The Washington Nationals, still without an owner or a solid plan for their front office structure for 2006, are in the process of completing a contract extension for General Manager Jim Bowden, two baseball sources said, though any announcement likely won't come until after the World Series.
Bowden's current contract expires Oct. 31, as do all the deals for the Nationals' front office staff. But with free agency approaching quickly after the World Series, the Nationals want to make sure they're in a position to pursue trades and other signings to improve a team that finished 81-81, last in the National League East.
Nationals President Tony Tavares wouldn't comment on an extension.
"There won't be decisions until after the World Series is over," Tavares said yesterday. Bowden also declined to comment yesterday. Any extension would have to be approved by Major League Baseball, which owns the team.
Meanwhile, MLB President Bob DuPuy indicated yesterday for the first time that an owner for the Nationals could be selected before a lease agreement is reached between MLB and the D.C. Council, which has yet to approve the lease deal.
If negotiations bog down, "then we will have to review the situation," DuPuy said yesterday in Houston. "We have to get the new owners in place before next season. It's not fair to the new owners to not have this done."
Though Bowden has been in contact with the Arizona Diamondbacks about their vacant general manager's job, he prefers to stay in Washington. The Diamondbacks are pursuing Kevin Towers, the general manager of the San Diego Padres.
Still, while an extension for Bowden would provide near-term stability, it likely won't extend into next season, one source said. Baseball officials are still in the process of choosing from among eight groups interested in purchasing the Nationals from MLB. Tavares has said he believes the new owner should have the right to choose the team's president, general manager and manager.
Bowden took the job as Washington's general manager last November. His reputation is as a wheeler-dealer, and he said last week that he is already working on trades for the 2006 season.
"I talk about trades every day," he said. The team has offers out to the two free agents it would most like to retain, pitchers Esteban Loaiza and Hector Carrasco, though both are expected to test the free agent waters. Players can begin filing for free agency after the World Series.
Meantime, Tavares, who is also unsure of his future, has begun thinking of different ways to structure ticket prices, including making more desirable games, such as weekend dates against teams such as the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees, more expensive, but offering discounts for games that would traditionally draw smaller crowds, such as Monday and Tuesday nights against lackluster opponents.
"There wouldn't be any difference in cost for the season ticket holder," Tavares said. "It's something we're thinking about. It's something we'll continue to discuss."
Tavares also said the club is trying to figure out how to combat ticket scalping, which he considered to be a major problem during the Nationals' first season in town. He said the club may offer a service in which season ticket holders who know they won't be able to use a set of seats on a given night could offer the tickets back to the club and pay a processing fee. The club would then be able to offer some of those prime seats back to the public, perhaps taking scalpers out of the equation.
"We're going to knock these ideas around," Tavares said.