to stir it up, so you will respond to it. They want you to get mad. They want to have fun. Its like wrestling, professional wrestling. Its not a REAL WRESTLING MATCH, ITS AN ACT, ITS DRAMA, ITS FUN TO BE WITH. Its really great. The good thing is—They are all talking about baseball, AND THEY CARE!!. Whether someone is ripping you or praising you, THEY CARE, and that’s what its all about. WE WANT EVERYONE IN WASHINGTON TO CARE ABOUT THE NATIONALS!!"

Sitting directly in front of him, looking right at Bowden--He meant every word of it.

Getting back on the main subject of The Nationals competing, I asked, what about the case for buying Free Agents in the $3 Million dollar range, as a stop gap, that, over the short term, does not harm the long term plans?

"We all want to build a winner for Washington, and do it the right way. Could we be more competitive, if we signed three pitchers right now at $3 million a piece? Another $9 Million—Sure. But, do you think that fan wants $9 Million spent on three pitchers that are going to pitch one year here, or would they want that $9 million spent on young players like Zimmerman, Cordero and Kearns, and Lopez, and sign all these players in the draft, sign all these players internationally, so you can build a Championship Club? Is it better to spend the money there, or is it better to spend that money for one year."

The Devil’s Advocate in me would say--SBF Talking here--you don’t lose a draft pick for signing someone, you might benefit with a draft choice, when they leave?

"I am saying the money you spent, if we spend our dollars, on a pitcher, of $3 million dollars, then we have $3 Million less to spend on signing players in the draft and international baseball. Players, we would control six years in the minor leagues, six years in the Major Leagues, 12 years, as compared to someone you would carry for one year. Is that how you want to spend your money? Do you want to spend your money on mediocre pitching, or do you want to save your money?--so you can get a Number 1 or Number 2 (Starter)?"

Again trying to pin him down, SBF asks: Devil's Advocate says, that $3 Million is not a whole lot of dollars in the entire scheme of things, so when that one year free agent left, you could possibly get a draft pick in return, when he signs as a free agent, maybe improving your farm system faster?

"OK, but if the quality of pitcher you are going to get for that $3 million is: WHO, ON THE MARKET? There is not going to be a draft pick for Ramon Ortiz. He got $3 Million (with Minnesota). There is not going to be a Draft Pick for Tomo Ohka, who just got $1.5 (million) plus $1.5, $3 Million total. There is not going to be a Draft Pick for David Wells, who got $3 plus (million). There is no compensation there, zero, because no one is going to offer arbitration. So, you are going to spend the money and that’s all you are going to have for it (nothing). You don’t get a pick at the end of the year, after you pay the money. You can’t offer Ortiz arbitration, you would end up spending $7-8 Million. You can’t offer arbitration to Ohka (Milwaukee), they didn’t. They didn’t offer arbitration to Wells. These guys that are signed, look at the facts, the teams are not getting picks for those guys, that are left at the bottom of this free agent market."

Jim Bowden did tell me, unequivocally, on Tomo Ohka--We (The Nationals) did not offer Tomo Ohka a two year deal." (Nothing? I asked), Bowden did not reply, he remained silent.

And, Bowden closed the chapter on Ramon Ortiz (who just signed with Minnesota for $3.1 million).

"If he (Ortiz) was arbitrated, our attorneys, in house, as well as, the people we consult with, when you look at all he did, he would have had the case for $7 to $8 Million. Gil Meche got $10 (Million per season from Kansas City). He (Ortiz) is going to arbitration, because of innings pitched, he’s going to get $7 to $8, if we offered him arbitration. We did not think he was worth that type of money. So, we did not offer him arbitration. So there is no compensation there. Yet, we got a pick for (Jose) Guillen (shrewdly realizing Jose was definitely signing with Seattle).

"Player Development", "Scouting", they are the catch words and phrases, when it comes to discussing the near future of Our Washington Nationals. You may not be able to tell the Nationals Players without a scorecard in 2007, but you sure may well be able notice some rising young stars, if, the newly rebuilt, Scouting Department gets off the ground running. All Washington's bread appears to be placed in that one basket--you could tell Bowden was happy about the latest growth in his baseball staff.

"I have to say, when you look at young players in the game, like Ryan Howard (Phillies Slugger, MVP) and Albert Pujols (Cardinals Slugger, Former MVP), maybe Miguel Cabrera (Marlins)—we would all like to have those three young hitters in the middle of the lineup. When you are sitting here with a staff, with a Mike Rizzo (Asst. GM, VP of Baseball Operations) , who did what he did in Arizona (with the Diamondbacks), which was phenomenal. He found Brandon Webb (Cy Young Winner), (Stephen) Drew and Connor (Jackson), Carlos Quentin, Justin Upton--Its remarkable what he did there. Then, to add that to Dana Brown (Scouting Director), who has never had resources, and always produced on what he’s seen. You know, Clubs are lucky to get one of those guys, WE HAVE BOTH LEADING THIS DEPARTMENT!! We got Chuck Lemar (Special Asst. to the GM/Former Tampa Bay GM), when he was in that position (Scouting Director), did a great job for The Braves and helped build a Championship Club, from the start. Moose Stubbing (Special Asst. to the GM) was with the Angels, all those years. So, we have been provided the resources to go get THE BEST IN THE GAME!! Certainly, we want to be the best in the game at Scouting Development. Its take time though, its not going to be overnight, but we are moving in the right direction."

If you are moving in the right direction, outside of Latin America and Asia, what are the Emerging Markets for baseball talent?

"Today, you have to be everywhere. You have got to be in China. You have got to be in Australia, even though Chris Snelling wasn’t born there, you count him. But, we have to be everywhere, and we are going everywhere. We are just not limited to The Dominican, Venenzuela, Japan, or Korea—WE ARE LOOKING EVERYWHERE!!. Obviously, a lot of things we are doing, we don’t want to discuss, because we don’t want to give our competitors ideas of what we are actually doing. But, I can tell you we are being very aggressive."

Tomorrow--in The Final Chapter with Jim Bowden--its all about the players--"Pitching, Pitching, & Pitching", a whole lot of it (whether its good or not), Nick Johnson, Ryan Church (you know, I would get that question in), Austin Kearns, The GUZ!!, Escobar & Snelling; Is Nook Logan, really the answer in Centerfield??, and did you really have to trade/sell off FAN FAVORITE--Jamey Carroll (Its a great answer!) and HONEST!!

PS-A reader was kind enough to send me a picture of the Nats New BP Cap!! Thank YOU!!