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JIMMY BOWDEN HAD AN AXE ... HE GAVE HIS TEAM SIX QUICK WHACKS

[October 3rd] -- Little Jimmy Bowden was a busy boy on Tuesday.

The Nationals have begun the process of clearing out the disabled and infirm, releasing pitchers Pedro Astacio, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Joey Eischen and Felix Rodriguez.

Impact on the 2007 season: ZERO.

Pedro Astacio was a bargain-basement pickup meant to replace right-hander Brian Lawrence, who blew out his arm on the first day of spring training. I never felt good about his acquisition. His last "good" season was with the Mets in 2002 when he went 12-11, 4.79. He dropped to 2-3, 7.63 the next year and went 0-0, 10.38 with Boston in 2004. He started 2005 with the Rangers, and played poorly, going 2-8, 6.04 before being released late in the summer. He was picked up for the pennant drive by the Padres and did well, going 4-2, 3.17 in 10 starts. Bowden Forgot all about 2003, 2004 and most of 2005, when Astacio was a terrible starting pitcher. He zoned in on those 10 starts and anointed him as Lawrence's replacement. It didn't work. Astacio limped into the off-season with a 5-5, 5.98 record. Someone will take a chance on him, but it won't be the Nationals. Thank goodness.

Zach Day's return to Washington produced no better results than his first time through, both of which surprises me. He was one of the true young stars on the Expos' team that moves south in the fall of 2004. Many scouts believed he had one of the three best sinkers in the major leagues, and that it was only a matter of time before Day would become a solid top-of-the-rotation starter. He went 13-9, 3.77 in his first two seasons with Montreal before faltering to a 5-10 record in his last season in Montreal. His ERA, however, was still a very respectable 3.93. No one knows what happened to him in 2005, as he went 1-2, 6.75 before incurring the wrath of Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden. He was ultimately traded to the Colorado Rockies for Preston Wilson for the team's aborted pennant chase. His second trip through D.C. was no better than his first, going 1-3, 4.72 before right shoulder tendenitis finished his season in late May. Day will certainly find a job next season, though it will be in somebody's bullpen. He'd be an ideal reliever to come into a tight situation and induce a ground-ball double play.

Ryan Drese is an enigma. During his tenure in Washington, he was either near perfect or out of the game by the 3rd inning. He was perhaps the Rangers' best pitcher in 2004, going 14-10 with a 4.20 ERA, great for Texas' small park. He started off slowly in 2005, going 4-6, 6.46 before being waived by the Rangers. Many Rangers' players voiced a quiet discontent about losing Drese, but became vocal, almost apoplectic, when Drese pitched his first game with the Nationals. Going up against the Los Angeles Angels, he gave up only a couple of hits in eight innings. He had two other good games, against the (as I remember) Cubs and Pirates. But the rest of his starts were very bad. Drese said last month that he hopes to be pitching again in the last month or two of next season. Even at that, he'll probably have to pay his dues in the minors for a year before another team is willing to take a chance on his 1) poor performance over the past two seasons and 2) surgically repaired right arm.

Joey Eischen has my sympathy. After a splendid season for the Nationals in '05 (2-1, 3.22), Bowden re-signed him to a one year contract for 2006. Eischen was one of the few players willing to return to the Nationals with the team's future still uncertain. From opening day, however, Eischen couldn't get anyone out. By the time he was placed on the disabled list, his record stood at 0-1, 8.59. Eischen was flamed by fans, management, heck, his dog was probably hiding his keys. I mean, how could a good pitcher suddenly "loose it?" Well, a torn rotator cuff is a pretty good reason. Take a look at other pitchers over the years who suffered that injury, and they also had poor outings before being diagnosed. Eischen tried to pitch through the pain, and the difficulty he was having was reflected in his stats. I would love to have shown that same loyalty to Eischen that he showed to us and bring him back, but his age (36) and his injury, suggest that there isn't much hope for him to return to the major leagues as an effective reliever any time soon.

Felix Rodriguez' problems came as a total surprise to me. He was dominant in 2000 and 2001, going 13-3, 2.18 during that span. Since then, his ERA had been in the mid 3.00's until he imploded last year in New York. On the day he signed, I predicted that he would be a solid addition to the bullpen, going something like 4-2, 3.22. I wasn't even close. He looked bad when he pitched, and he looked bad just sitting on the bench and watching the game. He's 34 now, and that 7.67 ERA isn't very appealing to teams in search of pitching.

Brian Lawrence's future is less clear. After being traded to the Nationals for Vinny Castilla (that trade didn't work out for either team, did it?), he hurt his arm on the first day of spring training. We're talking that first warm up session. Because he had some solid years for the Padres (25 combined wins in '03 and '04), I thought the Nats would consider bringing him back, but I understand that his contract made it impossible to do so. The club had an option to sign him to a $5.7 million dollar contract for next year, or buy him out for about $500,000. They chose the latter -- though the Padres are paying about 80% of the buyout amount. What I don't know is if they can still bring him back under a new, incentive laden deal. My guess is that if Lawrence can find work elsewhere, he'll probably move on; it's not like he has any ties or loyalty to the Nationals. But remember the problems that Tony Armas had finding work last winter? The Rockies were the only other team to offer him a contract, and they weren't very serious at that. Perhaps the rest of the teams will be too concerned with his health to offer him anything of consequence, and he might remain here because he has no other options.

We'll just have to wait and see how this plays out. That said, rotoworld.com believes that whoever lands Lawrence next year is going to have to pony up some guaranteed dollars to get him.

These weren't major transactions, but they were necessary ones. The fans needed to be assured that the team was no longer going to look to older, injury prone veterans to plug holes in the roster. Players like Brett Campbell and Chris Schroeder can be just as bad as Felix Rodriguez and Joey Eischen -- might as well give them the opportunity.


Comments:
THE NATS SHOULD STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND OFFER LAWRENCE SOME GREEN TO STAY. HE COULD BE A SOLID #4 STARTER.
 
No matter what, one of these guys is going to revive his career and end up making Bowden look really stupid. Of course, that isn't hard, is it?
 
"Little Jimmy Bowden"?? Not on your life. He is sporting a very wide girth these days. That chick he dates (who beat up the Miami Beach cop) must be a good cook.
 
I too would have liked to have kept Lawrence -- I think he still has the potential to be a 13 game winner, something desperately needed in the rotation.
 
The club option price to keep Lawrence was way to expensive for a pitcher with a bum shoulder. The Nats can still sign him to a much more reasonable contract with the customary incentives.
 
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