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.