Monday, June 22, 2009
25 Minutes With Stan Kasten & Mike Rizzo
The final official availability for those bloggers attending Bloggers Night at Nationals Park this past Saturday, June 20th was a get together with Team President Stan Kasten and Interim GM Mike Rizzo in the Auxiliary Press Box on the 6th Floor of Nationals Park. Approximately 30 minutes before game time, Mr Kasten and Mr. Rizzo took questions until first pitch. As always, here is the entire transcript to give you a full idea of what transpired.
With that, here we go with 25 Minutes With Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo:
Stan: “First of all welcome here. I understand you have had a good day. I hope that is true. We talked about doing this in the media room downstairs but that seemed too formal for me. And I thought the whole point of bloggers is informality. So, I thought we would gather here informally. I hope you are having a good day. As you all know, we are pretty open minded with the blogesphere. We don’t know exactly what the rules should be or going to be. I would have thought two years ago by now there would be some conventions that have been agreed to in sports. It hasn’t happened. It’s still kind of evolving. And this is one more step on the road our guys are pleased with. I hope all of you are pleased with. And we will always welcome suggestions to do it better. But I am glad we are doing this. Mostly glad, partially terrified, but mostly glad (laughter). And like I said, this is a good thing. ‘Riz’ (Mike Rizzo) is here who can talk baseball, which I presume is mostly why we are here. So let’s just open it up. John (Dever) would you M.C.—what’s the deal here?”
John Dever (Senior Director Baseball Media Relations): They’ve been asking questions all day long. They have been sort of locked in and loaded. So you guys (bloggers) can just have at it, I guess.”
Stan: “Another thing, I guess, when we talked about putting this together there was dialogue and debates internally—should we have rules? Are there ground rules? Should we keep some people out? I said let’s have none of that. Let’s bring everyone. Let’s just see what happens? So it has been kind of free form. We’ve tried to put a little structure so we can touch all the bases—to coin a phrase—but it is kind of free form today and let’s see how it goes. Yeah, we are going to open it up to questions. So, let’s go.”
Question: Is there a draft signee that has not been announced?
Mike Rizzo: “We’ve had a few today that we have agreed to terms but we haven’t officially signed them. A few of the lower round draft picks.”
Stan: “I saw two in the last five minutes.”
Mike: “Yeah, in the last five minutes. We’ve had a couple that have agreed to terms. But we are not going to announce them until they actually sign the document.”
Mike Gazda—Director Baseball Media Relations: “Just so everyone will know. When you ask a question, could you introduce yourself?”
Stan: “I have to think about that!! Do I really want to know!!! I mean—seriously!! Is that a plus or a minus?? Feel free to do that but I don’t know if I need to know who is who. I don’t know. So feel free if you are comfortable at identifying yourself—by all means—please do.”
Question: It’s been a fairly dramatic week, in fact two weeks. What is the mood of the club today, as opposed to seven days ago?
Stan: “Well, we have had three wins in a row. I promise you that makes everything better. It’s absolutely the case that how we do out there on the field affects everyone’s psyche—front office and players as well. So today, things are feeling pretty good. I think they always had, and I will let Mike speak to it, never had a lot of downs. I think they get down after losses and there are periods when they are down because they don’t understand. We see the pieces. The pieces are better than what our record is—which is kind of confusing. I used the word perplexing. It’s perplexing to me, to Mike, to Manny (Acta). So getting some wins, which we thought we were going to do at a much bigger and better pace all along is good. The thing that keeps all of us happy—at least the managers—like me and Mike and Manny—is watching starting pitching. We’ve always said it’s the key to everything—getting a rotation going. And through all of this stuff this year, turmoil and bits and pieces of ups and downs—we can kind of see through the haze--the formation of a real, permanent, solid Major League rotation. And that is really, really exciting. So that part, even on our low moments, keeps us enthused. At least that is how I feel. Mike?”
Mike: “We kind of break the ball club into four quadrants that make a successful ball club--starting pitching, offense, defense and bullpen. And although we have seen flashes of brilliance in all quadrants of the ball club, we seem to be not able to all four together on any given day. We’ve seen in the last couple of days flashes of getting to the point where we are putting all four pieces of the puzzle together. On a consistent basis, that is what we are all trying to do. But, as far as the attitude in the clubhouse, which was your original question, it’s an amazingly positive attitude on a day-to-day basis, pre-game through the workouts and through out the games. At times, I come in very upbeat during the morning and sometimes after the game you are a little bit down. But, they seem to rebound back to positive mode at the start of every workday for them.”
Question: Mike, you’ve done a great job rebuilding the bullpen. It seems like the preference is for pitchers that generate a lot of ground balls—Tavarez, MacDougal, almost without exception the guys you have brought in are ground ball rate type pitchers. Can you talk about that and what you look for there?
Mike: “Well, it’s not an axiom. I like sinkerball pitchers and most preferably hard throwing power sinkerball pitchers. I think to get powerful bullpen arms late into the game allows you to get multiple outs with one pitch—the double play ground balls. But also when you have power stuff, power sinkers specifically, it allows you to have more margins for error. If you are an 88 to 91 relief pitcher—you better be hitting your spots and executing all your pitches. At 95-96 MPH or 97—like a (Jesus) Colome, or Mike (MacDougal) or those types of guys, like (Joel) Hanrahan—you have more margins to put it (the ball) into the middle of the plate. And it’s not as easily centered as it is for the softer tossing guys.”
Stan: “I think it is also it might be easier to find those guys. It’s not easy to find anyone that is really effective. My philosophy on pitchers is either get guys that are throwing ground balls or are going to miss bats. It’s one or the other. Guys that miss bats consistently and don’t walk everyone—those are hard guys to find. So if you can get guys that can keep the ball on the ground—you have a better chance at winning.”
Question: Stan, years ago when we heard that you would be The President of The Nationals, the first thing I thought of as a prospective fan was The Braves from 1991 on. Growing and watch that team develop from ’88 and ’89, ’90, when they weren’t so good. Then when they turned that corner when you had (Dave) Justice, (Ron) Gant, (Tom) Glavine, (Steve) Avery all matured at the same time. My question for you and I want to parallel what you are trying to do here. Did you know when you went to Spring Training in ’91 that they (The Braves) had turned that corner at the end of ’90?
Stan: “We thought so. But let me tell you. We went from worst to 1st from ’90 to ’91. That should have never happened because we didn’t think what happened in ’90 would occur. What happened in ’90, we did go out and get a free agent in Nick Esasky. Because of health he never did anything for us, so we lost our clean up hitter. Then we lost our closer in a young kid in (Ex-National traded for Shairon Martis) Mike Stanton—who was lights out in the bullpen. Then we lost one of our rotation young gun in Pete Smith—that ruined our season. To replace Pete Smith we called up a young kid that wasn’t ready. His name was Steve Avery. He turned out OK. And on that same weekend, I made a manager change. We let Russ Nixon go and told Bobby (Cox) you are going into the dugout. So that is how ’90 wound up. I had a lot of people tell me to get rid of Bobby. A lot of people—because we wound up the year in last--but before the spring of ’90, you go back and check Sports Illustrated, Steve Wolff in Spring Training, was the first one who called The Braves a potential team of the ‘90’s. ’90, not ’91!! In ’90 he said that. So yeah, we did think we would be good. But what had to happen in the winter of ‘90 was we brought John Schuerholz in and we already knew what we wanted. We wanted to beef up our defense. So not big free agents. We got Terry Pendleton who hit .230 the year before. We got a Sid Bream and a Rafael Belliard and BANG!!! All those pitchers were WAY BETTER!! It’s amazing how that happens. We had Otis Nixon come on too. So all of a sudden we did think at that time—you should know and I cite this a lot—at the age of 21 & 22—Glavine, (John) Smoltz and (Greg) Maddux—their combined Major League Record was 19 & 46. Three pretty good pitchers. I wouldn’t compare anyone here to them. But my point is that even the great ones, even Hall of Famers, just need that time to get the number of starts in. And what has me most excited is that in two separate conversations last week with Steve McCatty (Our New Pitching Coach), who was once a part of that kind of a rotation in Oakland, said to me: ‘Stan, this is really happening, just like what we did in Oakland.’ And then on the phone the other day, I swear to God, Bobby Cox says to me because he had just seen (Ross) Detwiler: ‘This is unbelievable, exactly how we did it.’ So when two guys who have been through it feel that way, and I am real interested in finding out what John Smoltz has to say. He is coming in here this coming week. He will have some interesting thoughts having been through that. So we didn’t know, but we felt it’s coming together. And I feel that way about this rotation. I can’t identify the five guys, but as I said this winter, the most important job about this season is finding three real long-term starters out of this group or the group behind them in Syracuse. And I think we can not only do that, we are going to do better than that and add whatever we pick up in the draft to the group that we are forming here. I like the way this is coming along.”
Question: Leading off to that, in the draft, can you guys speak to just thoughts generally to the draft and beyond the two number one picks, Strasburg and Storen, the guys you have signed, the guys you have picked—who do you see as bigger pieces to the team?
Mike: “We thought we had a strong draft. It was a pitching heavy draft class this year. And we went heavy in pitching. We went with more mature pitching, more college than we did high school. We did filter in several identifiable High School guys that we really identified that we wanted to sign and we did. We feel that (Jeff) Kobernus is one of the real sleeper college position players in the draft. Although as the industry calls me, he wasn’t much of a sleeper as far as the industry (baseball) was concerned. A lot of people had identified him as a really solid player. But we think he has a chance to be an every day Major League middle infielder—that has offensive prowess. So we are really excited that he was available. We liked (Trevor) Holder. We liked him as a junior. He got tendonitis in the shoulder and dropped to the 4th round because of that. We popped him in the 3rd round because we didn’t want to lose him. We didn’t think he would be there in the 4th (round). He is a mid-rotation guy and he’s got four pitches, he knows how to pitch. He pitched in the SEC (Southeastern Conference) and had great success internationally, summer leagues and through his career at Georgia (UGA). That was a guy we really liked. And as we proceeded down there (in the draft room), we went with power arms from power conferences that we had a lot of history with. That is kind of the philosophy that we employed because these guys (scouts) do such a great job on backgrounds, and see them (the prospects) throughout their careers—these guys are identified. We’ve seen Holder, Kobernus since they were sophomores in High School. We follow these guys through and then you draft them as a junior. We have a great history and background on all of them. And one of the things we really pride ourselves on here is getting guys with great makeup, great work ethic and character guys because in that clubhouse down there (at Nationals Park) you need 25 guys.”
Question: Would you say it is fair to say that in this upcoming off-season The Nationals will concentrate on getting better up the middle in general?
Mike: “I think the identifiable thing we are looking for this season, this winter, really since throughout when I have been around and in the future—we need to get more athletic. We need to get more speed orientated. And we need to be better defensively than we are right now because Stan and I have both discussed at length how pitching and defense, hand and glove, they are so interwoven and related. It’s no secret when you have a Willie Harris or Corey Patterson in the defensive outfield out there in New York. We made a lot of plays and won a really clean baseball game. A well played, clean baseball game. It’s a very important part of a winning team, winning on a consistent basis.”
Question: Do you see (Danny) Espinosa as part of that plan? Or with (Cristian) Guzman coming up on the end of his contract, you are going to have to find a carryover?
Mike: “Certainly, Espinosa is as good of a shortstop prospect as there is in our system at the moment and in baseball. He’s opened up eyes industry wide and we really had a good find in the 3rd round (in 2008) from such a shortstop factory as Long Beach State. I consider him a quote—unquote, a faster track college player. But I am not one to rush players through the system. I think he should master a level before he moves. That’s not to say if you master a level, you can’t skip the next level. But, we feel that with where we are at here on The Big League Level, it gives us a little bit more time to really develop our players in the correct time frame.”
Question: We have gone 20 minutes without mentioning Manny Acta. What is his future with this team?
Stan: “This has been a week with more confusion than need to be. I can’t explain anything about last week’s news reports. You will have to ask the people who wrote them. The one thing that was unfortunate was the notion that someone was out there twisting in the wind. Maybe because media people were having them twist in the wind. Manny and I were always completely in sync. Manny and I and Mike—all three of us—talk all the time—including about last week about the stories. What we say to each other is, of course, private. I don’t talk about personnel. I NEVER comment on other media reports. You read stuff from the blogs all the time that will make you crazy. There is just nothing you can do about it. And that happens with the mainstream media too—I have to admit. I am a big supporter of Manny. Obviously, we need it to work. And at some point if it’s not working—we will have to find a solution. But there is no one that is a bigger supporter of and believer of Manny than I am. That has always been the case since I have been here.”
Question: So when does Mike lose the “interim” title?
Stan: “Well, when I made the change in March, for the reasons that I did, I explained to Mike and the world at that time—that the franchise owes itself to make sure this is the best long-term. And it has been working out real well. When the times come when we make a change, we make a change. I haven’t commented on that from that day to this. It’s worked really well and I hope it to continue.”
“How about you Mike would you like to make a comment about that?”
Mike: “No comment.” (Smirking and sort of chuckling)
Question: I read where Drew Storen said Chad Cordero was one of his favorite pitchers when he was coming up. Do you think he will make the same sort of jump to The Major Leagues quickly?
Mike: “I consider him quicker to The Big Leagues as a college relief pitcher. Cordero’s situation was ultra-ultra quick to The Big Leagues. I don’t see him pitching in The Big Leagues this season, like Cordero did. I think his development…….”
Stan: “Where did Cordero go right away? Do you remember John (Dever)? What level?”
John Dever: “Brevard County (Gulf Coast League Rookie Ball). Single A.”
Stan: “He did go Single A.”
John Dever: “He did go for a very short period---like four or five appearances (actually 19).”
Question: Is there any one from this draft we are going to see in September?
Mike: “Again, the development cycle is different in the individuals. I can’t speak in generalities. I have never been a fan and you can count the success rates on one hand that have been successful that way.”
Stan: “I don’t think it is likely.”
Question: Mike, you mentioned earlier that you have the young starters here now. You have some others in AAA that you really like. You had a pitching heavy draft and you went heavy there. Would you consider packaging those to get everyday players you might not have in your system right now?
Mike: “Everything is on the table. We consider all of our options. We do feel we do have a good solid core of young players. We forget that Jesus Flores is a 23-Year Old everyday catcher in The Big Leagues. And we miss him a lot. And you have a 24-Year Old 3rd Baseman that everyone thinks is 35 because of his maturity. He’s been here forever.”
Stan: “Don’t tell me he didn’t lie about his age (The Smiley Gonzalez Incident)!! That would be terrible!! (Lots of laughter)
Mike: “But you have got that and a 24-Year Old in Elijah (Dukes) and (Lastings) Milledge with a broken finger—he’s 23- Years Old. So we know we have a good start on a core group, but I will say this: you never have enough pitching. And pitching can get you just about whatever you want (in trade).”
Question: Do you have more teams interested in your players than they were in the past?
Mike: “There is a lot of interest in a lot of our players. On The Big League Level and especially in Our Minor League Prospects. We field calls about them constantly. It’s always 10 or 12 of the same group of guys that everybody wants. And almost every day we talk about them.”
Question: What are the chances that after the All-Star Break Nick Johnson will still be a National?
Mike: “We are open for business. If there is a good baseball trade to make that will positively impact us now and for the future—all of our options are on the table. There are very few immovable players on the roster.”
Question: And how is Dmitri (Young)?
“Dmitri is just getting himself back into shape after that 10 Day layoff when his mother passed away. We are going to evaluate and see where he is at in his conditioning and his baseball activities. Ultimately, sometime soon, he is going to begin a rehabilitation session at one of our levels.”
Question: When it comes to Milledge, what went wrong?
Mike: “What went wrong. I thought he was struggling to the point where he needed to go back down to AAA and figure it out. He was beginning that road to figuring it out in AAA. He was playing extremely well when he went down with the broken finger. I think his average had gone up from the high .100’s to .268 or so. And talking to Tim Foli (Syracuse Manager), he (Lastings) was getting back to where he was last year. Let’s not forget, the guy hit .268 with 14 Home Runs and 20 plus stolen bases in The Major Leagues last year. He’s a quality Major League Player. Circumstances led him to get off to a very slow start. I thought a prudent course was to get him right on the Minor League side and not experiment on the Major League side where he could get into a deeper fall than he already was. I thought the experiment worked when we sent him down. He was progressing nicely and then he had the broken finger. When that heals he will be back to pre-injury status.”
Question: You said you are open for business. Is there anything you are specifically targeting?
Mike: “Really, with a broad brush we are keeping very open minded. It’s what we have talked about in the past. It’s pitching, pitching, pitching—more athletic, more speed, more defensive oriented players that can produce offensively. Any mix or match in those areas.”
With that final answer--25 Minutes With Stan Kasten & Mike Rizzo Concluded.