Thursday, June 02, 2005

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But, for now, Bodes is our GM

Recently, Newsday baseball columnist Ken Davidoff offered this juicy nugget:

If [Colin] Powell's group, headed by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, gets the [Washington Nationals], it's expected to start off with a very strong move and name Red Sox assistant general manager Josh Byrnes as the GM. Byrnes, bright (like his boss Theo Epstein) and warm (unlike Epstein), very much deserves such an opportunity.

Davidoff's endorsement of Byrnes is nice, but it seems a bit personality-driven. Maybe Davidoff can clarify his perspective here?

The sooner the sale can be executed and Byrnes can take over, the sooner we can bid farewell, again, to current Nationals GM Jim Bowden. When the Nationals visited Bowden's former employers, the Reds, this past week, the always tasteless Bowden - who once compared a potential baseball strike to Sept. 11 - showed up at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati wearing a velvet Nationals jogging suit.

As Bodes might say, "Why you gotta play me like that, dog?" (Incidentally, I think I once heard a rumor that Davidoff walked into the Shea Stadium press box wearing nothing but heart-shaped boxers, but no one's ever firmly verified it.)

Anyway, what have we here? In Byrnes, a forward-thinking young man who is also personable? Mercy me.

Josh Byrnes (Haverford, '92), ready for action---and a snappy dresser!

As Davidoff notes, Byrnes is highly regarded. Almost 18 months ago, Baseball America rated Byrnes as the 10th best GM prospect out there, noting he went from an assistant position with the Colorado Rockies to Epstein's right hand man in Boston. Byrnes' stock has only risen in the interim, and this spring Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe published a feature article on him---one that, incidentally, tied into some Nats' business and mentioned Byrnes' connections with the Fred Malek group. Indeed, Byrnes appears to have a knack for making incredible connections; he went to prep school with Yusef Jackson, son of Jesse---another guy looking to buy into a stake of the Nats, and his childhood babysitter was Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. (That's nothing, though; my mom used to babysit George Freakin' Stephanopoulos! Yeah!)

Anyway, Byrnes is only in his early thirties but has been employed as a front office type for about a decade now---with the Indians, where he was an advance scout, as well as with the Rockies (where he was a major player in the Matt Harrington imbroglio) and Red Sox. He interviewed with the Orioles right out of college, but they couldn't offer him a position. As the Globe article notes, he'd be a prominent candidate in Baltimore, should the Beatagan combo falter, but then again, he'll be a candidate just about anywhere except Tampa Bay, I'd guess.

Byrnes has it all: scouting experience, analytical background, plenty of vigor. And he's nice to Ken Davidoff. The Nats would be foolish not to hire him, given the opportunity.

Well, there's one complication, just a little Larry Brown-Rick Carlisle issue: we've got a man. (Byrnes: "What's your man gotta do with me?") His name is Jim Bowden, and he gets kicked around a good deal (and he dresses in a manner repugnant to Ken Davidoff's aristocratic sensibilities), but he's the GM of a formerly vagabond team . . . with a limited payroll . . . with a winning record (at present, at least). Bowden has wrought his share of liabilities here (what's up, sister Cristian?), but he's generally balanced them with nice moves like giving Esteban Loiaza a reclamation opportunity and trying out Marlon Byrd's potential for a song named Endy. Does he deserve to be fired? I don't know. Should he be retained, if it meant passing on a guy with Byrnes' reputation, credentials, and enthusiasm? Well, I'm not so sure about that.

And what is the price of loyalty? Here, fortunately, it's not so high. Everyone is playing off of everyone else when it comes to the Nats, Bowden included. He'd jump somewhere else, we're told, if someone else came calling. Plus, there's precedent that says dismissing Bowden would not break any rules of etiquette. The last franchise sale that Bud Selig orchestrated, which involved the Red Sox, yielded the Enterprise bridge chair to Epstein, even though Mike Port had already worn in a pretty nice butt-groove.

So there you go: Bowden's status is rather fungible (and he's a bad dresser), Byrnes is well-regarded (and reportedly a very warm gentleman), and some veteran executives (like ex-Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker) are still out there. Should be interesting, indeed---and that's not even considering the fact that little ol' George Soros has now been linked to a prospective ownership group.

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