Nationals GM Jim Bowden moves swiftly

the Orioles' Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan are more deliberate. Which team makes better deals? Time will tell.

Riding trade road at varying speeds

Baseball Week

July 31, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN STAFF

IT'S AN INTRIGUING case study in baseball management.

Two of this season's most surprising teams reside in our Beltway corridor.

Both the Orioles and Washington Nationals are fading. Both could use heavy doses of momentum, and maybe a shot comes before today's 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.

That's for the respective general managers to decide - and they couldn't be more different in pursuing upgrades.

What Washington's Jim Bowden and the Orioles' GM tandem of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan have in common is that they all are working on expiring contracts.

Observing their team-building styles, though, is like flipping channels between a NASCAR race and a PGA event.

There are skills and strategy involved with both. Which is better can be debated. But you won't get them confused.

Bowden approaches transactions at a breakneck speed. He's not reckless, but he'll step on the pedal and take a risk. And if he misfires, it could leave scars.

He'll trade a prospect like B.J. Ryan (from the Cincinnati Reds in 1999 for Juan Guzman) if it means filling an immediate hole in a pennant race. He'll do it because his focus is on the now, his confidence is unwavering and his mind is always racing.

One industry executive said that when talking trade with Bowden the feeling is if a proposed trade isn't completed, he'll quickly find another partner because he's got so many prospective deals circulating through his mind at once.

Beattie and Flanagan are always thinking, too. But they approach personnel moves like they are lining up a putt at Augusta: slow, methodical. They want to make sure they leave no margin for error.

If they pull up short, it's not the end of the world. They'll just sink a safer putt, pick up their ball and move on. History will show whether the extra stroke was fatal.

One agent who dealt with them this winter said the Orioles' front office was extremely professional and thorough. But a deal never got done because Beattie and Flanagan exhibited no sense of urgency. It makes you wonder how long it took to pull off the Ramon Nivar for Matt Riley blockbuster this March that rocked the baseball world. Seriously, they've made a half dozen or so trades since March 2003 and none has raised the team's play. Perhaps it's coincidence; perhaps their caution has tempered the magnitude of the deals.

Their perceived hesitancy is viewed as a weakness by understandably impatient fans starving for a winner. Slow movement can be costly; the flip side is possible, too.

They have avoided bad moves by not making impulse purchases. Early on in 2003, the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted utility man Melvin Mora.

The Orioles didn't need Mora, but when the Dodgers balked on giving up one of their best prospects, the Orioles saw no reason to budge. The trade didn't happen, and now Mora is an All-Star third baseman and perhaps one of the club's three best players.

Flanagan and Beattie also have a much different hierarchy to work with than Bowden. No matter the deal in Baltimore, ultimately it must go before team owner Peter Angelos, who will quash it if he thinks it isn't prudent.

He nixed a potential offseason trade for Oakland's Tim Hudson that would have sent pitchers Erik Bedard, Hayden Penn and John Maine to the Athletics. He also didn't back a recent proposal from Florida that would have sent Penn, relievers Jorge Julio and Steve Kline and outfielder Larry Bigbie to the Marlins for starter A.J. Burnett and expensive third baseman Mike Lowell.

So the two-headed GM's trepidation has deep roots. Conversely, Bowden doesn't have a vetoing owner. In fact, he has no owner at all.

It's a concept that makes some Orioles fans giddy. But it isn't as liberating as it sounds. The Nationals are still Major League Baseball's property. Bowden reports to team president Tony Tavares, who adheres to an MLB-approved budget. Bowden must stay within those payroll constraints. There's no blank check. No sweet-talking to persuade his owner to crack open the wallet.

It's another type of challenge.

All of it makes this trade deadline especially interesting. Neighboring teams with pennant hopes and opposite methods of achieving the same goal.

It won't be known until October- maybe even later - as to which style worked better. The season's final results, however, likely will decide whether the three GMs will be back for another case study in 2006.

EXTRA BASES

Say what?

"Do I feel unwanted? Not by the people in the clubhouse."

Then-San Diego Padres first baseman Phil Nevin after he evoked the no-trade clause in his contract and turned down another attempt by the Padres to deal him, this time to the Orioles for pitcher Sidney Ponson. Yesterday, the Padres' trade of Nevin to the Texas Rangers was approved by the commissioner.

Who's he?

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