Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jim Needs a Vote of Confidence

What? Have I finally totally lost my mind and decided that Jim Bowden shouldn't be fired? No, of course not. Any GM that watches his team get steadily worse and bottom out (we hope) at 102 losses in year four should face the music.

But if the Nationals are NOT going to fire Bowden, then they need to cut out the gag orders and the "we'll see" answers to questions about his future. They need to state clearly that he's in charge and that he's not going anywhere.

The worst situation for any team, especially a long-term rebuilding franchise like the Nationals, is to have a GM publicly fighting for his job and lacking the clear support of the team. Like it or not, right now Jim's the guy in the GM chair, and to have a functioning, credible organization--any organization, not just an MLB team--the chain of command needs to be clear.

With the Nationals, no one picked anyone who works for them. Stan didn't want Jim. Jim got stuck with Mike Rizzo and Dana Brown. Manny Acta wasn't really his choice either. And Manny hasn't been allowed to pick his coaches. It's totally dysfunctional.

Unfortunately, to create clarity, the Lerners will almost surely have to get rid of either Bowden or Kasten. That's an arranged marriage that just will not work. Their styles are too different, and the lack of respect between them is obvious to everyone paying attention.

So, Messrs. Lerner, you know the decision I want you to make. But if you're not going to make that decision, you have to make some decision. Someone has to be clearly in charge with your backing, and if that's Jim, then state that clearly. Let him hire and fire his own people. If that means he gets rid of Rizzo, Brown, Manny, and replaces them with the whole extended Boone family, so be it. Let Jim sink or swim, and hopefully at some point hold him accountable for the results.

* * *

On an separate point, there's a thread of thinking in the Natmosphere, started by Chris Needham and continued this week by Harper at OMG, that the primary reason Jim should be fired isn't the performance of the team on the field but the off-field distractions.

[Ed note: Chris in the comments makes clear that I misunderstood his position, and that he and I are more on the same page on this than I had previously thought. If we disagree at all, it's probably only a matter of degrees of emphasis. The same is probably the case for Harper as well.]

As Chris wrote at season's end:
He's made some solid moves over the last few years, it's the horsecrap that surrounds him -- it's always a circus -- that means he's gotta go.
Harper states his position with a bit more nuance, but the basic gist is the same.

I don't understand this line of thinking at all. No, Jim isn't the only problem with this organization--as I just got done saying, Jim's not even totally in charge. And yeah, it's true the off-field silliness from the DUI to the Manny wig to the constant self-serving press leaks to the FBI investigation and Smiley-Gate... these things all add to the sense that there's no justification for keeping him here.

But if the Nationals had made the playoffs in 2008, there would be no conversation. He could be texting "you dead dawg" to his baby momma, and I'd still probably want him here, if the team was winning. In fact, if trend-line was even remotely positive, then there would be at least some debate in the matter. But it's not--the team is awful and just keeps getting worse, and there's basically no chance that the team will contend anytime in the next 3-4 years.

I've always recognized the litany of challenges facing Bowden in this job... the state of the Expos' minor leagues in 2004, the threadbare scouting department from '04-'06, the less-than-unlimited spending of the Lerners, the injuries... but now it's four-and-a-half years since Jim was hired as GM, and the excuses just don't wash anymore.

Even in the dark days of MLB ownership, facing contraction, playing home games in San Juan, the franchise was never the on-field embarrassment it was in 2008. As they say in the team essay about the Natspos in the new Baseball Prospectus annual, "through thin and thinner, the on-field product always retained a modicum of dignity... until 2008."

Ultimately, I agree with Boz's column on Bowden this week. Assuming Jim isn't found to be the criminal mastermind behind SmileyGate, then he can and should be allowed to save his job by simply winning. Of course, I don't think he should be given that chance, but if he stays and the team wins, then I'll have to eat crow.

In fact, I'll say right now that if the Nationals win 82 or more games this year--merely enough to get over .500--I'll back off my call for Jim to be fired, at least for the 2009-2010 off-season. See? I'm not so hard to appease. Just one more win than loss--that's all I need to give Jim a reprieve.

Winning--and only winning--will hush Jim's critics. And that's how it should be.


Chris Needham said...

The point I was making there -- and helluva job knocking a strawman! -- is that he's not doing anything ON OR OFF the field to warrant him sticking around.

I'm still continuously amazed at your ability to argue the same side of the same coin.

-- Bowden's incompetent!
-- No, he's terrible!
-- He's stupid!
-- No, you're wrong, you said yourself way back on May 3, 2006 that he's dumb!

Steven said...

That's more like what Harper argued. Your statement was clear--it was the off-field stuff, not the losing, that meant he had to go. If you didn't mean that, you should have been more clear.

It's hard to call it a straw man when I copied your exact words.

But I'll take this as your always-charming way of acknowledging that you were wrong.

Chris Needham said...

Well, the second sentence of my comments -- about how many of his moves haven't really worked out -- is missing, but if you want to keep doing your close-reading analysis of my archives, i'm sure you can isolate short things I've said that are wrong for years.

Chris Needham said...

And seriously... it's a round-table discussion.

1) you're not going for in-depth analysis considering every freakin' viewpoint

2) if someone says something you agree with, you don't necessarily stop and say 'gee you're right, I agree with you' and then continue agreeing on the same decided point for the next 20 sentences.

If I had objected to Harper, I'd have said so.

Steven said...

Your full statement, in context, for the record:

It's time.

He's made some solid moves over the last few years, it's the horsecrap that surrounds him -- it's always a circus -- that means he's gotta go. Too many of his moves are akin to someone making preseason predictions. You can crow (there's that word again!) all you want about the ones you got right, and the louder you do that, the less people notice all the ones you screwed up.

I'm not sure where you're saying you intended to note that Bowden's made bad moves.

When I objected to your point in the comments, Harper defended you with this:

There are three reasons why this team isn't a winner

1) The horrible shape of the major league and minor league teams when the team was moved

2) The lack of monetary commitment to the team by MLB for the first two year and by the Lerner the last two

3) Questionable moves by Bowden, et al

If you believe that the first two far outweigh the third then "the crap" could easily be a bigger reason for firing him than the poor performance of the team.

He didn't seem to think I was misunderstanding you.

Chris Needham said...

Fine. you're right. you win.


He's the best GM in the league.

Again, since you like to do close-reading analysis, I'll say it again so you understand:

"Bowden does not do a good enough job on or off the field to warrant being our GM."

Simple enough.

Steven said...

What I mean is that although you do acknowledge the existence of bad moves in the second part of your comment, I took that as criticizing his constant self-serving spinning in the media, not the moves themselves.

I think your comment was pretty clear, that it's NOT his roster management but his PR problems that justify his firing in your mind.

If you've changed your mind on this or just didn't really think through what you were saying on that day, then fine, we don't disagree. But I think I represented your position fairly in my original post.

Chris Needham said...

Yes, you're misreading it. You're reading one part of a sentence -- one short thing -- and isolating it from the context of everything else that's going on.

Sure, it'd be nice if I had made my whole case right there, but that's not what that format's for. It's for tossing around general issues.

And in that context, I was saying that I'm so tired of the off-field crap that (when combined with the on-field junk, which i allude to in the last part of the exceprt), that it's time for leatherpants to go.

Yeah, I could've expanded on it, but I didn't think it was that important a distinction to make, assuming that the Nats fans reading it would understand the ENTIRE context of the statement, and all the associated arguments.

Steven said...

"Bowden does not do a good enough job on or off the field to warrant being our GM."

I agree with this as far as it goes, but I would further state that the off-field stuff is far less important. That's where I think we 3 (you, me, Harper) don't totally agree, on the relative importance of these issues.

To me, it's always been the bottom line. I reject the carte blanche excuses because I think even under the circumstances he's faced, that he should have done better, and because I think it's the GM's job to figure out how to get it done, not to make a respectable showing or simply avoid glaringly awful moves.

You've always been more willing to give him some additional benefit of the doubt because you blame the ownership more than I do. I have my gripes with the owners, but not like yours.

And you've also always been more bothered by his off-field antics and media show-boating, which I don't like but it's just never been the first thing about him that gets me, the way I think it is for you.

I don't think I'm making a strawman argument here--I'm just discussing a difference of opinion that I think is real and legitmate.

Chris Needham said...

I don't think that's entirely accurate though.

Yes, I bitch about him being a Grade-A ham, but that's not the main case for why he should be fired.

Yes, the owners appear to be cheap, and unwilling to run the team like the upper-level market it is.

Those are all factors in how I view him, but, yes, the basic case for firing Bowden does rest on his track record, and not a Downs-level analysis of what he's done.

When I defend Bowden -- and I've done a lot of that over the last year -- it's not because I like the guy or think he's doing a bang-up job. It's not even because I want him to stick around.

But there are LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of unfair cheapshots lobbed at the guy, and far too attention paid to the things he does do well -- such as the hitting eye you mentioend in that other post.

I defend him from the cheapshots, but that doesn't mean I want him around. I can still hate the guy and think him an incompetent buffoon while acknowledging his strengths.

And those other factors just add or subtract on the margins; they don't change the bottom line.

Mark said...

Great argument guys. Lots of nuance.

My question is this: WILL YOU CHANGE THE NAME OF THE BLOG if the NATS go over .500?

Let's hear you say it now!

I agree with Manny --- this is a better team than the one that made a run at 500 in '06. 81 wins is possible.

Natty Dread in Nairobi

An Briosca Mor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven said...

@Chris--I agree with your last comments 100%. I try to keep it fair, give Jim credit where credit is due, and all that. I'm sure I don't always hit the mark, and all the comments (yours but also everyone else's) have been useful to help me refine my thinking on this topic and many others.

@Mark--you got it. 82 wins, and I'll change the blog name. That's my pledge.

Michael said...

I really want to have no part of a GM who would trade Jon Rauch for Emilio Bonifacio. On the other hand, there is something to be said for a GM who can convert Bonifacio into Olsen and Willingham. Still, I'd rather have Rauch than any of them.