Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Final Chapter With Stan Kasten
Mr. Kasten sits in a small triangle shaped office at RFK Stadium, overlooking a parking lot and the surrounding Stadium Ring Road. Not exactly what you would expect from the Most Powerful Player for Our Washington Nationals. But, then again, these are the Upstart, Rebuilding Nats, making changes on a daily basis, in an effort to get back to an even playing field with the rest of Major League Baseball.
On the wall, behind him, is an Erasable Marking Board, with the Nats 40 Man Roster. In front of him, on the wall to his right, over my left shoulder, while facing Mr. Kasten, is another Marker Board with all the young talent listed in various colors. The players listed in black, were picked up by Washington, since The Lerners took over control of the Nationals.
Sitting on top of his desk, is a book, a very import book for all those who want to run a Major League Franchise- "Branch Rickey's Little Blue Book: Wit and Strategy from Baseball's Last Wise Man." A terrible player and unsuccessful Major League Manager, Mr.Rickey excelled in spotting talent and teaching players how to play and live. He single-handedly invented the modern farm system for developing talent.
To many, this book is the GOSPEL on TEAM BUILDING. Stan Kasten is a thorough believer in "The Rickey Way".
"Since I got here, the player number (sum of talent) changes every day, but between drafts and trades, and minor league free agents, its dozens and growing every day...with quality, as well as, quantity."
Mr. Kasten went on to state, again, about the "All Star" caliber Scouting Department, put together by Jim Bowden, which not only includes, Assistant GM, Senior Director Of Player Personnel, Bob Boone, and, talented Scouting Director, Dana Brown--both holdovers from MLB Ownership. But, also includes New Assistant GM, Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo (hired away from Arizona), Former Tampa Bay Devil Rays GM, Chuck Lemar, and a host of other well respected baseball talent evaluators. Maybe, as Mr. Kasten stated: "the best scouting department in baseball."
"But, It's not just because of draft picks, its also trades. Where we pick up Mocks and Chico’s (in the Livan Hernandez Trade) and people like that. It can’t be done without Scouts. Its not something I stumbled across (The Recipe for Building), that’s something Branch Rickey Figured out 70 years ago. That’s how you do it. So we are following a lot of his thinking in building this. This is the formula we are following."
On that "Prospect" board to my left, written in black, is the name, Zechry Zinicola. Drafted out of Arizona State, last June, in the 6th round, Zinicola has rocketed through the National's lower level Minor League Teams. I said to Mr. Kasten (SBF Talking): "I saw Zinicola play twice at Potomac in Woodbridge last summer. I was very impressed with him."
Mr Kasten replied: "Our Scouts project him to be on the fast track. They say he's very talented. I wouldn't be suprised to see him make the Major League Team, sometime this coming season."
Of course, if the Nationals are in the rebuilding mode, in all likelihood, you would expect them to trade off all their veteran talent to return as much younger prospects as possible. Livan Hernandez sent away for two Arizona pitchers (Garrett Mock & Matt Chico). Jose Vidro just returned a talented pitcher, Emiliano Fruto, and Injury Prone, but sweet hitting, Chris Snelling, from Seattle. The Cincinnati trade brought over two everyday players in Austin Kearns & Felipe Lopez, while still netting a talented reliever and one time top draft pick, Ryan Wagner.
Yet, when the July 31st trading deadline for the 2006 season came and went with Alfonso Soriano still wearing a Washington Jersey, both Mr. Kasten and Jim Bowden were hammered in the press, and on many blogs for, not giving him away, for the rumored offerings. When Soriano signed with the Chicago Cubs this past offseason for $136 Million, the Nationals received two upcoming draft picks in the 2007 Entry Draft. One supplemental pick for Alfonso, signing with Chicago (Overall Pick Number 32), and the Cubs 2nd Round Draft Pick, which changes on a daily basis as all the Off Season Free Agent Manuvering has yet to been completed. But, last time I checked (and Brian at NFA might be able to help me out on this), that pick was in the mid-to late 60's overall. Since Chicago finished with one of the top 15 worst records in the just completed season--their first round pick was "protected" and not available to Washington when Alfonso went off to the Windy City. Critics again hammered The Nationals for letting Soriano "Walk" for the lower than expected draft picks.
I asked Mr. Kasten, if Washington was offered anything worthwhile. He got fired up and responded this way:
"NOT A THING-- We would take today or YOU WOULD TAKE TODAY!. NOT A THING! That is better, than what we wound up getting. Now, why is that, its going to be a mystery to me. Because the truth is, we got better pitchers in our deals for Hernandez and even Marlon Anderson (Johny Nunez from the Dodgers) than for Soriano. THAT SHOCKS ME!! SHOCKS ME (POUNDING HIS DESK). Nevertheless, it is the truth."
"And, what I saw, coming down to the deadline, the last day, there was a determination to trade him (on the part of Washington's Baseball Think Tank), I was worried. We were about to trade him for NEXT TO NOTHING!! And that’s, when I had to step in, and say--NO!!. We are not going down that road. WE ARE NOT GOING TO DO STUPID THINGS!!."
Mr Kasten went on to say: "I suspect its because people thought he (Soriano) was going to be a big expense (to re-sign). And, We ( the other clubs) are only going to have him for six months, and, they all just dropped out. Remember, no pitching prospects moved at the deadline. So, there is also a new conscienceness in baseball. My Owners (The Lerners) are saying: 'They are adopting the Stan Kasten approach.' Its not my approach, but, they (other teams) are husbanding their young pitchers. So, if its not Branch Rickey, its me. There was a new kind of momentum in baseball that worked against a deal happening. But, having said that, we desperately need TOP DRAFT PICKS. Also this year, we are going to have 5 of the top draft picks in the country. And, that’s going to be a huge contribution to our forward movement."
Of course, I could not end this part of the conversation without asking what so many have questioned about Jim Bowden and his manuverings--Is Bowden asking for the "Kings Ransom" in every trade?
Replying confidently, Mr. Kasten said: "Who really knows that! Look at the results. We got (Luis) Atilano for Daryle Ward. Johny Nunez for Marlon Anderson. How do you know, unless you are in the dealings? I am really comfortable with the deals we made. I am also really comfortable with the deals we haven’t made. So, I think Jim hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for the deals that have happened since, WE CAME TO TOWN!! I think he gets high marks for that."
But, will the restrictions in payroll, reportedly only reaching $30 Milliion in 2007, half the amount of 2006, hurt the team and its chances?
“I don’t think about it that way. I couldn’t tell you what our Opening Day payroll will be yet. I just don’t know. Part of it being, I don’t know what my revenues will be, until I get closer to Opening Day. But the other part of it is, I don’t know what other opportunities are going to present themselves. And, we will always be poised and be in position to take advantage of opportunities. I didn’t know that Kearns and Lopez were going to fall onto our doorstep last year. But, it would have disappointed me, if we weren’t in a position to take advantage of it. WE DID! And, if opportunities like that happen, we are going to take advantage of it. That’s why, I don’t know what the payroll will be. That’s why I encourage fans to not think in those terms. Think in terms of what assets we have; what our needs are; and, what steps we are taking to get closer to filling those needs."
From there, we moved on to the lighter subjects. Questions that we may all want to see answers to, but I was not sure, if I would be given the time to ask. We will call this "The Lightning Round."
Does the MASN TV Deal Hurt the Club, in the long run?
"I don’t think it does. Could we do better, if we were on our own? I suspect we could. It is what it is. MASN has wide distribution, now. Ånd, we get an handsome sum of money, although, you could argue, its not as much as we SHOULD BE getting. I don’t spend any time worrying about it, because there is NOTHING I CAN CHANGE."
Reportedly, Not healing as well as expected, Nick Johnson may now miss the first month of the season?
"I think he will be ready, Opening Day. We were not happy-- the doctor should not have been talking at all. They are telling us, what the Doctor actually said was, Opening Day, plus or minus 3 weeks. It could be 3 weeks before Opening Day. Even our doctor said, 'Yeah he’ll be healthy, but, then, there will be conditioning.'
(So, I commented--SBF here--Johnson does make some of the most outrageous slides of anyone. "Yeah, he needs to stop doing that." replied, Mr. Kasten.
What about Alex Escobar and his ability to hurt himself doing virtually nothing?
"Escobar and (Chris) Snelling are similar. I don't know. But, people don’t remember that Charles Barkley (NBA GREAT) was injured all the time at the beginning of his career, then he went on a roll, so it happens, who knows."
There was a post on TheBeltwayBoys Blog (our Idaho Based Nats Fan) that the Nationals were changing their Batting Practice Jersey with Curly "W" Logo for 2007? Are we losing the "DC" Logo?
“Between the two, we are going to emphasize Curly "W" more and more. I am enamored with the Curly "W". I think its recognizable as a logo. Not what it stands for, just as a LOGO, it’s a cool design. We are really starting to emphasize the Curly "W". Teams need a secondary Logo, that’s what we have (DC Logo and it will stay). We also need you to buy your shirts and gear in several different flavors. The "W" Flavor and the "DC" Flavor. You will buy a Nationals Script Flavor in time. WE want to accommodate all you people."
I was actually laughing when Mr. Kasten made the "W" & "DC" Flavor comment (he was rubbing his hands together in joy), so I didn't actually hear him say "Script" Nationals Flavor, until I started to transcribe the interview. So, I contacted him again, to get a clarification, as many fans have talked about a Script Style Jersey with "Nationals", similar to the Old Washington Senators Jerseys.
Mr. Kasten replied: "No current plans for uniform changes." (Other than the Batting Practice Jersey).
Naming Rights for the New Stadium. I Like "OLD NAVY YARD", its proximity to the Washington Navy Yard and the potential Sponsorship by Old Navy Clothing Company?
Mr Kasten said "You should contact them, let them know" But, I responded, you are in a better position to approach them. I also said (SBF TALKING), I like "Curly W" Field, if Walgreens Drug Store wants to make a headway into the DC Market (Walgreens uses the exact same Curly "W" Logo).
"Those things work for me, if the PRICE IS RIGHT!!", Mr. Kasten laughed.
As most people who read this blog know, no baseball player is more important to me than former Washington Senator, Frank Howard. With 2007 being the very last season of baseball at RFK, Hondo is, by far, the finest player to call this stadium his home. I asked Mr. Kasten whether The Nationals, could either retire his number, or honor him is some way?
He responded: "We are reaching out to Frank, to get him more involved with the team. But, its not come up yet (to retire his number). So, I guess its not going to be a high priority. But, in the New Stadium, we are going to have a Hall of Fame, or something like that, to honor Baseball in Washington. We are working with the Baseball Hall of Fame on the details."
I was going to make a comment about the possibility of Ex-Manager, Frank Robinson's, role with The Nationals. Mr. Kasten stated that news would be forthcoming. But, as was reported yesterday, Frank has turned down the offer from The Nationals, not feeling the role was one with Authority and thus worth his time.
Finally, most every MLB Team has FanFest, a winter get together in a local convention center where fans my meet, greet, and talk with not only players, but coaches and management, as well. I asked Mr. Kasten if A Nationals FanFest was forthcoming?
"We will not have a Winter FanFest, per say, but, we will have a Winter Caravan through DC, Maryland and Virginia, with 3 Town Hall Meetings." (The Caravan in late January, the Town Hall in February, time and dates to be announced). During the Town Hall Meetings, Mr. Kasten, Jim Bowden and Manager, Manny Acta will sit on stage and take all questions.
"Me, Manny & Jim will just talk with hundreds of fans in an open session", Mr. Kasten stated.
With that final note, the Interview with Mr. Kasten is officially over. I really hope that everybody that read these past three posts, enjoyed them, as much as, the joy, I had, making it happen. It really was fun, Chatting With The President!
SO NOW, HERE COMES THE EDITORIAL!!
As a fan of The Washington Nationals, I could not be more thankful for Stan Kasten's time in speaking with me. Clearly, its not something he HAD TO DO!! Willingly, he did so. He was generous with his time and enjoyed our conversation. This past summer, Section 320 got a first hand look at Mr. Kasten's attention to detail, when he personally solved a problem for us. A problem you would expect was not on his radar screen. Yet, he cared enough to see the problem solved, to its conclusion--personally. We couldn't thank him enough. And, its not only with just our group. Countless times, I have seen Mr. Kasten walking around RFK Stadium, checking into every detail of the entertainment business of baseball. He's not sitting at his desk, delegating authority, not being involved. I find, he wants to give each and every fan, every single customer, the best opportunity for an enjoyable time at the ballpark-NO MATTER WHAT PRICED TICKET YOU PURCHASE.
I stated before, watching The Washington Nationals grow up is like watching the raising of your very own children. They, at times, drive you up the wall, upset you. Then, the very next thing you know, those little babies are all grown up, adults now, and out of the house--out of the nest. And, you remember back, FONDLY, on all the PROBLEMS & THE GOOD TIMES!!.
I enjoyed watching THE BIRTH OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS in 2005, and continue to appreciate their growing pains. But, more so than ever, I am very pleased that Stan Kasten is nursing our newborn child, OUR WASHINGTON NATIONALS, from Adolesence to Adulthood.