Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Stan Kasten/Mike Rizzo Availability
For nearly 30 minutes this past Sunday, Team President Stan Kasten and General Manager Mike Rizzo met with the assembled bloggers in The Press Box at Nationals Park. There is a lot of information to digest in this one, so here we go with Stan Kasten/Mike Rizzo Availability from Blogger Day 2 on South Capitol Street.
Question: The record is what it is this year. How do you evaluate your accomplishments today and where are you going to focus immediately going forward?
Mike: “I think we have to evaluate the improvement from Opening Day to the end of the season—that is the litmus test here—to see how far we have gone? Who has made strides? How big of a stride have they made and what is the next step?”
Question: Stan, you have been at this a long time. Media landscape, how has it changed? Is it better or worse? Do you pay attention to it?
Stan: “I do pay attention to it. It is both better and worse for the changes that have happened. There is obviously much more, things are much more pervasive since I was a GM in a former life. I was ahead of the curve by subscribing to five newspapers around the country, which I would read diligently when they came to me about a week late. Just so I could keep up on what was going on in other cities. That is such an ancient concept now because now we have every paper, every minute. And all of those papers are in a constant race to advance the story--whatever The Story is. We see it all the time. Inevitably, it leads to mistakes and mistakes get made and magnified. And that is the bad part. But the good part is—many more ways to reach customers. And when the reaching is done correctly, with good information, it is a really good thing. When you have mistakes and they are multiplied by all these things--that is a bad thing. But IT IS NOT GOING AWAY! It is why we are taking these baby steps. We don’t know how to deal with the blogosphere, yet. We still haven’t figured it out. I think we are ahead of where we were a year ago and understanding it. We will know more a year from now. But it’s things like this that we want to start doing until we do figure out the exact right way.”
Follow up: If I can follow up and it has nothing to do with the blogosphere. We have seen one, two, three National mainstream stories about your club that have been completely incorrect?
Stan: “It’s not just here. It happens everywhere. That is part of the problem with the expansion so fast. You know, everything is happening at Internet speed, and including developments in these areas. So, yeah, that is a downside. But, I don’t want to stress that and minimize also the upside or so many different outlets, many different opinions about our product or our business. I don’t subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Believe me, there is! (Laughter) I promise you there is!! But, in general, publicity and talk about our club is good in general. You just have to figure out a way to minimize the problems that still exist as we are still learning how to do all this.”
Question: Mike, you’ve talked about the importance of defense up the middle. Obviously, in centerfield, you have improved that tremendously. I am interested in hearing you talk about upgrading second base and shortstop. And related, is Cristian Guzman the second baseman of the future?
Mike: “We haven’t approached Cristian with any of that. Or, have we made a decision on that. Cristian, offensively, is one of the better middle infielders in the game. Defensively, pretty sure handed shortstop, although his range is not quite where you want it to be. I haven’t approached him about moving to second base. It is a possibility, but the probability is to get one of those two positions in a different way—be it free agency, trade or that type of thing. But we are very cognoscente of speed and defense up the middle. It is vital to a pitching oriented ball club which I think we are going to be, not only this year and next year—but all the way through the future.”
Question: You mention Cristian Guzman’s range, is that a function of the problem with his feet (bunions)? Is it a problem with his conditioning? Is it a problem with his age? Can you pinpoint why he is losing his range?
Mike: “I think as the aging process goes on you lose a step. But he has made great strides this year in positioning himself better. He is getting to balls in the second half of the season that he wasn’t getting to in the first half. And that is a by-product of knowing the league better, watching film more often and having a better preparation approach to the game during the second half of the year than the first half.”
Question: How has your week been? (Toward Mike Rizzo)
Mike: “It has been great. It has been a great week, very busy, very…”
Stan: “How was Wednesday?” (In reference to the Yahoo! Story Rizzo would be fired)
Mike: “It was not as good as Monday!! (Laughter) But the misinformation, and I agree with Stan, was unfortunate. It didn’t affect me nearly as much as the people who knew me and were rooting for me because I knew on Tuesday that I had the job. The Wednesday stories were, at first, a little comical. And then as the day drew on—it seemed to kind of snowball into more of a for sure thing that I wasn’t going to get the job. Family members and friends were a little bit more vocal in their displeasure than they were at the end of things.”
Stan: “I directed all my displeasure at the media. I was GOOD that day!!”
Question: Stan, how do you answer questions from the press then on that day?
Stan: “I have a policy of not responding to media reports. I think we have one more explanation as to why I have that policy this week. I am not going to chase my tail like some people feel they have to because that is their job. I tell writers that if you have a source and you are a reporter and you want me to comment—I will give you comment. But, don’t come to me with this outlet over here reported this. I don’t play that game. And now I think, I think through a mutual learning process, there might be a little more care in following up these reports. I certainly hope that is the way it should work. We should all learn how to do this better. And this week was maybe a lesson to help both sides do this kind of thing.”
Question: Mike, nothing has really changed, but everything has changed. Am I making sense that there is a little different mindset that, OK, that title is gone—let’s dig in. You were digging in anyway.
Mike: “I understand the question. And I can honestly say I haven’t approached the job one bit different than when I was officially given the title last week. I always thought I had ownership of the job and there is only one way you can do this job—you better dive into it with both feet and keep grinding away. So in that vain, it hasn’t changed one bit. The title, the official title and the official job and all that, that brings, is a nice by-product of it. But as far as getting to work, getting to the office and doing my job—it hasn’t changed that much.”
Question: Mike, there are about five to six weeks left in the season. September 1st is coming up. What changes might we expect to see from those in the system below coming up here to the Big League Club?
Mike: “As we have said before, we are certainly going to control the innings of our young starting pitching. There are a handful of guys whose innings are going to come quickly to a close. So, we have to address that issue. We are certainly going to bring up a couple of pitchers that have performed for us already—the Martis’ & the Detwilers’ and that type. We are also going to bring up some other players to possibly give auditions to see what we got going into the winter. But the pitching is the big priority in the September call-ups. We are going to have to control innings and I have always made that very clear and very important that we are going to control the innings of these young guys.”
Question: Talking about pitching, free agent acquisitions over the winter. Is that any type of priority considering some of the things that have happened this season?
Mike: “I think that we’ve said we have four rookies in the rotation right now and one second year guy. We’ve always felt, I have always felt, getting a veteran pitcher at the top of the rotation doesn’t have to be a number one quality starting pitcher, but it is going to have to be a guy that is a veteran type of guy that can mentor the younger pitchers and take on some innings. A guy that is a workhorse that works well with the younger players to get everyone down a slot in the rotation to get a little bit more comfortable with themselves.”
Question: You mentioned in your introductory new conference about being a hybrid in terms of eyeball scouting first and supplementing that with statistical analysis. Can you give me a particular way where statistical analysis has helped you shed light on players that you didn’t get from eyeball scouting?
Mike: “With the pitchers, I am a big groundball guy. I think groundballs are better than flyballs because with a groundball you have a chance of getting two outs with one pitch. That has always been a sabermetric measurement that I have always looked at. When we did the Nyjer Morgan trade, there were sabermetrics plugged into that. We didn’t have a lot of data of Nyjer in centerfield because he played mostly in leftfield. Although, we did get lucky and we scouted him seven or eight games in centerfield when (Nate) McLouth was injured. He had to play centerfield. But we looked at zone ratings a lot and that type of thing. So, we bring the statistical analysis into it, although I trust more what I see than what I read. But, it is always nice when what I read corresponds with what I see.”
Question: Next month, are you specifically going to be looking at Adam Dunn and how he plays first base? He is still young enough that you could offer him a contract extension. Are you comfortable that he could be your 1st baseman for your future? And, are the veterans auditioning for the future as well?
Mike: “I wouldn’t say the veterans are auditioning for the club. But we have to answer questions about where we are going to be this winter to set the stage for what we are going to do in the winter. Which as we have seen this year, is very difficult. Once the season starts, it’s difficult to radically change your ball club. And we were fortunate this year to bring in some different bullpen arms who seemed to stabilize us a little bit, but it is difficult to do that. So, the winter is such an important part and these last five weeks or so are important times for me and my staff to get an understanding of what we really have on the team (currently).”
Question: How much of the first great Nats Team do you think you have accumulated already?
Mike: “I think we have got a lot of building blocks in place. You can see the key position players we already have under control—and I have said the starting rotation is young and with a lot of upside. We think we have the majority of the core of the team—when we become good—are already on the team now. And we are always looking at what we got in the Minor Leagues System. We have discussed before—Stan & I—The Arizona Fall League is really going to give a glimpse of the future of The Nats.”
Stan: “This is, and I am sure you are going to see stories as we approach it. I don’t know if many teams have put a class in The Arizona Fall League as prestigious as---as close to The Major Leagues—as we will. We will be announcing all the names. I think you will be impressed with the quality of the prospects and how close they are to The Major Leagues.”
Question: You moved your Dominican operation this spring. Is there a plan to keep it where it is right now? And are their plans to expand internationally? Right now, your international focus is kind of narrow.
Mike: “I disagree with the narrow part of that. We do a really good job in The Dominican Republic. We do have to expand ourselves into Venezuela, specifically, and the other Latin American Countries. We’ve signed 11 solid guys out of The Dominican Republic this season, this year alone. But we always felt the Dominican Academy was a temporary fix for us—although it has served us quite, quite well this season. We are looking to go there in the future and make a more permanent accommodation for our players. And we are going to do that in the very near future. So, it is a priority for us.”
Question: Any chance of ramping up the Pacific Rim—Japan, Korea, Australia—down in that area?
Mike: “Definitely, the Pacific Rim will be a place of focus for us. The Pacific Rim is strictly to supplement your Major League Club. Bill Singer is our coordinator of the Pacific Rim—Ex Major League Pitcher. And he goes there at least once per season. Some seasons he has gone twice. He is currently getting ready to go to The World Games that are in Europe this year and he keeps his finger on the pulse pretty good in the Pacific Rim.”
Question: How hard is it going to be to keep Stephen Strasburg out of here next year with all the buzz and all the excitement--all he represents and you know what he can do?
Mike: “Stephen is going to arrive here when he deserves to pitch in The Major Leagues. When he is developed correctly and when we deem he is Major League ready and he is going to help the Major League Club long term—he will be here. It will be on his time. It will be on his pace.”
Question: How much are Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse beating you up to send him to their location?
Mike: “Wherever he lands is going to be a good place for that ball club—for sure.”
Question: How close is he based on what we have seen at the end of his college career?
Mike: “The stuff is easy to gauge. It is Major League quality and it is Major League ready. But as I have said before, the adjustment really comes in the mental and emotional part of it—specifically for Stephen. The everydayness of professional baseball is, what I have found, the biggest adjustment that a college or high school player has to make. As a student-athlete, you go to class all day, you go to practice a little bit, and you have three to four games per week. And although it is time consuming, it is not your full-time job. You eat, drink and sleep it—which is what you have to do in professional baseball. To get ready for playing from pitching one game per week to pitching every five days with a bullpen in-between, those are adjustments, physically that you have to make. So, to answer the question as to how close he is to the Major Leagues: Stuff wise he is very close, if not there right now. He’s got the total package to pitch in the Major Leagues. We just have to make sure we ramp him up and he is ready for the Major Leagues—physically, emotionally and mentally.”
Question: Stan, you have said many times that you would not go heavy into free agency until the team was ready to win. Mike is interested in a veteran pitcher at the top of this rotation. Are you seriously considering going into the free agent market in a big way?
Stan: “I know that Mike and I are exactly in sync but I don’t think we get a Number 1 starter. First of all, you can’t get those. We are not going after a (C.C.) Sabathia. But we are going after a veteran. Someone to help young kids find out what it is like to be a Major Leaguer. I will say this about when Stephen, to name one, gets here, but there are other players down there who are coming—it’s a real good environment for them because we have four rookies and a 24-Year Old in our rotation. They have camaraderie. They also have this great friendly competitiveness—which I have seen with teams that build with young pitching staffs. And it was really good to have Stephen here this weekend to get to know them, to bond with them. And it is clear that that camaraderie and competition among them is going to be a good thing for him and he is going to be really good for them. He is going to be a pretty good competitor in that right. So I think that is a really good environment. If he had a mentor, maybe it’s a coach, but maybe it’s a real pitcher. That’s, I think, is what Mike is talking about as to the element we are looking for. I don’t think that we are going to go out there and sign a Number 1 pitcher as a free agent. I don’t see that in our future.”
Question: How confidant were you throughout the Strasburg negotiations? Do you feel there was a turning point where you felt this was going the way you wanted it to go?
Mike: “I think there was a momentum, a confidence we felt toward the end that we could get a deal done. Stan and I were sitting there with minutes left in the negotiations still with a little bit of a question mark in our minds, but all along…”
Stan: “I like to tell people we were sure about 11:58:42!!!”
Mike: “What I believe happened. I do believe Stephen was driving the negotiations. I do believe he wanted to play and I really feel he wanted to play for The Washington Nationals. And with that said I was confident that we would get a deal done. But when stuff starts going that fast and the momentum is rolling, it certainly is an uneasy feeling until you really get it done.”
Question: Who has the official clock? How do you let MLB know?
Stan: “Major League Baseball has the official clock and we are all synced to it.”
Mike: “It has to be stamped.”
Stan: “We hit the button when we have terms finally. And then we can take a few minutes to read the terms. But we have to agree to terms and all terms—every single one of them—before we can say we have a deal.”
Mike: “And on the player’s side, they must send also.”
Question: Is that only with a Major League contract?
Stan: “With a Minor League contract we just have to talk to MLB.”
Question: Did you have his (Strasburg’s) physical done and out of the way?
Stan: “There is not much we can talk about that but we had what we felt was enough information to move forward. And there is a reason why I can’t talk about that. There are rules and all kinds of stuff, but that was important to us. We satisfied ourselves.”
Mike: “It was a vital part of the negotiations.”
Question: Do you feel like you are going to be back at that same place (1st Pick Overall) next year?
Stan: “God, I hope not! That is why I want to win every game. I DO NOT want the number one pick next year or EVER AGAIN! Having said that, I think whoever we are picking the negotiation may go down to the last minute—that is certainly possible—until we fix the system to a sensible way like the NBA did a decade ago. They had the same problem and the problem is that players don’t get out and start their careers—that is the Number 1 problem. And that is now resolved in the NBA and I am confident something akin to that will be the end result here in baseball.”
Question: Will the owners make that a priority in the next CBA?
Stan: “I think so.”
Question: Mike said earlier this week that Strasburg is not the savior of this franchise. But how important is he to the image of the team?
Stan: “For sure, he was important for sure. I can’t quantify it for you because among the things I always stress is, unlike other sports, baseball takes 25 guys here and 200 guys down below there to get the 25 guys up here. One person, one person has never transformed a franchise as a player—never has happened—except with the possible exception of Babe Ruth. And that is why we were not going to allow history to change for one player. But I think everyone understood that. If Stephen reaches the success we hope for him, he will be really, really important, but he won’t be able to do it entirely by himself. It just doesn’t happen that way in baseball.”
Last Question: What in the last month of this season would have to happen for you to say—that was good?
Mike: “Obviously, our record is disappointing. We don’t like where it is, but for the continuation of the club to play extremely hard (is important). Last night’s game was a point in fact. They battled back to tie the game against a pretty darn good team. I like the effort. I like the improvement on the fundamental part of the game. I really like the team concept and the camaraderie we have in the clubhouse. It has been great. I’d like for our starting pitchers to take the next step forward. We see glimpses of Garrett Mock being the guy we thought he would be when we traded for him. I would certainly like to answer some questions for us going into the winter so we can prepare for 2010.”
Stan: “And this week has re-enforced what we have said the day we got here—if you don’t understand now—the overriding importance of a starting pitching rotation—you never will. That is why everything we do is directed at getting a solid starting rotation, which is stable and mature. I wish there were shortcuts, but this takes a little bit more time. What is happening, I think, this week we’ve had a bad week (on the field) but young pitchers take bumps and bruises and after they get 20, 30 or 40 starts in the Major Leagues—they are better. We go through that, but that is Job 1—get a starting rotation that every night has a chance to go into the 7th inning. When that happens, all of a sudden, your whole ball club is different. And that is what we are trying to work on.”
With that final answer, The Stan Kasten/Mike Rizzo Availability with bloggers in the Press Box at Nationals Park concluded.
All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved