Saturday, January 24, 2009

Season Ticket Holder Hot Stove Luncheon

Please give us some credit on this one. After The African Queen and I attended The Photo Op at Angela's House this morning, we headed over to Nationals Park for The Hot Stove Luncheon. Came home briefly to post up The Rebuilding Together Update, traveled to The ESPN Zone for The Winter Caravan Cook-Off (that story coming later). Then, headed back home and stayed up all night to transcribe and report on The Season Ticket Holder Hot Stove Luncheon. And you can bet, we will be at Pfitzner Stadium, in Woodbridge, in just a few short hours for Day 3 of Our Washington Nationals Winter Caravan.

Every single seat was taken. There was some buzz in the air. 250 Fans of Our Washington Nationals were on hand today at Nationals Park for the very first Hot Stove Luncheon. Hosted by NBC's Meet The Press Moderator David Gregory--Team President Stan Kasten, Our General Manager Jim Bowden, Assistant GM Mike Rizzo, along with Our Manager Acta sat on the dais and took questions and answers for nearly one hour after lunch was served in the packed Conference Rooms located on The Stars & Stripes Level at The South Capitol Street Ballpark. If they could have sold 500 tickets, they would all have been taken as well.

This excellent event taking place from 11:30AM to 1:30PM.

Radio Broadcaster Charlie Slowes got the festivities rolling by welcoming everyone in attendance, and then introduced a specially invited surprise guest. Who immediately stole the show. My Favorite Player Of All Time!! Frank Howard!! was on hand to tell one of his patented self-deprecating stories (sending everybody into fits of laughter) and later signed autographs and took pictures with anyone wanting. And also by just being there, Hondo again fueling even more speculation that he may be coming on board to assist Our Washington Nationals in some capacity in the very near future.

A topic which Mr. Kasten neither confirmed or denied, but did say he and Frank Howard are talking. Let's hope Hondo becomes a member of Our Washington Nationals--and soon.

Scattered throughout the audience, six tables of attendees were fortunate to spend the lunch hour with players from Our Team. John Lannan, Willie Harris, Garrett Mock, Steven Shell, Joel Hanrahan and Terrell Young all sat down with fans to enjoy the meal during this Hot Stove Luncheon.

The Lunch menu included Mixed Greens Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette, Pan Seared Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce, Grilled Vegetables, Wild Rice Pilaf, Bread, Rolls, Chocolate Cake with Strawberries served with Tea, Water & Coffee.

And all attendees received an Inaugural Season Nationals Park Baseball, Red Curly "W" License Plate Holder and Blue Curly "W" Scarf. The atmosphere was good and the give and take among everyone involved in the Q & A Session was quite entertaining and lively. Hopefully, Our Washington Nationals will have more of these events in the very near future.

As always--here is The Complete Transcript of the entire Question & Answer Session moderated by David Gregory, with Charlie Slowes rounding up the audience participation. Your opportunity to get a good feel of what happened at Nationals Park on Friday January 23rd at The Hot Stove Luncheon for Season Ticket Holders.  It's a good read.

With that--here we go.

David Gregory: “We are all in the same starting place. We love our community. We love our team. We are so appreciative to The Lerner Family and this great team for bringing us this team and constantly striving to be the best. I am sure I am like a lot of you (fans). I’ve got three young kids and having baseball in Washington, especially with the character of this team, means a lot to me and a lot of fun. (Rounds of Applause)

“So here is what I am going to do. I am going to ask a couple of questions to try to get this started. And then throw up your hand and we will weave you into questions with Charlie (Slowes) here. I’ll tell you something. You (Charlie) have one of the greatest voices. Doesn’t he? (Another round of applause). When you hear that voice, you know it’s a hot Sunday afternoon---right? Whenever I hear him, that’s what I think. So, Charlie’s got the mic and we will get it around and get your questions answered.”

“I am going to start with Jim Bowden and talk about a big question on a lot of fans minds, which is how are we going to look on Opening Day? There are still a lot of free agents left. We are just trying to ignore the fact the economy is in some kind of distress. Tell me what you think Our Nats are going to look like on Opening Day with some of the choices out there?”

Jim Bowden: “Well David, there are 97 Free Agents still available as of this hour. And we are staying on top of every single one of them, monitoring them. We have all of them on our board and have negotiated with several of them. We are also engaged in trade talks with multiple teams on a regular basis to try to improve our team that way. We are very pleased with some of the things we were able to do this off-season. In particular, the trade that brought us Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham. We believe with Scott Olsen and John Lannan, who is in the room today, that we have two left-handed starting pitchers that are young and can be here long term and capable of becoming 12-15 game winners and being able to pitch 200 innings per year. So, to be able to add Olsen to the rotation, we thought, was a great acquisition this off-season. Also, bringing in Josh Willingham who has proven he can hit 20 to 25 Homers, drive in 80 to 85 runs, a great makeup guy—tremendous character, hard working, to put him out there with Milledge and Dukes and Kearns and Willie Harris gives us a tremendous amount of depth, protects us from injury and also protects us from players having down years and don’t bounce back. So, we’ve added some depth there and a couple of good high-end arms that we took some risk on. Daniel Cabrera and Terrell Young, who is in the room today, both have tremendous arms and we are hoping that Randy St.Claire and Manny Acta and Jose Rijo can help develop them. So, we’ve made some moves that we think are going to make our franchise better. But certainly we have a ways to go to get to where we want to get to and are working very hard to do that.”

Gregory: “Let me follow up on one point which is where, as you make these moves and you assess the team, this is obviously a period of growth for the team, how do you assess what the needs are right now?”

Bowden: “I think the needs we all talk about that everyone knows and fans knows is—Number One—we need a left-handed big bat in the middle of the lineup, someone that can help protect our young hitters. (Gregory—My Son is available by the way. He’s six years old, but he’s coming up fast.—laughter) We’ll take a look at him. To have to put Milledge in the clean up spot put a lot of pressure on Zim and Dukes. To have someone take the pressure off them would help them develop a lot quicker, so that’s a need. Obviously, starting pitching and bullpen will always be a need of every club to get to where you want to get to. But those would be our biggest needs right now.”

Gregory: “Let me ask either Jim or Mike (Rizzo) to comment on some of the minor league players. Some from 2008 that you think will have a big impact this year?

Rizzo: “We feel that going into the ’09 Season, we have several players in our minor league system that have a chance to positively affect our Major League Club. One that jumps to mind is our number one ranked prospect by Baseball America--Jordan Zimmermann. He was a 2nd round draft choice out of University of Wisconsin/Whitewater back in 2007. He’s come very quickly through the system. He’s a major league invite to spring training this year. We think he has great upside and is a possibility of being major league ready as soon as this spring training. Other minor league players with maybe a longer shot at helping the ball club sometime during the season would be a left-handed pitcher named Ross Detwiler, a 2007 first round pick for us. A hard throwing left-handed pitcher that performed magnificently at the end of the season and throughout the playoffs. He really showed us he has the chance to be a big game type of pitcher. He may be a guy that Manny calls on sometime during the ’09 Season.”

Gregory: “I want to get Stan to comment. Obviously, as ticket holders, we really appreciate the stadium. Speaking for myself, I love it. It’s been a great fan experience and I know Stan that you continue to try make that better. Talk about what changes might be upcoming?”

Mr. Kasten: “I am glad you said that. I am very proud of the stadium and I do think it is a place where people can come and have a good night or afternoon of entertainment—irrespective of that day’s final score. I think people come here and have a good time. We do have physical plans to make changes this off-season, mostly in the entry area, the plaza area. We are going to completely change The Red Porch Restaurant. We are going to expand the front of it into the bowl and make those glass doors open into the bowl with more table seating. Also, on the plaza side, we are going to blow out those walls and make that open to the plaza level, a fire pit and outdoor seating. We are going to change the menu. That (area) was the last thing done for Opening Day (2008). We literally had that turned over to us the day before our first game last year. So we had to go through our first season with that not being what we wanted it to be. So that all will be changed. We are going to have a little bit of a stage in centerfield, in the plaza, with more programs before the game. More programmed activities going on to entertain fans who do come as early as three hours before the game starts. We are going to have more things for them out there. We are going to have MASN conducting the Pre-Game Show from there every game this year and that’s going to be fun for all our fans. And at some point, but I don’t know if it’s going to be done by Opening Day, at some point early, we are going to have our three statues put out there in the plaza (to a big applause)—including one for my young friend over here (pointing at Frank Howard).”

“So that is going to be fun. And better signage, things to make the experience more fun here and makes things go easier. I think it’s already a great experience, but we are also going to be adding those touches. We are always open to suggestions and one thing I always say in this job is that I am always blessed with lots and lots of free help (laughter). But I do appreciate it. So by all means, keep it coming. The ballpark will never be finished and we will always be looking for ways to make it even better.”

Question from Five Year Season Ticket Holder: “I am not really impatient, but I wonder about when we are going to have a contender and what you guys are doing for that. I know we have four players that are arbitration eligible, how do you balance taking care of those people, keeping their respect, controlling payroll and do you have a target of what payroll will be this year?”

Bowden: “I will take the arbitration part of the question (laughter). Obviously, arbitration is a process that you never want to bring on a player because when you do, really everybody loses. The player loses, the club loses, and it’s not a situation that you ever want. The preference is to always settle it. That being said, you do a bad contract with a player just to settle it, what you do is not only affect that player, you know affect the entire class of players. Not only for that year, but the following years because salaries never go down in the arbitration process, only up. So it’s always an industry issue. What we have always tried to do here that’s important, is we strive within our system to negotiate a fair deal that good for the player and good for the club. And we are going to continue to do that.”

Audience Question: “My question is about Ryan Zimmerman who is clearly the face of the franchise. What are the plans in terms of locking him up for a long term extension?”

Bowden: “We’ve been in negotiations with Ryan Zimmerman’s Agent, Brodie Van Wagonen on a regular basis over the last three years. We continue to do that. There are times that we make some good progress. Then there will be signing or two that takes us back. But we are making progress. The negotiations have been good. The relationship with Ryan is phenomenal. We have great relationships with his agents. It’s a business, a lot of money is involved, but we continue to work toward it and I feel optimistic that at some point it will get done.”

Gregory: “I would like to hear from Manny, just your own assessment of how the team takes shape in some of your priorities here when you think about fielding this team this season?”

Manny Acta: “Well obviously, I like to win like everybody else. But I am happy with the progress we have made. What happened here last year I don’t think any one of us was anticipating that. And I don’t think any team in baseball was prepared to have back up plans for that. It was unbelievable. But the fact is that I do trust my guys. I like my guys and this is a better team than the one that two years ago made everybody look silly by winning three times more games than people were thinking. I relayed this story to a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago about how when we first came here two years ago we went into spring training and we had one starting pitcher who was coming back from surgery—John Patterson. Jim put together a bunch of guys along with Mike and everybody else. We ran 12 guys out there to compete for four spots in the rotation. I believe you guys remember that. We came back the very next year and now had two guys in the rotation, both coming from surgery—Shawn Hill and John Patterson—and we know the story on that one. Then, coming into this year, we are going into spring training with three young guys. The oldest one is 27 years old with a good arm. Three spots in the rotation are already locked in. And we have some quality guys to compete for those last two spots. To me that’s progress and I know you heard from Jim and you heard from Stan about ‘pitching, pitching, and pitching’ and that’s the way I see things. I do have more patience than some of you guys—obviously (chuckles). And that shows (laughter). But I see the progress and now we have a lot more depth than we had in the past--as Jim mentioned before. I don’t know how you can anticipate playing seven different infielders in each position like we did last year. Your job is to come to the game, cheer and boo—whatever you want to do. But our job is to analyze everything. I don’t know how many of you guys knew this, but we played at least seven different guys at each infield position last year. These kids played hard all year. I had no complaint over that. And with the depth now with Willingham—we have five, six quality outfielders. The acquisition of Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez are huge because now, knock on wood, Cristian (Guzman) was able to play the whole season. But if now we have an injury with Cristian, we can now throw out a legit shortstop and our defense won’t suffer. I am optimistic. I pray for health and if we are healthy, we are going to surprise a lot of people again because we all know that no one picked up to finish last, last year. And no one picked the team that went to the World Series to go to The World Series. Spring training, fresh start and hopefully everybody shows up healthy and I got my money on my guys.”

Question from audience: “How are we looking down the road in keeping our own players that are here now and in the farm system over the next couple of years so they don’t go through free agency to other teams and we can keep our own players.”

Bowden: “I think it’s very important that you draft your players and keep the players you draft. As I said before, we’ve been negotiating with Ryan Zimmerman and our goal is to sign him long term. And the same thing with all our young players that come up. The one’s that are successful, that we can build around, those are the one’s we are going to want to keep and be able to do so. We have a tremendous amount of payroll flexibility over the next few years. We are not locked into long-term contracts at all. So the flexibility is there to spend the money the right way after this year. And I also want to add, because I know the question before about our payroll was serious—we have never had an exact payroll number. The number is always fluid. Certainly, we have an area in which we would like to be in that makes sense---but if an opportunity comes up we present it to Stan, who presents it to ownership and I think all of you read that we made a run at Mark Teixeira. The fact that our owners stepped up and played with all the big boys in baseball. The Yankees, The Red Sox, The Angels, we were right there with all of them. And so if an opportunity comes up which makes sense, it’s something we look at. But you don’t win by just spending money. I think The Yankees have proven that by the number of World Series they have won over the past five years. You don’t do it just by spending money. Tampa Bay, no one expected them to get to The World Series, but they built it right and they got there. And now they were able to add a couple of free agents because they are good enough to keep winning. The Colorado Rockies were not a team that anyone thought would be in The World Series. They got there. You can do it with brains and good young players. Certainly, when you add a Teixeira or if there is another piece that can help us get there quick enough—it’s something we are open to—and the numbers are always fluid based on what the opportunities are to make the team better.”

Gregory: “If I could interject one question, Stan maybe you can take this because it’s real for not just the community, but for the team. The economic impact that may face baseball in general and our team specifically.”

Mr. Kasten: “Well, not withstanding pronouncements agents representing free agents (laughter), it’s definitely having an impact on our business as it’s impacting every single person in this room. We see some impact on ticket prices but some of that is from the inevitable byproduct of the second year in a new stadium and all of that. We are seeing it in sponsorships. There are whole categories of sponsors that are not playing right now. The auto category, the bank category. This has changed some of the ways we have gone about it. We have an advantage in many respects because we are the only LEEDS certified stadium. Everyone that advertises anything now has to have a green component to their strategy. So we are very good for those types of people. We are doing the types of things to try to deal with what we hope is a short-term experience. We hope just one year. But it’s something we are learning as we go. Remember, baseball is the first sport that has had to market into the teeth of this recession. We started selling in October. Well that’s when things got really bad. Hockey and basketball have yet to go through their first off-season. But if as I suspect we are still not through this—this coming summer, I think they are going to be impacted as well. Hopefully, like everyone else in this room, I hope we are through it by the summer. We can keep our fingers crossed.”

Audience Question: “I have two questions. Where are we in thinking about Orlando Hudson and Adam Dunn? And will ticket holders be able to get to their seats this year to watch The Nats hit batting practice?” (To applause)

Bowden: “Without getting into any specifics, as I said earlier, we are looking into every free agent that is there. If there is a deal that we think makes sense for us, that’s something we will present. We continue our discussions in anyway we can improve the team that we can recommend—we will do that.”

Mr. Kasten: “As per the batting practice thing. Traditionally the home team hits first and then the road team does. We’ve talked about flipping that on maybe not everyday because it impacts the rest of the routine for the players. But we think there can be days we can do that. And as you know, we built the ballpark so that fans could get there early. We only had that outfield part open because we can’t open the entire park three hours early, that just wouldn’t work for us. But I understand your question, we have talked internally about flipping from time to time and I think you will probably see that at least on some occasions this year—if I get the OK from Manny—it’s totally up to Manny (more chuckles).”

Audience Question: “I would like to see Ryan Zimmerman freed up to bunt more often. He proved to be a tremendous bunter his first year. I think it adds a great element of an unknown to a third baseman you don’t know will bunt the ball 35 feet or hit it 450 feet. And the second one is if Frank Howard will have an official role with the team this year? (Grand Applause—partial standing ovation).”

Gregory: “And will Frank Howard be available to bunt?” (Laughter)

Mr. Kasten: “Before you answer that (Manny), can I say that it would make his arbitration case for us much better if he started to bunt more than hit home runs.” (Chuckles)

Charlie Slowes: “Manny, I might suggest that on the days you have infield/outfield practice you have a guest, because no one wields a fungo bat better than Frank Howard.”

Manny: “Well first of all, no player on our team is designated as a bunter or non-bunter. Ryan Zimmerman bunts on his own when he wants to. That does not come from the dugout. And actually, when you hit in the middle of the lineup, you shouldn’t be bunting. (Laughter). But he is free to do that anytime he is leading off innings, where he is going to start rallies for us. I have never stopped him from doing it and also when the situation calls for it. If you are playing in Philadelphia where you can get jammed and hit a home run, I don’t think you will want your third hitter to be bunting. But that’s part of the game; every team has people who do that. That’s something Willie Harris will do, guys like Hernandez, Guzman, some of those types of guys will do. But I don’t think the middle of the lineup guys are called on to do that other than to start rallies and stuff. I would rather see him swing the bat. But sir, this is America, and every one of you guys has a right to manage (laughter building) and coach. I always have told you guys two things. That in America everybody knows two things—they know how to manage better than you and they know how to raise your kids better than you. (To huge laughter and applause). I respect your opinion.”

Mr. Kasten: “And as far as Frank goes—I’ve known Frank for years. He worked for me for five years? How long was it in Atlanta (talking to Hondo)? 5 or 6 years in Atlanta, so we go back a long ways. But by the way, did you do a lot of bunting in your career? I don’t remember very many? A lot of strikeouts though, I do remember that!! (Hugh Laughter)”

Hondo: “Yeah, about 1500 of those!!” (More laughter)

Mr. Kasten: “Anyway, we all love Frank as much as any of you out there do. There are talks going on—not anything I can talk about today—but Frank and I are having discussions.”

Gregory: “Can I weave in another question and that’s about Our New President. Is there a chance he is going to throw out the first pitch?”

Mr. Kasten: “Well, we’ve invited him as you know. Our President, no matter who he is, is invited here to throw out the first pitch of the season. We know he is a sports fan. He walks all around town with that White Sox Hat. And as I tell people, I use to be a Braves Fan—you can get over that stuff. (Laughter) So, he’s moved to town, his kids have moved to town, just like once upon a time you had a different allegiance (to Gregory) that you are know changing David. (That’s right—Gregory) So, we are certainly hopeful of having him not only just this year, but every year.”

Audience Question: “As a lifetime Washingtonian, it’s exciting just to come out and see baseball again. So, my question is to Manny first and then to Jim: Will be see more small ball now that you know the stadium, it doesn’t play long, it plays more to speed. Will be see the team made up in a way of small ball. And if that is the case, will we be going after players that give us that type of production?”

Manny: “What is small ball? I think the term has been abused as of late and people are including getting a guy over from second to third, hitting a sacrifice fly, hitting behind a runner, stealing a base, putting all of that together with small ball. I think you play depending on what you have. And small ball you use it when you have to. 1st and 2nd with no outs in the 8th inning and the game is tied—if Willie Harris comes up to the plate, everybody in this room knows he is going to bunt. Here goes the small ball. Now, people talk about running and all that type of stuff. I am not afraid to read and learn the new stuff about the game. And I just don’t run people for the 25 people in the stands who think that I am aggressive when they get thrown out left and right. Now, if you want me to run, we need to have Jose Reyes over here. We need to have Ty Cobb. We need to have Lou Brock. Then I would be running everybody out of town (Much Laughter). It all depends on what you have. A lot of people in here do not understand that if we are struggling with our On Base Percentage, like we did last year. On Base Percentage means you have to be on base—if you are not on base---people are asking us to put on the hit and run, to bunt, to run. I’ve done some research and believe me—I bunt when I have to bunt and I don’t bunt when I think I don’t need to bunt. It’s not going to change and that goes back to the last question. Everybody has their own why to do things.”

“Now, I am going to ask everybody in here. Who led The National League in stolen bases the last three years? The New York Mets. Did they win The World Series? No. Who won The World Series? The Boston Red Sox? The Big Teams and Stuff? You win ball games by getting people on base and by driving them in. (much clapping). On Base Percentage wins games. The name of the game is you score more runs than the other team. You have a chance to score runs when you get people on base. And the fact that some guys is running like crazy, or some guy is swing the bat or bunting or whatever, that has it’s moment and it’s count. The scoreboard dictates what you are going to do. I respect you, but I hear people yelling some times how about a hit and run? With the game 5-0. How can you put on a hit and run with the game five to nothing? (Laughter) But I respect everybody’s opinion and when we get to a point when we can play small ball—we will play small ball. And we will play Big Ball when we play Big Ball. OK? (Tons of laughter) I should say Low Ball.” (Clapping)

Mr. Kasten: “What we don’t want ideally is where our best small ball player also leads us in Home Runs (Willie Harris). That’s something we really don’t need (more laughter).”

Manny: “Guys, getting the runner over from second to third is not small ball. It’s doing things right. It’s playing the game right. That’s not called small ball. Because the term has been so popular I am not going to have all our guys bunting so a few of you guys can say I am playing small ball. The fact is we are going what makes sense. If our guys are healthy, we are going to show the world that we are better than what we showed last year—that’s a fact.”

Audience Question: “Because our team is not that good, do you feel we must offer more to get those free agent players under contract?”

Bowden: “Absolutely. We saw The Tigers a few years ago when they signed Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez. They had to overpay to get those guys to Detroit. And the rest of the industry looked and said: ‘What are you doing?’ Ordonez was worth $8 Million and he got $14 Million per year. But they got the player and two years later they played in The World Series. Certainly we know that. Look at this off-season signings. Let’s talk about Pat Burrell. He signed for two years at $7 mil with Tampa. Well gee, guess what? Tampa was just in The World Series. The player decided to take less because he wanted to win. He wanted to go there. Raul Ibanez—goes to The Phillies because, guess what? They were just in The World Series. I’ll take less, three years at $10 mil because I want to win. Milton Bradley—hum? The Cubs finish in third place so I will sign there for three years times $10 mil. So, you saw all those guys pick the winners and they took less money to go there. When players are going to go to a team that lost 102 games, you are going to have to overpay or you are not going to get the player. Certainly, we all understand that phenomenon.”

Audience Question: “How are exposure in Latin America and The Pacific Rim? What’s going on with International Free Agents?”

Mike Rizzo: “Our Latin America Operation is in full force. We have a double academy in The Dominican Republic. We’ve recently signed six exciting young Dominican players to Nationals Contracts. They are slated to appear in The Dominican Summer League next year. We’ve hired a coordinator of Dominican Republic Scouting who is going to inject some organization and energy into our Latin America Scouting Programs. We are continuing to be a force down there in Latin America. We’ve got bigger and better ideas for the future. As far as Pacific Rim Scouting, we are just in the infancy stages of getting involved with that market. We feel that down the road it could be a lucrative market for us. But the Pacific Rim players are usually a Major League ready to impact your Major League Club—and not specifically for prospects for the future. So, if there is a Japanese Pitcher, for example, that would positively impact our Major League Club actively, we have scouted them in-depth. Bill Singer, who is our Coordinator of Pacific Rim Scouting, and myself, take an annual trip to Japan to scout all those leads. So, we are well versed on those particular players and down the road they may fit more so than today.”

Audience Question: “Strasburg is considered generally a once in a generation talent. After what happened to Aaron Crow last year, do you think the agents have you over a barrel? Should we expect to see Strasburg in a Nationals Uniform come September?”

Bowden: “First of all, I think we have a great relationship with Scott Boras. I’ve drafted a lot of his players over the years. We signed them all. Mike Rizzo has drafted a lot of Scott Boras’s clients. He signed them all. We drafted Espinoza this year and were able to sign him. We have a good working relationship with Scott. Obviously, Strasburg, our guys saw him pitch last week—his first pitch was 97 MPH. The next one was 98 and the next one was 100. His breaking ball was unbelievable. He’s got a great delivery. He is as good as what they are writing. He’s a special talent. Certainly, we were all disappointed we didn’t sign Crow, but at the same time, we do get that pick again this year. We didn’t lose the pick. And we do feel this year’s draft is deep enough that we shall get a player either equal to or better than Crow talent wise with that same pick again. Our plans are to sign all our draft picks and players. That was our plan with Crow. That will be our plan going forward and we are going to get it done.”

Audience Question—youngster on official school business (laughter) for his school’s news team. “What can we expect from the new coaches this year? What will they bring to the table?”

Manny: “Actually, we didn’t have a chance to have an off-season. We went to work right away—Jim and I put together a big list and interviewed a lot of coaches. We put together a young coaching staff—an energetic coaching staff—a very smart coaching staff. So, we are thrilled. We are bringing in Jim Riggleman who is going to be my bench coach. He’s managed over six years in the Big Leagues. I’ve known him for a while. He was managing The Cubs and working in The Cardinals and The Dodgers Organizations. He was in Seattle last year. He is going to be a big help to us. We are bringing back Rick Eckstein. He is going to step up and be our hitting coach. He’s a young and energetic guy to work with our guys here. On first base, this was our toughest job during the off-season for Jim and Stan and myself—recruiting the great Marquis Grissom. Marquis is going to be just great for our guys. He is going to work with our outfielders and our base running. We finally convinced him to step out of retirement of the game and come and work for us. At third base we are bringing one of the highly touted guys. A big time prospect that probably is going to manage in the Big Leagues some day—Pat Listach. He’s been managing AAA for The Cubs. He comes highly recommended to Jim by some very trusted people. And highly recommended to me too. We interviewed the guy and I was familiar with him in The Minor Leagues. Just a terrific guy. He’s going to coach 3rd base. He’s going to work with our infielders and help out Marquis with the base running too. If you remember, Listach was Rookie of The Year in The Big Leagues with Milwaukee and a good base runner too. In the bullpen, I know that we are probably hurt the attendance at Potomac. We are bringing Randy Knorr to be our Bullpen Coach. So he is going to have his following from Potomac coming over here to the ball games. And we are excited. A very young, baseball age, young coaching staff and very smart and energetic. We are looking forward to the challenge. And obviously, Randy St.Claire is coming back (as Pitching Coach), so we are excited.”

Manny continues: “And I want to clarify for the season ticket holder about batting practice. To make it clear, I would love to hit second every day. I am not the problem. The problem is actually the visiting manager. (Laughter) I would love nothing more than to tell Willie Harris, OK—you can show up tomorrow at 4PM because we don’t hit until 5:15PM. But if you are Bobby Cox and you are flying in from Atlanta—and you are showing up at 2AM over here—and I call you and say you know what? Can we flip-flop batting practice? Can you tell your players to show up at 12 noon at the stadium because they are going to hit at 4PM instead of 5:15PM? So the problem is actually with the visiting team because they get the second time slot. I would love for my players to show up latter to work because they will get a couple extra hours of rest. But it’s actually not the home team manager. Now, if you want to see us hit batting practice for sure—come see us on the road. (Laughter) We’ll hit first. So you will get to see us. That’s really the problem with the batting practice. When you come in around 5PM, we are just about finished and the other team in beginning to hit.”

Mr. Kasten: “All those managers stick together. (More laughter)”

Gregory: “Manny. I would like to hear you talk about The NL East and how you see that shaping up coming into this new season. How do you size it up?”

Manny: “It’s a tough division. Everybody knows that the two top teams are making moves and The Braves are trying to get back into it by adding pitching. As long as they have Bobby Cox over there, they are going to be contending anyways. So, it’s a very tough division and everybody knows the young talent The Marlins have. But you know what, you don’t pick and choose where you are going to play. And to be the best you are going to have to beat the best anyway. We are going to continue to do our thing—make some progress—it’s not going to be easy. Again, how many people in this room picked The Tampa Bay Rays to go to The World Series last year? I don’t think none of you guys did. It’s baseball. Baseball has shown, just like Jim said earlier, some people were doing some research. For the last so many years, only one team with a payroll of over $100 Million has one The World Series. The Boston Red Sox have done it twice, 2004 and 2007. Money doesn’t guarantee you a win. We have to continue to do our thing, go hard and it will happen for us.”

Audience Question: “Is there anything about the field here that you have learned which the team can take advantage of over your opponents?”

Manny: “I think our guys are very comfortable playing here. They have the advantage of playing the scoreboard in rightfield, more so than the visiting team has. They also know the ball flies a little bit better toward the bullpen area. But other than that, once the game starts, it’s equal and you have to utilize what you have. We like our ballpark because it’s fair. We think it plays fair. We don’t think that just anybody can step up to the plate and ruin the ballgame either way. So we really like it. We just need to be healthy and the ballpark will take care of the ballpark.”

Audience Question—another youngster: “Why did you get rid of Tim Redding? And my second question is—when are you going to find a healthy first baseman? (Huge laughter and applause)”

Charlie Slowes: “I think he goes from this right up to Meet The Press!!”

Gregory: “Back to school kid!!”

Bowden: “In the case of Tim Redding, we made the decision to non-tender him through the arbitration process. His salary would have been probably double what would have been his value on the open market. We didn’t think that made sense. He had an ERA of over six from the end of June (2008) on. We liked Tim a lot, but given our direction, we felt that we should invest our money in younger pitching instead—put it towards the Olsen’s and Cabrera’s for more long term benefit. So, that was the decision on Tim. And what was the other question?”

Gregory: “Healthy 1st Baseman? This is what they do son when they don’t want to answer-What was that question again? You have got to stay right at them (pointing at the kid)!!” (Tons of laughter)

Bowden: “On the healthy first baseman, Mr. Kasten has my recommendation in a sealed envelope (no further discussion).”

Mr. Kasten: “Last year, it didn’t matter who we started with on first, they all got hurt. One thing we didn’t hold press conferences for were the amount of injuries we had. We examined everything we were doing. And while there was no one to blame for the injuries, we had all kinds of silly things happen. But we took our re-hab and strength and conditioning programs very seriously. We’ve made major changes. We upgrade that. We’ve changed our medical staff. So we think that all the players, who are all starting out healthy by the way, we know will have a better chance of keeping all of them healthy through the year this year.”

Audience Question: “First I want to thank you for the Bike Valet. I think it’s a wonderful amenity. I ride my bike in from Arlington when I come by myself and it’s just a great way to get to the game. My question is about healthy food options for kids. A lot of us have young kids and we want to bring them to the ballpark. There is a lot of delicious food here, but I think a lot of us would like to see at least one place, even if you have to walk to get there, where it’s just healthy everything—fruit, salad, vegetable—I hope you will consider that. And one other suggestion I wanted to throw you way was about the large number of seats, especially behind home plate that go unused. One of my favorite parts of the game is when they make a big move and allow a small group to move down to better seats. Could you consider some type of policy to allow ticket holders to move down to better seats after the 5th inning or so if you have bought a certain ticket in a specific category?”

Mr. Kasten: “First of all, we do have some announcement coming soon about food service in general at the ballpark. I think you can expect more healthy alternatives this year. I think you can expect value meals. We are trying to be responsive to our customers and provide them better value—especially know with our current circumstances. We are also going to have some nights, if not whole sections, where we will have all you can eat offerings—that have become popular throughout baseball. So we are going to do that. We have more announcements coming particularly as it relates to service very soon.”

“The moving people down that’s a real thorny one for me or anyone who runs clubs because I get an exact 50/50 split from fans on that. For every fan who wants us to have a program where we move fans down to the better seats, we get the same 50% of people who have bought tickets there who don’t think it is right to just give those seats away. We can do the one-offs, special promotions where we move people down, but I don’t think it would be advisable for us to have a general policy to just open those areas up. That would not be fair to those people.”

Gregory: “We are going to leave it there. Thank you all for your many fine questions.”

That concluded Our Washington Nationals Hot Stove Luncheon on January 23rd, 2009.


Anonymous said...

Your amazing efforts are appreciated!!!! I couldn't make the lunch, but knew you would cover it for me!!! Thank you both!

Anonymous said...

Ditto. And I've enjoyed all your off-season posts. It's easy to get too down on the team. Certainly there are still some player needs but I'm looking forward to the spring.

Anonymous said...

As a five year season ticket holder I could not be more pleased with this luncheon yesterday. It was well handled by the nats, plenty of staff were around directing people in the right direction and getting everyone situated. Best of all was seeing the entire front office there, including Mark Lerner sitting with Frank Howard. Kasten, Bowden, Acta and Rizzo were very active talking with fans and answering question. Yes I believe this team has some ways to go but as you mentioned at the top of your transcript, there really was a buzz in the room, people were excited. Let's hope the nationals can build on this because it really was a nice event.

Now can we please sign Frank Howard to some role with the team? Does anyone take over a room more than that man. Every eye in the room was on him the very moment he stood up after Charlie introduced him. He would be a terrific ambassador for Washington Baseball.

Anonymous said...

I had to come to Nats320 for a dose of optimism after reading Boz's article (in the Post) when I was ready to slit my throat.

Boz made it clear he gave up his season tickets which will make him the pied piper for anyone sitting on the fence. His public statement makes him a fair weathered fan too since I believe Boz hasn't taken a paycut so his decision was not economical. Many see Boz as a leader so the Nats management cannot be too happy about that.

The off-season isn't over, but I am getting impatient that the Nats set the #1 goal to get the power lefty hitter, and that hasn't happened. They can't expect us to be happy with a wannabee like Nick Swisher when Adam Dunn is attainable at a price below his current salary due to the tough economy.

I heard what JimBo had to say, but actions speak louder than words so Dunn needs to be a Dunn deal.

Thanks to you, I see the glass 1/2 full again, but agree with Boz on the free agents that are there for the taking.

Anonymous said...

Boswell's article starts with, I'm not quite mad as hell. And I can probably take it a little longer.

However, my fuse is getting short when I think about the Lerners' poor stewardship of the Nationals. In a week or two, if the Nats have refused to spend appropriately on free agents to improve an abomination of a ballclub, while accepting the largesse of a city that paid $693 million to build them a ballpark, then I may go Howard Beale nutty on somebody. I've already canceled the Nationals season tickets that I waited 37 years to buy.

It took Boswell 2 paragraphs to set us all up that it wasn't an article he was writing as much as a rant about himself. Clearly he dislikes the Lerners. It is bad journalism in my opinion to have written paragraph #2.

Jealousy? Could be, but Boswell is a basher and don't ever disagree with him.

The Lerners let us know when they bought the team how they were going to build it. They started with the worst farm system and have improved it. The Major League team was bad last year, and it is hard to criticize before the Opening Day roster is set and we see how the on-field product is.

Expectations have to be reasonable. The Lerner's have only owned this team for a little over 2 years. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect this team to compete with the Mets and Phillies for 1st or 2nd place as much as I want to see sustained progress from the 2007 team as I want to forget about 2008.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always for the transcript, and it was nice meeting both of you at the Pfitz today.

paul said...

Boz's column was interesting, but I have to agree with Mr. Lerner on Adam Dunn. He is a one-dimensional player, kind of a left-handed Pat Burrell without the good arm, playing in a bandbox on a bad team. The key question is: does he make other players on his team better or worse/could the money be better spent elsewhere? No and yes are the answers.

Stan, I thought, completely missed the boat when responding to the fan's question about Zimmerman and bunting. One of the underlying issues is Zimmerman should bat 5th in the order. Your highest-average power hitter should go third, someone like Dukes or Teixeira, if we had him. When Zimmerman was lower in the order, he led off innings much more than he does now. And he is the best bunter on the team! He was something like 13 for 13 in drag bunts as a rookie. And it does keep the defense guessing.

Does Stan not understand any of this? Does he not understand that Zim is swinging for the fences a little too much, perhaps thinking about his contract? Stan's comment sarcastically hoping that Zim did bunt more so that it cost the Nats less money was ironic and unsettling. Is Stan on the same team as the players?

Bunting aside, the overall question is: baseball-wise, can these guys think outside the box? I didn't get that sense yesterday, although I very much appreciated the event and the general good bonhomie in the room. Steven Shell was at our table, and he gave us some nice, honest answers.

Thanks for the team for doing this, and thanks to SBF and TAQ for putting up with it all! Maybe next time you could make an mp3 file out of it so you don't have to do your monk-like transcription!

Screech's Best Friend said...

Paul: If we didn't perform the monk-style transcription, where would the fun be? (kidding) Thanks.

By the way--I thought you were going to catch up with us yesterday at The Luncheon?

Edward J. Cunningham said...

I had to work today (as I have to do most Saturdays) so I couldn't be at the luncheon. Too bad---I would have loved to have met Frank Howard in person!

An Briosca Mor said...

I've already canceled the Nationals season tickets that I waited 37 years to buy.

It took Boswell 2 paragraphs to set us all up that it wasn't an article he was writing as much as a rant about himself. Clearly he dislikes the Lerners. It is bad journalism in my opinion to have written paragraph #2.

Yeah, and there are two things Boswell left out of his rant. Namely (a) he can go to any game he wants to for free with his press pass, and (b) as he revealed in his chat a couple of weeks ago, he's joined a season ticket group for fewer games in better seats in 2009. In other words, his financial outlay for tickets will be the same or greater in 2009 as it was in 2008. Way to send a message there, Boz!

paul said...

SBF: I didn't get to the lunch until almost 12. Afterward, I saw you running for the bathroom. Looked like you were on a mission; didn't know how long you'd be. . . .

Next time.