The Reds' offense kept going in 2000, with help from new arrival Ken Griffey, Jr., but the pitching staff hit bottom. Bowden tried to stop the bleeding by getting ace Denny Neagle from the Braves (for Bret Boone and Mike Remlinger), but while Neagle pitched well, it wasn't enough. The Reds finished second.
The 2001 team dropped all the way to 66-96. An injury to Griffey left a gaping hole in the outfield. Pokey Reese's acrobatics at shortstop could no longer mask the fact that he absolutely could not hit. The struggling veterans in the starting rotation were replaced by struggling rookies. The 2002 team improved slightly, with hot prospects Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns manning the outfield corners, but the pitching staff was still a mess, with eight different pitchers making at least five starts.
In 2003, the Reds moved into Great American Ballpark. Desperate for some help, the Reds tried moving closer Danny Graves into the starting rotation. They also messed with Austin Kearns, sending him down to the minors and up again because of concerns about his "conditioning." Any hope that the brand-new ballpark would provide a grace period were dashed mid-season, when both Bowden and manager Bob Boone were fired. The team finished with a record of 69-93 and a team ERA of 5.47, only slightly ahead of Colorado for worst in the NL.
So what went wrong for Bowden? He did a pretty good job of fielding a competitive lineup, although his best fixes were temporary ones, like picking up Kevin Mitchell for a song or getting Greg Vaughn for one year. The only exception was the mega-deal that brought Griffey over from Seattle. And while it seemed like a good idea at the time, Griffey soon turned into an injury-prone albatross.
The only stability in the lineup came from Barry Larkin (whose career started winding down in 2001), Sean Casey (a good, but not great hitter) and Pokey Reese (great defense despite swinging a wet noodle at the plate). This changed with the arrival of two of Bowden's best drafts, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. But while Bowden could indeed swing some sweet deals and make quick fixes, he wasn't too good at looking at the big picture, rarely building from the bottom up.
The Reds' biggest problem — one Bowden never really addressed — was the starting rotation. Even the team that made the playoffs in '95 was led by the likes of an aging Jose Rijo, Pete Schourek, John Smiley, Mark Portugal and Kevin Jarvis. If you make it to the postseason with that rotation, then you need to count your lucky stars and prepare yourself for when the luck runs out.