VIERA, Fla. — Jim Bowden's final move as Washington Nationals general manager was his own resignation.
Bowden abruptly stepped down Sunday morning after four seasons, leaving under the cloud of a federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to Latin American prospects.
He has maintained his innocence in the matter, but said Sunday, "I've become a distraction.
"It's an emotional decision. It saddens me. But I feel it's in the best interest of two of the things I love the most, and that's the Washington Nationals and baseball," Bowden added.
Seated at a table with Nationals president Stan Kasten before a small contingent of reporters and team officials, Bowden read from a prepared statement, sometimes deviating from the script as he struggled to contain his emotions.
No replacement was immediately announced.
"We're not planning on missing a beat," Kasten said. "Our staff has a meeting tomorrow morning, first thing. I'm not going to have anything to say to you about next steps for a while — later in the week."
Bowden is the only GM the Nationals have had since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington before the 2005 season, overseeing a team that went 81-81 in that debut season but has been below .500 ever since.
Last season, the Nationals were a major league-worst 59-102.
"It takes a lot of courage for (Bowden) to do that," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said after Sunday's 7-5 exhibition loss to Baltimore. "Is he perfect? No. But few are brighter and few work harder."
Bowden's tenure with the club was marked by such moves as the trade for Alfonso Soriano, the failure to re-sign Soriano, free-agent busts such as Paul Lo Duca and reclamation projects such as Dmitri Young.
"When I came here ... the single thing that stood out for me about why we needed someone with Jim's skill is that he's resourceful," Kasten said. "We needed someone that would look around every corner, look under every rock to find the pieces that we could put into place. Because of that, we have a foundation that looks very exciting for '09."
Bowden also drew unwanted off-field attention, including in 2006, when he was charged with driving under the influence after failing a field sobriety test while in Miami.
He met last year with FBI investigators looking into allegations of skimming of bonuses, and SI.com reported last weekend that Bowden's actions are being examined as far back as 1994, when he was GM of the Reds.
"I am disappointed by the media reports regarding investigations into any of my professional activities," Bowden said in his statement. "There have been no charges made, and there has been no indication that parties have found any wrongdoing on my part."
Bowden's resignation came three days after former Reds pitcher Jose Rijo, a special assistant to Bowden, was fired by the Nationals.
That was fallout from an MLB investigation that determined a top prospect from the Dominican Republic who received a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Nationals lied about his age and name.