Thursday, October 11, 2007

My Conversation With Stan Kasten (Part Two)

As we continue Part Two of my Chat with Team President Stan Kasten--we pick up the conversation discussing Our Washington Nationals on the field.

Here we go:

Turning to The Team on the field—many people were obviously pleased when The Nationals signed Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary—what did you and Jim Bowden (General Manager) do to convince Ownership these guys needed to be signed? (SBF)

“First of all, Ownership just needed to hear our strong views on this. They don’t take to convincing—they are supportive. They always have been. We looked at the landscape of where we were and what we could do—and what it would take. They waited until my recommendation and when I gave it to them—they backed me up completely. It was a GREAT EXERCISE for all of us--because, we are all new working with each other. A lot of progress has been made because of that cooperation that’s been going on.”

Was Major League Baseball upset with The Nationals over—over slotting money (for McGeary)? (SBF)

“Major League Baseball, as you know, is in charge of growing the business and keeping the business as strong as it could possibly be. They help us; they help the other teams make the best and sound decisions. And, in the case of the draft—they (MLB) make recommendations. In cases of arbitration, they make recommendations. Just as The Union does (MLBPA) for its clients. But, at the end of the day—every team is not just permitted, but REQUIRED to make their own decisions, in their own best interests. And, certainly, in the case of this year’s draft—that’s exactly what we did.”

Speaking of Ownership and this may well be a question better suited for Mark Lerner—how do you feel they (The Lerners) did as first year owners on a team—in business they have never really been involved with? (SBF)

“Well, you should ask Mark—by all means. I think they feel good about many things. They feel good about the direction. They feel good about the team on the field. I think they feel good about the developments in the Minor Leagues. But, none of us has had any time to stop and contemplate how good we feel, because we are all so busy with the many, many challenges that we still have in front of us—both on the field, and off the field—particularly getting this new stadium up and running.”

We were talking one time in the tunnel next to Section 320. I was asking about attendance (specifically about the team not making 2 Million and it did not worry Mr. Kasten). You responded you were a “Big Picture Guy”. So, if you are painting a large canvas—where are you at in that process? (SBF)

“I can’t give you a percentage, but I have to tell you, in terms of Big Picture, that’s the happiest I am about any aspect of this Organization. The Standings are one thing—many people focus on that. The games we won another thing—more people focus on that. I really don’t. I spend all my time looking at the Big Picture. And, that is a great, great story. I am VERY PLEASED with the progress made since this Ownership came in about 18 months ago. The Sea Change that has happened in terms of Player Development has been impressive. Not only to me, who has watched this process for years, but around Our Industry (Professional Sports)--its been acknowledged the kind of progress that been made here (in Washington). And, its more gratifying, I think, when you look at what’s going on in Our Industry when you see The Arizona’s (Diamondbacks) and Cleveland’s (Indians) and Colorado’s (Rockies) advancing to the final four teams in the (MLB) Playoffs. And, they are all teams that went about their business similarly to how WE ARE GOING ABOUT OUR BUSINESS. From the start, I have believed this was the correct path. What’s happened this year (in the playoffs) has only reinforced that belief.”

So, other than the team record—what else was better than anyone expected—what other accomplishments can you say you were proud to see? (SBF)

“Certainly, The Minor Leagues—including the fast tracking of some kids all the way to The Majors. We didn’t know that Matt Chico, who was picked up in a late season trade (August, 2006 for Livan Hernandez) last year would emerge and become a reliable Major League Pitcher and Starter in his Rookie Year. We didn’t know that a Rule V Pick (Jesus Flores) would not just stick with the team all year, but show a really, really bright future. We didn’t know that a pitcher who started the year in A Ball (John Lannan) after being drafted the year before, would make it, not just to The Major Leagues, but also demonstrate he has a real future in the rotation.”

“Those are the things [SBF] that are most important to me as I have my eye on The Big Picture. I have said this all year long, and its important that I repeat it: The Job that Jim Bowden and his Staff have done, identifying pieces to bring here last winter—and the job that Manny Acta and his staff did, managing those pieces, juggling those pieces, getting them to become the most cohesive Major League Team that we all saw them become by the second half of the year--were very, very invigorating for me. And, it was EXHILIRATING. I think we all owe both of them (Bowden & Acta) and their staffs' a TREMENDOUS amount of gratitude for the TREMENDOUS work they have done.”

I was going to ask you this question latter, but its appropriate now. Certainly, Manny Acta did a fine job—is there something that he accomplished or did this past year that had you saying to yourself ‘Wow, I didn’t think he could do that?’ Or, ‘He’s farther along than I thought!!’ (SBF)

“I thought he was impressive in his ability to not panic early on. If you recall, the first week (of 2007) was not just a week of losses. It was really a week of UGLY LOSSES!! (Yes—it was, I remember well. SBF) And, Manny remained true to what he believed. Which was The Focus on The Big Picture. That was very impressive to see. I thought he was much more adept at handling The Media than a guy of his relative youth might have been. And, that’s a useful thing for us as we continue to move forward.”

How about Jim Bowden? Has he surprised you this year? (SBF)

“I don’t know about surprise, but I have been impressed with Jim since I got here. Jim's work ethic, how smart he is. And, I continue to see that some of the things he was criticized for, before I got here—have not been problems for others, or me, since I have been here. He has done his job, and done it well.”

You were quoted recently as saying: don’t expect the team to spend a lot of money on Free Agents. But, if some player came along that maybe overvalued himself and realizes later that he will not get what he wants—would you then consider jumping in—if he was a player that could not only help you now, but in the future? (SBF)

“Yes, absolutely, I would. But, again we have our eyes on the long term and the future. So, certainly, we would. When Free Agency discussions start, the day after The World Series ends—we are going to be talking to everyone, in case there is an opportunity or fit that we were not expecting. Or, a VALUE we were not expecting. We are definitely going to explore. Now, I did not say, in fact, never said—I would not sign Free Agents. Look at my history and my career in three sports (MLB Braves, NBA Hawks and NHL Thrashers)—I have signed many, many Free Agents. I just think there is a time and place for it. Where we are, right now, I have told you about the three ways to acquire talent: growing it yourself, and frankly—we don’t have any players who are obviously ready to jump from AAA or AA. So, we can’t bring to The Majors kids just yet—unless we find surprises. Another way is through Free Agency. But, I think that way is for Final Pieces—a last resort. And, I don’t think we are there yet (Near a Championship), That's why I think making trades—strategic trades for pieces that can be part of your system for a long time is a correct course. That’s where I think we should spend most of our time and focus.”

“That being said, I wouldn’t rule out acquiring the other ways as well.”

A lot of fans have mentioned and commented how there is not a lot of talent at AA and AAA ball right now—and some of those don’t want to go through another year with filler parts. They would rather see you buy someone else to help now. (SBF)

“Well, that could happen. We are going to look at everything. I don’t know what the final team (for 2008) will be. Truthfully, I don’t even know our budget for next year. It depends on many, many factors. And, it’s more confusing this year than any other because there is so much uncertain about the costs and the revenue of a new stadium. To a great extent, we are going to have to make guesses about this stuff. So, its tricky-I just can’t answer this for you fully in a vacuum. And, I can’t answer it in the abstract—but what I can tell you is that we are going to explore every thing, and I am confident that we are going to find some interesting solutions.”

I was reading the other day, a story that says you guys (The Nationals) get revenue sharing money from Major League Baseball. Is that true? (SBF)

“Yes, its true. Remember, while we are at RFK—we are not among the better-advantaged teams economically. That’s just the way it is. We hope that will change in the future. We are sure that will change in the future. But, while we were at RFK—we are not a Big Revenue Team---to say the least.”

Ok—switching gears again—you are trying to build a fan base. A New Stadium will bring interest—but after a few years you need to have dedicated fans—so what do you have to do to build the fan base in DC? (SBF)

“First, let me set the record straight in a couple of respects. We had 15,000 Season Ticket Holders---Full Season Equivalents when we started the year (2007). That was middle of the pack for Major League Baseball--In fact, very strong for a team that had been a last place team for a number of years in a row. And, had one of the lowest payrolls in Baseball. So, the Season Ticket Base was already strong. That’s a very encouraging signal about this market.”

“Secondly, from talking to the fans and others that I talk to—it’s clear that the interest level is very high. And, we will get the attendance we deserve. But, the ONUS IS ON US!! We have to turn the corner on the product. We must make the product the best it can be. When we do that, I have no concerns about fans, or attendance—because it will come, IF WE EARN IT! That’s what we focus all our time on—getting this product to be top level—and hopefully get there as quickly as we can.”

That concludes Part Two of My Conversation With Stan Kasten. Believe it or not--this chat is not over with yet. After the many comments today--I have followed up with a few more questions to clarify some remarks. Hopefully, Mr. Kasten will get back to me tomorrow. Nevertheless, there were a few more questions pertaining to New Nationals Park, The Artwork to be displayed there, Possible Uniform Changes for 2008 and, of course--those planned Cherry Trees on South Capitol Street. Answers, which really didn't fit into the subject of today's posting.

Those answers and hopefully Mr. Kasten's followup remarks will appear tomorrow evening.


Unknown said...

Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the Uniforms part especially!!! GW!