Q&A with Stan Kasten
Team president full of optimism for club's 2009 outlook
Despite watching the Nationals go 59-102 last year, team president Stan Kasten remains optimistic that the 2009 season will be different because of the plethora of young talent on the roster.
Players such as outfielder Lastings Milledge and left-hander John Lannan are expected to play an integral part in the franchise for years to come.
MLB.com caught up with Kasten on Tuesday afternoon to talk about team's progress this upcoming season.
MLB.com: This is the team's fifth season in Washington. How has the organization progressed since 2005?
Stan Kasten: We have taken steps forward on many different fronts. We now play in one of America's great ballparks. Over the past two or three years, we have spent a lot of time, money and effort on our player pipeline.
We are doing what we can to set our roots in the community with various programs. It's a long-term project. But the [Lerner group] is local and we will own this indefinitely. We are building it to be something we could all be proud of for generations.
MLB.com: Do you think the Nationals fans see the progress you just mentioned?
Kasten: Well, I think some fans see different things. Clearly, the most visible part of any team is its record in the standings. That is the first thing people pay attention to. Obviously, a team that is performing better on the field is going to be perceived better than a team that isn't performing on the field. I think people have a better time at the ballpark when the team is winning.
I think people have a better perception of the team and its players in the community when the general perception about the team is positive. There is more positive attention made by the media. It all kind of starts there, and that's why we have spent so much time, effort and care trying to build this right the first time, so we are not one of those franchises who has to rebuild year in and year out.
MLB.com: How much do you think the Nats' Caravan, Hot Stove Luncheon and NatsFest helped the fans understand what the organization is trying to do?
Kasten: All of those things are important. People that came had a good time. We think everything you do here at the park is a good time. We want to do more of those things. We want to make them bigger and better as we go forward.
MLB.com: The team had over 3,000 fans attend the first NatsFest at Nationals Park recently. How successful was the event?
Kasten: For the first time out, it was great. We didn't want to make it too large. As it was, I think it accommodated everyone just right. We did have crowds, so I don't know if this facility, in this exact format, can accommodate much bigger crowds. We may have to relocate in the future or cut it back or maybe do several small ones. We haven't decided yet.
MLB.com: According to the message boards, the Nationals fans are impatient when it comes to the lack of free-agent signings. Why is that the case?
Kasten: I think it's always the case. All fans want their teams to be the best they can be. All fans are customers who like new and exciting things. Free agents are one way to get new and exiting things, so I understand that. But also, young players are new and exciting. Our hope is, whether we sign free agents or not, that by the time Spring Training (is over), we will give our fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic and excited about the 2009 team.
MLB.com: Why do you think the 2009 Nationals will be exciting to watch?
Kasten: First of all, they are a very young team. Whatever sport you are in, there is nothing more exciting than a young team with athleticism and potential. When you have young players start out with a team, fans can kind adopt them and grow along with them. That's why fans are concerned about keeping their young players. I understand that, too.
So with a very young team, we have athletic talent around the diamond. With position players, I think we are very deep. Coming off the bench, we are very deep with veterans and that's kind of interesting. When you look at the guys coming off the bench for us -- Dmitri Young, Ronnie Belliard, Willie Harris -- we are very experienced along with our youthful starting roster of position players.
That brings us to our pitching staff, which is incredibly young. I don't minimize how difficult it is to predict. Young players can go one or two ways. We think they all have potential. You don't know who will make the grade and become long-term professionals. But we think we have a lot of talent. We think all of the five or six young pitchers in our rotation have very serious potential.
MLB.com: Based on the ovation you received at NatsFest, it appears the fans have confidence that you can help turn this franchise around. How did that make you feel?
Kasten: I love D.C. and I love the fans that I've met here. This is a great market, a great city with fans that are patient, but, let's face it, their patience isn't unlimited. They are willing to let us build this correctly. They are expecting progress, and I don't blame them for that. They are willing to forgive us for last year because of all the brutal injuries.
MLB.com: You went through some bad Braves teams. Was last year your worst as a team president?
Kasten: No. I had a worse year with the Braves (in 1988). For many of us who have done this for a long time, we have a similar story to tell. Within three years, we were in the World Series. You look at the history of other teams -- the Rays and Tigers -- there are many similar stories. We know it's possible. It doesn't mean that it happens by itself. We need to make good decisions and be very aggressive. If we do those things, we can turn this around quickly.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.