Firing Jim Bowden: How The Nationals Can Actually Win

Captain’s Note: Steven Biel is the Global Warming Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA, but more importantly the writer for the blog Fire Jim Bowden. In the wake of Bowden’s departure I asked Steven for his insight on where the Nationals stand coming into the 2009 season. He was kind enough to contribute his thoughts in this guest post:

Bowden & Kasten are out (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Bowden is out, Kasten is now in (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Now that the Jim Bowden regime is finally over, it’s time to assess where the team stands now and determine a path forward.

The team is much better off in one important way: for the first time, we may have some clarity in chain of command within the organization. The team has always been totally dysfunctional because no one has been allowed to pick their own staff. Stan didn’t want Jim. Jim inherited Dana Brown and had Mike Rizzo imposed on him from above. Manny Acta maybe was Jim’s choice, but it felt at the time more like the new owners forced out Frank Robinson and gave marching orders to find a younger manager. Manny hasn’t always been allowed to hire his own coaches…

Now, we may have some top-down cohesion. That in itself is a huge step forward. I hope that, whoever the next GM is, he’s given free reign to clean house and bring in all his own people. I’m a fan of Manny Acta’s but I’d rather have a united organization.

As for the team on the field, there’s a lot of talk today about how Jim left a core of good young talent to build around. That’s a really generous assessment, I think. The reality is that in order to win a championship, you need at least 2-3 of elite position players and 1-2 elite starting pitchers. For my purpose here, let’s assume an elite player is someone who rates among the top 3-4 players in the league at his position, or top 10-15 for starting pitchers. Then, you also need a whole bunch of good complimentary guys. And finally you can get away with some filler in particular roles, but not a lot.

This team has some complimentary players, lots of filler, and really no elite players at all. And even if you want to project the prospects, we probably don’t have more than one or two players with a chance to become an elite player. A reasonable, unbiased observer would probably say that we don’t have anyone in the organization with a better than 50-50 chance of ever reaching the elite class of their position.

Adam Dunn: Good, not Great (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Adam Dunn: Good, not Great (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Ryan Zimmerman is a great glove at a premium defensive position and a solid #6 hitter on a good team. Good player, not elite. Adam Dunn has an elite bat, but his fielding is poor, which net makes him good, not elite. Jordan Zimmermann has a chance, but projects probably a notch below. Chris Marrero’s ceiling is probably something like Paul Konerko–very good bat, marginal glove: good, not elite. Elijah Dukes probably has the best shot of anyone, but we all know the risk factors there. Nick Johnson at his very best is right on the cusp of elite. If you really want to dream on Micheal Burgess, there’s a virtually unlimited upside, but now you’re talking about a 20-year-old who’s never been above A ball. You get the picture.

And don’t get me started on the Daniel Cabreras and Scott Olsens of the world. These guys barely qualify as complimentary pieces, much less players to build a championship around.

So, bottom line, we have a long, long way to go. An optimistic Nationals fan really shouldn’t be thinking about playoffs in 2010 or even 2011, barring some extreme fluke. Maybe 2012.

The way I see it, the team can do one of two things: work to achieve respectability, let’s say 78-81 wins, in 2010-2011, or they can commit to rebuilding towards a contender. To some extent you can do both at the same time, but you

Crisitan Guzman may be a part of the winning soultion (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Crisitan Guzman may be a part of the winning solution (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

have to commit to one or the other as your priority. The team simply has limited assets (regardless of where you believe that limit should be, a limit DOES exist), and the team needs to invest strategically. So if you’re in re-build mode, you’re going to look to trade your valuable veterans down the stretch for prospects. That means Adam Dunn could once again be on the block this July. If Nick Johnson can stay healthy and return to 2006 form for 3 months, he might still bring back a nice return, even with his health issues. Cristian Guzman, Josh Willingham, Joel Hanrahan–these are all guys who might be able to help a contender and bring back some guys who have a chance to play for a contender down the road.

Of course, if you’re aiming for that elusive respectability, you hoard these types of complimentary pieces and hope for the best. I hope the team resists this temptation. I know, people are tired of the awfulness, but really 78 wins isn’t that much more fun than 60. The goal is to get into the playoffs and compete for a World Series. And we’re really not much if at all closer to that today than we were in November 2004. The new guy should fully commit to rebuilding and aim for a World Series by 2012.

1 Comment so far

  1. Sports Chatter: Are Nick Johnson’s Days Numbered? | Washington D.C. Metblogs (pingback) on March 16th, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    […] nor do the Nationals want to be paying him as much as they are at that position. I think Steve, our guest blogger earlier this week, hit it on the head-Johnson’s role will be trade bait. He’s not really athletic enough […]

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