Monday, January 08, 2007
Chatting With The President
Since shortly after the conclusion of the 2006 Baseball Season, I contacted him to gauge his interest in discussing all things concerning Our Washington Nationals with me. A lot of items were on his plate, countless elements on this ballclub to be dumped, changed, added or refined during this very significant of off seasons. The Washington Nationals need a complete overhaul. The opportunity to get back on equal footing with the rest of Major League Baseball. Something this franchise never saw under the stewardship of MLB. Now, for 6 months, The Lerners have been in charge. And, their every move is reported, discussed, and debated each and everyday in the Nats Blogs. I was pleased when this "mover and shaker" replied, positively, that he would love to sit down and chat with me. I was informed to get back in touch, once the smoke cleared from the many off season maneuvers to come. Our joint busy schedules, had yet to work out that meeting, until this past Friday, January 5th, when his personal assistant called, to confirm the appointment.
Washington Nationals, Team President, Stan Kasten, would meet with me on Monday, January 8, 11AM, at RFK Stadium, to do the Nats320 Blog with me. I was very excited, thrilled, and DOWNRIGHT PROUD, to get some first hand answers to so many lingering questions. Mr. Kasten welcomed me with open arms. I asked for 30 Minutes, he gave me 90 minutes. That's right--1 hour and 30 minutes!! The discussion was far ranging--The Lerners, the so called "Plan", Free Agents, Payroll, Nats Presence in Latin America, Jim Bowden, Manny Acta, Adrian Fenty, New Stadium and its parking, The Fan Base, New Jerseys, The Curly W & DC Logos, an honest look at what talent this team really has right now. And, the final word, on what really occurred during last season's trading deadline, when The Nationals did not trade Alfonso Soriano, to a lot of folks great chagrin. If I asked, he answered--it was a fabulous discussion about all things NATS. The only thing off limits, was talking about potential player moves with talent not currently on the team. So players the Nats are looking to sign or possibly trade for, were not discussed.
After this extended interview, Mr. Kasten invited me into the General Manager's Office to meet Jim Bowden and the Senior Baseball Operations Staff. Not only Jimbo, but New Manager, Manny Acta, along with Special Assistant to the GM, Bob Boone and Scouting Director--Dana Brown. We all chatted briefly, took a photo. They were all impressed with my attendance at all Nats home games. And, of course, Frank Howard was discussed. Bob Boone talking about how, at the Age of 40, Hondo was still hammering them out of parks during Home Run Contests. Bowden wanted to know, if HONDO actually did hit those taters into the UPPER DECK? I had to tell them all, that Howard, not only hit the Homers into the currently painted white seats, but more. Many seats that Frank reached were actually painted over during the Redskins days at RFK. Sometime in the near future, Mr. Kasten says I can come back to interview Jim Bowden and Manny Acta. They were all very gracious with their time to me. It was a very good day to be a Washington Nationals FAN.
Using my Video Ipod with Belkin recording device, I recorded the entire interview with Mr. Kasten. So all the quotes are EXACT. I will be publishing various aspects of the interview over the next few days. Today, we start with Mr. Kasten's original involvement with the Franchise, The Ownership and "The Plan".
Its well known that Mr. Kasten comes from a very successful background as Team President of The Atlanta Braves and involvement with both the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Team and Atlanta Thrashers Hockey Team--including the building of the Thrashers new arena. I started with why Washington for him, and why now?
"I had done so much and had so much fun, but unless I could do something on a bigger and better scale than what I had done before, I didn't think I could get my juices flowing. When this opportunity started coming together, and I saw that a team, and a stadium, had to be built from scratch, in the MOST IMPORTANT CITY IN THE WORLD, and you do what I do, it doesn’t get any better than that. And that’s why I was intrigued. And, as soon as, this one became a possibility, I knew right away, that this one, would get me back at it."
Also, he believes, Washington provides the possibility of making The Nationals an Internationally known ballclub.
"We want to be a BRAND NAME, like you could name in all the major sports, that’s what we'll shoot for. I think it is doable, because of the attention inherent in this marketplace. We have not only just our local media, and it’s a vigorous aggressive media, but, in addition, we have news bureaus here, from every city in the country, but in addition to that, news bureaus from every country in the world that plays baseball. So we have a lot of attention that many other cities simply do not have. If we do our job right, we can achieve a lot, not only within our local borders, but far beyond."
And, like me, Mr. Kasten believes this franchise, OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS, can be a "GLAMOUR FRANCHISE"!!!
So, what's the commitment of The Lerners?
“I've told this story a lot" Mr. Kasten said, "When I had my first meeting with The Lerners, Ted wanted to get into a discussion about, 'What our 10 year plan was?' Here's a guy that’s 80 years old at the time, and still had that kind of insight into how you run a business. And it was very refreshing. Ted has said to me repeatedly, and we have said it publicly, he’s not going to take a penny out of this franchise for 10 years. You know, its all about building the franchise, building for long term sustained success."
Which obviously leads to the so-called "PLAN", the rebuilding of the Nationals Franchise from the bottom up, and not jumping into the fray over Free Agent signings, that may or may not, help the ballclub over the long haul.
"I don’t know if I’ve ever called it "THE PLAN." Mr. Kasten stated, "It’s a series of beliefs on how you build something, that’s all. Its what I believe."
Then, what about punting the 2007 season, as so many critics have stated, I asked?
"No, I don’t agree with that at all. You will never hear me say that. Its not how I feel. I do feel however that, we be realistic about where we are. We took over a last place team. But, worse than that, we took over a team, that by all the professional services, is rated as the worse minor league apparatus, as well. Now, I am not happy about any of those things, nevertheless, its where we are. And I do know, that you can not have success at the major league level, at least not sustained success, until you build your foundation. So, we have spent all our time, since we got here, in building up that foundation, that includes the minor leagues, that includes scouting, and the player development system. That has to come first and it has. We have made great strides, we have added a number of young prospects and pitchers. We are trying to do it as quickly as possible, but we have to avoid the temptation to try to do the quick fix, or try to find a short term answer. Because that ALWAYS FAILS. And, in my experience, if you keep yourself with your eye on the ball. Its starts with player development, and that’s exactly what we have been doing."
Then, I asked--But, what about Signing Free Agents for one or two years? Free Agent Pitchers, that will not cost you a draft pick, but may well offer you either a draft pick or more players in trade down the line? At the same time, not hinder the long term growth of the Nationals?
"I am not going to talk about specific players, but No, if I thought there was a player that was reasonable and would fit into here, and did not set back the development of younger pitchers, and who, himself, had a role to play in the long term, we would certaintly consider that, and have, —but I have to tell you though, sitting here on January 8th, there is not a single pitchers' contract who signed so far this year, that I wish I had signed. Whether that’s Barry Zito, Jason Marquis or the ten (players) in between those two, —NOT ONE, WOULD I HAVE WANTED, and so far, all the pitchers out there, are still trying to be in that range. I am not in that range. That just doesn’t make sense for us. But, we continue to talk to pitchers, of course the time will come, I suspect, that the range will change, so we continue to being interested in taking advantage of opportunities that may arise."
Which led to a discussion that has occured on every single blog board. Is the savings in payroll, just pocketed and not being put to use for the betterment of the Franchise?
Mr. Kasten clearly said: "We are not taking any money out of this, into our pockets, every dime we have, whether we are investing into the player development system, or into RFK, or the New Ballpark, its all being used, and any extra monies to spend, comes out of something. Right now, I think we are using our money as wisely as we possibly can. Given all the things we need to accomplish, in the near future, and the next year or two."
I continued with this line of questioning on the Payroll Savings, possibly not being used for team building.
"That is completely not true, its not being pocketed. Every single dollar that is coming into the franchise, from all sources, is being spent on the building of the franchise--period. You also know, this franchise, is immeasurably more expensive to operate than when you had a team here, owned by baseball--both in the terms of operational stuff, but also in the value. It’s the difference in operating a $100 Million House, versus a $450 Million House. Let me just leave it there. There are much, much, much greater expenses now, than when baseball owned the team."
But alot of fans are saying, I questioned, they don't want to pay the prices for a team that may well stink in 2007?
"I understand, and we are always caught in the bind of trying to raise revenues, so we can build for the long term. As I have said, I have to avoid the temptation of the quick fix. Because it won’t work. I could have signed a free agent. I could have signed Gil Meche, Jason Marquis, Adam Eaton. I could have done all that, and BEEN WHERE for my troubles? No, we are not going to do it that way. We are going to do it right. And, sooner, than most people believe. I think they will appreciate that we did it the right way. I COULD HAVE DONE IT THE WRONG WAY AND BEEN STUCK IN A BAD SPOT FOREVER. We said early on, the very first words out of our mouths, we would not do that. We are going to try to do this the right way for long term success. That’s what we are doing. And, anyone that is a fan, should be excited about that." Then later, Mr. Kasten said: "I remind everyone, that the last club I was at (Atlanta), we didn’t sign our first prominent free agent (Greg Maddox), until we had already been to two World Series. So, we think we are doing this the right way. And, it doesn’t include running out and signing free agents."
Once the Nationals are a contender, a possible near championship team, would you OVER PAY for a player?
"Yeah Sure. Look (laughing), the only way to get a free agent is to overpay, its built into the system! Goodness knows, I have overpaid in my days. I have signed many, many free agents in my day. Everyone should remember that. I've signed lots and lots of free agents. Big names and Big dollars. I just think, where we are now, that would be foolish."
But right now, The Nationals are rebuilding and need young talent badly--Why, Jim Bowden?
“Since we (The Lerners & Kasten) have been here, its hard to come up with any criticism, at all, with Jim. The moves he’s made, again, since I came around, have been terrific. And, I think he is highly analytical. I think he is very resourceful, coming up with miscellaneous prospects from other teams. And little by little, really piecing together a great group of young prospects, in addition to building, putting together, maybe, one of the best scouting departments in baseball. The people who criticize him, tend to do so under stylistic grounds. And, I think, if you take a look, even on those grounds, you have to revisit those objections. I think he has done a terrific job on, and off, the field, since I've gotten here."
So I stated one point, I always find intriguing about Bowden, saying--I think (SBF talking here), he is very creative.
Mr. Kasten replied, "Right now, that is what I need."
How about his penchant for all things Cincinnati, I continued?
Mr. Kasten: "I think that’s overdone. But look, he signed Kearns and Lopez. Good deal or Bad? (I am nodding my head, YES). Those were Cincinnati Guys. What should he have done? (SBF injects:I like Wagner as well.) "And, Jim was particularly enamored with Ryan, and had to have him included in the deal. Pretty Good Deal. Pretty Good Deal." Mr. Kasten concluded.
In Part 2--Manny Acta, The New Stadium and other treats.