By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- With the Lerner Group getting close to purchasing the Nationals before the grand reopening at RFK Stadium on July 21, incoming president Stan Kasten announced that general manager Jim Bowden will remain with the team in the same capacity. It's the first move Kasten has made that will affect the on-field product.
Neither Kasten nor Bowden would say how many years the latter will remain with the club, but it's believed that Bowden will get to see such 2006 draft picks as outfielder Chris Marrero and right-hander Colton Willems reach the big leagues, which is expected to happen within four years.
"I look for Jim to be here for a very long time," Kasten said. "All contracts are private, but in terms of GM contracts, even their duration is private. It's just between me and the GM. Nobody knew how long [Braves GM] John Schuerholz's contract was. There is a reason I do it that way.
"I want people to regard a GM as permanent, part of the fabric of creating the long-term plan. They are never to be regarded as interim, short-term, one year or two years. If you announce the end date of a contract, you start counting the days and asking, 'What about his next contract?' "
For Bowden, it will mean that for the first time in his career, he will have money to play with. He didn't have that luxury during his 10 years with the Reds and during his tenure with Washington to date. But the money will not go to big free-agent spending -- most of it will be dedicated to the farm system.
"The Lerner family are dedicated to doing things right," said Bowden. "In the last six weeks, I have spent a lot of time with Stan. I have a lot of respect for him. I have learned a lot in the last six weeks. He wants to do things the right way."
Bowden said he was grateful that the Lerner group stood by him after he was charged with driving under the influence in Miami on the morning of April 17. The case is still pending.
"I apologized for that incident," he said. "But in life, people make mistakes, and if someone is apologetic for a mistake, I think a lot of people will stand by people -- during good times and bad. I'm not perfect. I don't pretend to be."
Bowden became the general manager of the Nationals in November 2004. Since that time, while working with a limited budget, he has tried to put together two competitive teams. In 2005, the team was in the pennant race for most of the season and finished with an 81-81 record. This year, Washington is 33-47, and Bowden is expected to entertain trade offers for such veteran players as Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen and Livan Hernandez, looking for prospects in return.
Bowden and Kasten have been having meetings for weeks to discuss the long-term goal of the Nationals, and they agree that replenishing the farm system -- getting top Minor Leaguers, scouts and player development staffers -- is the top priority. Once the closing is completed, the Nationals will start asking opposing clubs for permission to talk to people.
It was those meetings with Bowden that convinced Kasten to keep him onboard as GM. Bowden has maintained a close relationship with principal owner Mark Lerner, but Lerner said that Kasten would make the ultimate decision.
"He is very smart, and by smart I mean analytical," said Kasten. "I love that. I also believe he is very resourceful. You have to give him that if you watch his tenure either here or in Cincinnati. As we are building this, needing to speed the process up, I need somebody resourceful. Jim is really good at that. That is exactly what we need right now if we are going to turn this around as quickly as we can."
One of the first orders of business for Bowden is to determine the future of manager Frank Robinson, who has been with the organization since 2002. Kasten has said for weeks that he will have an opinion on the situation but that Bowden will make the final decision.
Sounding like a elementary school teacher, Kasten said that Robinson, like others who have worked for the Nationals, will get "a little extra credit in the judgment of the last year and a half."
"No doubt, Jim will confer with me, and no doubt I will have opinions at that time," said Kasten. "I expect the GM to make baseball decisions. That's what his job is."
Bowden would not comment on Robinson's future. Asked if the skipper was safe through the year, he said, "I'm not going to put a timetable on any of those decisions at this time, except to say we will make decisions that are long range for this franchise. We will look at things very thoroughly and make the best decisions will possibly can."