And so, the latest in a growing list of deadlines gets scratched from the list. You didn’t REALLY think the Nationals’ new owner would be announced next week when MLB owners meet in Milwaukee, did you? Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced yesterday morning that there will not be a vote among the owners next week, and there is no timetable for the process to be completed: "It won't happen by the owners meetings and I can't give you a timetable." Selig is now interviewing the eight potential ownership groups himself: “All these people have spent a lot of time, money and effort and they certainly each deserve one interview. I've really enjoyed it. I've done five interviews already and I'm trying to do the rest as quickly as possible.” It’s quite a relief to hear that, at the very least, Bud is enjoying himself.
MLB owners don't meet again until mid-January. Could that be the new target date for the process to be completed? At this rate, it's probably not a stretch. Throw in the fact that baseball execs continue to point the finger at the inability of the DC City Council to come to an agreement on the lease for the new stadium and you've still got a major roadblock in the way of the sale's completion -- even though MLB President Bob DuPuy hinted a few weeks ago that an owner could be selected if the lease agreement continues to be a sticking point. So what's the story with the delay? Blame the grandstanding city council? Blame MLB? Here's the likely answer: Bud has already picked his man. It's Smulyan. Jeff Smulyan is baseball's choice. He's Jerry Reinsdorf's buddy. He's viewed as an outsider in DC, but he's the man who'll be handed the keys to the franchise. The real reason for the delay is that Bud is still trying to figure out how he's going to deliver the bad news to the District.
>Well, it's a good thing Jim Bowden interviewed for the Red Sox open GM position yesterday (which he referred to as his "dream job"): at least the interview gave him a reason to have traveled to the GM meetings in California. Bowden really has no other reason to be there. What is he going to do, talk trades with all the real GMs? Give him credit for the Castilla-for-Lawrence trade last week which opened up the door for Ryan Zimmerman at third, but the only reason he was able to pull it off is simply because it didn't cost the team any cash. Period. The glaring holes in the Nats roster (two or three starters, a lefty in the 'pen, a leadoff hitter, a big bat) will only be filled when an owner is in place that will give the green light to open the check book. Period. It's that old familiar position again for baseball's bastard sons: The Nationals, and Bowden, are completely handcuffed.
>Meanwhile, the theory that the Nationals and Red Sox will essentially swap GMs continues to gain some steam, although one popular but unlikely rumor in Boston has Theo Epstein returning to the Red Sox, who are reportedly making a push to get Theo to reconsider his decision to resign. But how about this quote from the Boston Globe's rumor mill: "One major league executive told the Globe's Gordon Edes he thought the odds were '80-20' that Epstein would resurface as the general manager of the Nationals after that club is sold: ''How can he not wind up in D.C?' the executive said. 'That's the biggest free agent signing anyone could make.'" If you're a Nats fan, you gotta like those odds. If you're a Sox fan, you're in trouble.
>Congrats to Frank Robinson on being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House yesterday. Oh yeah, Robinson came in fourth in NL manager of the year voting, too. Old Frank, whose return to the club is completely up in the air (his contract expired on Oct. 31), summed up the sale of the team in today's Washington Post: "It's not fair to this ballclub and this organization to be put in this position for the coming season because we're behind on moves and things we can do and approaching players, the free agent market, either signing free agents or even really seriously talking to them...Just overall, the feeling and the atmosphere around this ballclub is that we're at a disadvantage."
''Anyone who knows me knows I grew up a Red Sox fan and this would be a dream job...It's an honor and a privilege to be interviewed for the opportunity. I don't look at it as an opportunity to replace Theo. I look at it as an opportunity to carry the baton in the same direction." (Jim Bowden - 11/8/2005 - Boston Globe)
Jim Bowden has been identified as one of the first candidates to be interviewed for the Red Sox vacant GM position. Bowden has indicated that his first choice would be to stay in Washington, but you can't blame him for looking elsewhere as the sale of the team drags on and his ability to restock for the 2006 season is seriously hampered each day that goes by without a decision. Then there's the bigger question of job security: there's no guarantee that Bowden, who signed a 6 month extension with the team last month, will even have a job when a new owner is finally selected. According to Peter Gammons, "there are many who feel that if the Frederick Malek group gets the Nationals, Epstein will be their first choice." Considering that MLB has already decided, but hasn't announced, that Jeff Smulyan's group will take over the team after the stadium lease deal is completed, that outcome seems very unlikely.
Is there really any point in Jim Bowden travelling to Palm Springs for the general mangers' meetings next week? Is there a single move of consequence that can be made at this point? Bowden will continue to be handcuffed until a new owner is in place. Throw out last week's Castilla-for-Lawrence trade: the only reason he was able to get it done is because it was a financial wash for the team. Bowden has told the coaching staff that they should seek employment elsewhere; there are no guarantees.
According to Saturday's Washington Post, two full days of wrangling between MLB officials and the District over the Nationals stadium lease yielded no agreement. MLB officials are still standing by their position that they will not pick a new owner for the team until the lease is finalized. Earlier in the week, the grandstanding and foolishness of the DC City Council reached yet another low as Ward 5 council member Vincent Orange sued council chairman Linda Cropp after Cropp rendered a meeting of the Government Operations Committee to be not a part of the council's official stadium record. Cropp also reportedly turned off the PA system and the heat in the meeting room being used by Orange.
Political connections? Check. Local ties? Check. Ability to write a big, fat check with a lot of zeros tacked onto the end? Check. Ability to survive a plane crash in 1973? Check. Ability to wiggle out of numerous financial disasters with the deftness of Houdini? Check. Ladies and gentlemen of the District, meet Franklin Haney. He'd like to be the next owner of your Nationals, and he has even offered to pay up to $200 million in cost overruns on the new stadium out of his own pocket. So why isn't he considered one of the front runners for owning the team? In its ongoing series profiling the contenders and pretenders in the race to own the Nats, the Washington Post put the spotlight on Haney in today's edition, and also dedicated a few column inches to the other also-rans. Earlier in the week, the spotlight was on the Big Three: Smulyan. Malek/Zients. Lerner. As reported in the Nationals Enquirer earlier in the week, Bud Selig has already picked his man: Smulyan. The announcement, which reportedly could be made at a meeting of team owners Nov. 16th-17th, continues to be delayed in part because of the unsettled lease agreement for the new stadium.
The one that got away? Thom Loverro of the Washington Times pounds sand over the fact that Pat Gillick signed on with Philly to be their GM, going as far to refer to him as one of "the two best GMs of their time." Loverro goes on to bash the trendy wave of "prep school boy" GMs: naming Epstein (ex-BOS), Byrnes (AZ), and Daniels (TX) as the demon spawn of a stats-heavy new age of front office management.
On Thursday night, the Nationals traded Vinny Castilla, his bad knees, hockey hair, and the $3.2 million he's owed in '06 to San Diego for pitcher Brian Lawrence, his bad career, and his $3.5 million contract for '06. The Padres are reportedly picking up the difference between the two contracts. As everybody knows, for the Nationals this deal had nothing to do with Lawrence, a little to do with Castilla, and everything to do with Ryan "Don't Call Me Brooks" Zimmerman, who has done nothing but hit since arriving on the scene in the spring as the Nats #1 draft pick. In keeping with the hitting theme, Zimmerman has been tearing up the Arizona Fall League. With the third base job basically handed to him, let's hope Zimmerman doesn' t get too comfortable: "Not that I needed anything to get ready for in the offseason, but this gives you kind of a sense of security." Good move by Bowden, good move for the Nats. Jim should keep his eyes open for a viable backup at third base (his plan for using Brendan Harris just isn't going to cut it), should the largely untested Zimmerman fall on his face in the spring.
"There would be overruns if it were a Cadillac stadium...They may no longer do a Cadillac, but they may do a Buick or Ford." (DC Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp 11/2/05 - Washington Times)
Ah yes, the steadily rising project costs for the new stadium in Southeast. Cropp intimated that because of costs that are overshooting project estimates, the final product for the stadium will be something purely functional, like a Buick or Ford, rather than a tricked out Cadillac. According to the report, Steve Green, director of development in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development said: "It will be a great design and a first-class facility." Green mentioned off the record that the stadium would have no seats. (Washington Times 11/2/05)
Should the group led by locally-rooted Frederic Malek be considered as the odds on favorite for securing the ownership of the Nationals? That's what Thomas Heath of the Washington Post would have you believe. And in fine DC fashion, the group is not above shooting dirty pool: "Some involved in the sale process quietly suspect the Malek-Zients team of orchestrating media and political attacks against fellow bidders. These include sowing doubt about the reliability of Indianapolis media mogul Jeff Smulyan..." (Washington Post 11/2/05)
Thom Loverro reports that MLB has asked bidders for the Nationals to considering merging, yet another sign that the process of selling the team is finally, mercifully, nearing its end: "All indications are that the process for selecting an owner is down to its final stages, where a merger or movement of investors from one group to another could take place." (Washington Times 11/1/05)
Among many other things, Tony Kornheiser hates Jim Bowden. If he had his way, the first order of business for the new owner would be to hire Theo Epstein. Speaking of Bowden, apparently Tony K. isn't the only one: Props to Capitol Punishment for digging up this link to Fire Jim Bowden dot com, which appears to be some sort of preemptive strike by a Dodger fan/Bowden hater.
"No matter what the budget number is, there is going to be room for at least one big starting pitcher." - Jim Bowden (10/31/05).
Let's hope by "big" he's not tipping us off that the Nats have ex-Oriole Sidney Ponson in their sights.
No, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, Jim Bowden has held preliminary discussions with the agents for free agent starters A.J. Burnett (12-12 3.44 ERA in 32 games in '05), Kevin Millwood (9-11 2.86 ERA in 30 games in '05), and Jarrod Washburn (8-8 3.20 ERA in 29 games in '05). Nats should steer clear of clubhouse cancer Burnett, and focus on Millwood and Washburn.