Completing our series looking at what Bowden could have accomplished had he committed to rebuilding on day 1 and executed it well, we pick up with the 05-06 off season, continuing with our strategy of rebuilding with a commitment to youth.
--Do not acquire Alfonso Soriano for Armando Galarraga, Brad Wilkerson, and Terrmel Sledge. "What????!!!???" you say. I say, "We're rebuilding, people. No one-year rentals need apply, especially not when the asking price includes a pitching prospect." And it's just not smart for teams as cash-strapped as the '06 Nats to spend $10m to get to 72 wins. Again, the strategy should be to get as many young, cheap prospects as possible so that we can contend by 2008. The goal is NOT to just keep bouncing between 70 and 80 wins forever.
--Trade Chad Cordero: Chief is one of our better trading chips and should have been traded at his peak value coming off his 2005 all-star year. It's impossible to know what we would have gotten, but let's assume that we flip him for some prospects that have some value, not Reds retreads.
--Trade Wilkerson for prospects. I do like the idea of getting rid of Wilkerson and his $4m salary, but only for prospects. Really, we'd have been better off dealing him in the 2004-05 off season when he was coming off his career year in '04, but the more important point is that we shouldn't be squandering one of our best trading assets to acquire one year of Soriano. Granted, Soriano turned into two compensatory picks, but even if those picks (Jordan Zimmermann and Josh Smoker) pan out, they are even now a couple years away, and that delay makes a difference.
--Do not allow Darrell Rasner to be claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees in order to make room for Matt LeCroy. (See the pattern here? Bowden is not prioritizing youth, pitching, or young pitching.)
--Do not trade Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Daryl Thompson, Brendan Harris, and Royce Clayton for Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Wagner. Another example of a big group of young guys leaving and a smaller group of older, lower-ceiling guys coming back. People loved this deal at the time, but the reality is that Kearns and Lopez have not panned out, Wagner's been hurt, and meantime Harris has been useful, and Bray and Thompson in particular are coming back to haunt us.
--DO! trade Livan Hernandez for Garrett Mock and Matt Chico. (I haven't been noting specifically the moves I wouldn't change, but it's worth flagging that this is really the first point at which Bowden finally stopped mortgaging the future to stay above 70 wins and started the process of rebuilding for a real contender.) Mike Stanton for Shairon Martis is another example of a rebuilding trade that works for me that JimBo did around this time.
With the 8th overall pick in the draft (remember, because we resisted the urge to spend $10m+ on Guzman, Castilla, Loiaza, Guillen, etc. to push the Nats to .500), the Washington Nationals select Tim Lincecum (instead of Chris Marrero at 16).
The 2006 season is played out without Soriano, Kearns, or Guillen in the OF, and their PT going to mostly to Juan Rivera, Church, Byrd, and scrubs. The IF mix without Lopez is Zimmerman, Brendan Harris, Royce Clayton, and Maicer Izturis to go along with Nick J. and Vidro. Bottom line, especially without Soriano and Cordero, this team is really, really terrible. PECOTA says Soriano and Cordero were worth about 13 wins combined over replacement level performance that year, so this team's gonna lose around 105 games. Good news: this is the last year we really suck.
Coming off the historically awful 2006 season, we have the top pick overall in the draft, and take David Price, the prized left-handed starter from Vanderbilt (instead of Ross Detwiler). Since we never traded for Soriano or Guillen, we have no compensatory picks, so no Josh Smoker or Michael Burgess. However, since we have the first pick in the 2nd round, we can still get Jordan Zimmermann.
The 2007 Nationals take some big steps forward. The IF mix is similar--Zimmerman, CBOY Dmitri Young, and Ronnie Belliard, plus Brendan Harris and Maicer Izturis getting most of Lopez's ABs. The OF is a punchless assortment a lot like what you remember, minus the punchless Austin Kearns. In the bullpen, Scott Downs starts pitching great. The rest of the pen is the same, and with Downs in place of the Ray King and Winston Abreu innings, that's damn good. We also have improvement is in the rotation, where Lincecum in mid-season joins the rag tag group of Chico, Redding, Hill, et. al. that we remember to give DC a true front-end for the first time since Walter Johnson.
--Do NOT waste money re-signing Dmitri ($10m/2), who was fine for a minor league contract but a waste at $5m/year.
--Do not block Flores with Estrada and LoDuca, freeing up another almost $6m.
Using the freed up ~$15m in salary from these guys, plus the $10.3m we aren't paying Cordero in '07-'08, the $17.3 we haven't paid Kearns and FLop in '07-'08, the $16m we didn't pay Guzman, and the $25.5m we spent on pointless veterans on bad teams--P. Wilson ($2m), Loiaza ($2.9m), Castilla ($3.1), Soriano ($10m), and Guillen ($7.5m)--that's $85m. Downs costs about $1m, but everyone else is under team control for chump change. We could put that towards, say, signing Aaron Rowand to the 5-year, $60m he got from SF. Or, there's plenty of room without going over the real life '08 payroll of $55m to get Torii Hunter instead at 5 years and $90m.
Amazing the options even a low-budget team has when it doesn't spend stupidly with no long-term plan, isn't it? But we're not quite ready to make a run, so we're going to save the big spending for one more year.
So, in our alternate reality, here's the 25-man at the gleaming new Nationals Park. It's younger, way, way, way cheaper, and better:
RF: J. Rivera
SS: Maicer Izturis
1B: N. Johnson
Bench: Pena, Dukes, Nieves, Boone, B. Harris, with W. Harris, Langerhans, Orr if needed
Starting pitchers: start the year with Lincecum, Hill, Redding, Lannan, and A. Galarraga, with D. Rasner, Balester, or Daryl Thompson available as injuries hit, young guys struggle, or just to upgrade with younger, more talented guys.
Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Scott Downs, S. Rivera, Ayala, Bray, and Bergmann or Colome (with me cheering irrationally for mullet-man Majewski to get the call-up every chance I get).
Other notable prospects in the system: David Price is the star on the horizon who projects to give us the best 1-2-3 in baseball. Teagarden is a promising C in case Flores doesn't pan out, or to trade if they both do. However, because of lost compensatory picks from free agents we didn't sign or higher picks we got, we don't have Detwiler, Willems, Marrero, Smoker, or Burgess. Assume that the prospects we would have gotten for Cordero and Wilkerson would make up for a good chunk of this. Otherwise, Zimmermann, Balester, Maxwell, Smiley, and everyone else we're excited about is still there.
With Price and Lincecum ready to begin their reign of terror on the league, a bunch of other cheap, improving players in the pipeline, and with about $100m in savings stockpiled, we are ready to make a splash in FA and make a true run at the World Series.
Let's assume we have a bump of $5m or so from the $55m we're spending this year (really, in a big market we would go much higher, if Stan's telling the truth about his intentions, but for the argument let's just say).
Because we've been so disciplined about not bringing on older, expensive players, we have just a couple FAs of our own (Juan Rivera, Ronnie Belliard, Aaron Boone), this is plenty of money to make a couple big signings at the $10m-12m/year level. We let all our own FAs walk (or we could re-sign Rivera if the Milledge/Dukes/Pena group isn't ready).
Our biggest need clearly is MI. Good news! That's the strength of the 09 class! We have enough money to get the cream of the crop--I think that's Furcal and O. Hudson (or O. Cabrera if you want to put him at 2B).
And with that, here's the 2009 team, ready to challenge for a WS:
Dukes or Rivera--9
SP: Lincecum, Price, Lannan, Hill, Galarraga (or Chico, Mock, Redding)
Bench: Pena, Teagarden, B. Harris, W. Harris, Izturis
Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Downs, Rivera, Ayala, Bray, and Bergmann, Majewski, or Colome
If Zimmermann, Balester, Maxwell, or any of the prospects we got for Wilky or Cordero are ready they'd be in the mix here too, maybe as bullpen arms or as additional rotation options. Or we could trade them for someone like a C.C. Sabathia or Matt Holliday if needed. Lots of options.
Wow! I'm excited!
Through a well-executed commitment to rebuilding, starting on Bowden's first day on the job in November 2004, he could have built a very talented, young group by now that is competitive today and ready to make a real championship run next year. He would have needed to embrace a strategy of rebuilding and execute it well (especially in the draft), but there's no reason that a well run team, even given the constraints of salary and ownership couldn't have gotten it done.
From 2003 to 2005, the D'Backs hit on Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Mark Reynolds, Micah Owings and Justin Upton. From 2002 to 2005, the Brewers hit on Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Yovani Gallardo. The Red Sox got Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia in the '03-'05 drafts. So is it crazy, pie-in-the-sky cherry-picking to say that we could have come away with Zimmerman, Lincecum, and Price in 3 consecutive drafts? Not really, especially if you're picking #1 overall once and in the top 5 a couple times.
But really Bowden never had a chance of turning the team around. He never committed to rebuilding, at least not till after Kasten came in, running the team like he was hell-bent on 75 wins and no more--ever. In fact, by wasting 2 years trading away youth and giving away draft picks for aging vets and short-term rentals, he basically guaranteed that we would prolong the suffering for 2-3 years more than was necessary.
Bowden's fatal mistake wasn't any particular move or non-move, it was the inability or unwillingness to accurately assess the state of the team in 2004 and to pursue the a long-term strategy to build a contender. That, not any particular move or non-move, is why we're still suffering as fans now. And that's why he should be fired.