Friday, February 13, 2009

Jim Bowden Likes Sloppy Second Reds

I've been noticeably quiet about the Nationals for awhile now because, well, if you looked at last year's standings so too have the Nationals. But yesterday the team finally made some news in the area and maybe even in the rest of the baseball world, signing slugger Adam Dunn to a two-year, $20 million dollar contract. Many hailed the signing as a win for the Nationals since Dunn was rumored to be commanding something absurd like $100 million when free agency began back in November.

The Nats had been getting hammered by local media lately since up until Dunn signed they had basically shown no propensity to go out and sign free agents that didn't have the name Mark Teixeira. Tom Boswell of the Washington Post, this area's No.1 baseball guy, hailed the move as a great one on the road back to respectability:

The Lerners aren't off the hook. One excellent signing, at a bargain price in a collapsing free agent market, doesn't suddenly transform a franchise. But grabbing Dunn, who's underrated after playing on eight losing Reds teams, it's far more than a start. It's a statement. And, unless you don't enjoy tape-measure home runs, 100 walks, runs and RBI a season, an excellent .381 on-base percentage and a gentle-giant personality, Dunn is also cause for excitement.

Yayyy Nationals, you actually did something semi-coherent by locking up a dude who can hit a lot of home runs at a bargain price.

But judging from the title of this blog, you knew I'd have something wrong with this ... and I do. So at first glance, it appears the Nats pulled off a coup signing a player of Dunn's ability for $20 mil in this terrible economy. Now best-case scenario Dunn is able to stay in left field as Nick Johnson makes a healthy return to the lineup to play first base. But what if Johnson can't come back healthy — kind of a given considering he has played more than 120 games just three times during his eight-year MLB career. Well, the Nats have that covered with Dunn moving over to first base if that happens. It weakens the lineup, but at least there's a contingency plan.

But say Dunn produces at the level everyone expects him to. Plus he has added another dimension to his game by becoming an adequate first baseman. Do you really see him re-signing with the Nationals unless he has significantly improved? To me, this essentially looks like nothing more than a two-year rental. Even Dunn has admitted, this wasn't how he imagined free agency going. Seriously, that's exactly what he said:

"This definitely wasn't how I expected free agency to work. I guess I had some misconceptions about how this would work.''

Basically what that tells me is he's still waiting for his big payday. That's why he did the two-year deal. Although I will say this. Remember Pudge Rodriguez.

He signed a 4-year $40 million contract with a 119-loss Detroit Tigers team in 2004. At the time he was the same type of player Dunn is today. A player who was probably a bit past his prime, but someone you knew exactly what to expect statistics-wise each and every year. Pudge brought some credibility to a then-moribund franchise. The Tigs win total jumped by 29 games in 2004, and two years later the franchise was in the World Series thanks to some savvy additions and strong pitching.

Can the Nationals replicate this? Probably not — especially under the leadership of Gm Jim Bowden. The guy is an incompetent. Seriously.

Since the Nats moved to DC, Dunn is now the 49th player, coach or broadcaster to come from the Cincinnati Reds — the team Jim Bowden used to be the GM of — to the Washington Nationals — the team he is unfortunately the GM of now. Does this make any sense whatsoever? Umm, only to explain the true incompetency of the czar of creating losing baseball teams.

I think I hate him even more on a segway.

This would all make sense if, you know, Bowden was successful in Cincinnati and he wanted to bring his guys here. Well, that's not actually the case. In fact, mere adequacy was the line of the month during those days. During his 11-year reign of mediocrity in Cincy (1993-2003), the Reds had three winning seasons (not including the strike-shortened 1994 season and an overall winning percentage of .491 — not terrible, not great.

Ah, but look more closely and this trend of signing former Reds becomes more disturbing. Cincinnati hasn't had a winning season since 2000 — so basically most of these "young, up-and-coming" fools have never played winning baseball in their lives. How does this make sense as a strategy for building a baseball team? Add on the fact that all of these players Bowden has brought over have had jacked-up stats thanks to the hitter's paradise that is the Great American Ballpark, and you've got the ultimate recipe for continued mediocrity with some 100-loss seasons thrown in their for good measure.

Maybe I'm being too pessimistic about this whole Dunn thing. But I've got a weird feeling — and by weird I mean scarily accurate feeling — that until Jim Bowden's fingerprints are off this franchise, this bad boy is not turning around any time soon.

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