Q&A with Stan Kasten
MLB.com sits down with Nationals' president to discuss changes
Nationals team president Stan Kasten arrived at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., 11 days ago. His stay was supposed to be for just a couple of days, but several developments have kept him in town.
Last Thursday, the team dismissed Jose Rijo, Jim Bowden's special assistant. Rijo has been linked to Carlos Alvarez David Lugo, who previously called himself Esmailyn Gonzalez. The shortstop, who received a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Nationals in 2006, allegedly falsified his name and age.
Washington also decided it would no longer use Rijo's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Within three days last week, the Nationals moved their baseball academy to a facility built by Rawlings, the glove manufacturer, in Boca Chica.
On Sunday, Bowden resigned as general manager. Though he was under fire for his possible, though denied, connection to the alleged skimming of bonuses of Latin American players, he has maintained his innocence.
The Nationals are now moving forward. Kasten is looking to hire a GM, and he believes the team will be much better on the field.
MLB.com caught up with Kasten on Monday to talk about the team's future.
MLB.com: The past 11 days have been a whirlwind for you. You were supposed to be in Spring Training for a couple of days. Can you describe what it has been like for you?
Stan Kasten: I feel like Gilligan, because I was only prepared for a three-hour tour, but it was clear that we needed to get down here and straighten a lot of things out. We have accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. I do think that the momentum of the team is very forward and very positive. I now hope that the fans and media return their attention to that very positive momentum.
MLB.com: How tough was it to terminate Rijo and see Bowden resign?
Kasten: It's always tough. They are friends of mine -- people whom we have grown close to as professional colleagues. There were issues, though, which required action. As I've said: We have made great progress in dealing with our issues in the last [11 days]. We still have work ahead of us, for sure. The most important development is that we can now get the attention back on the field, where it belongs.
MLB.com: If you look at other controversies in the past, they take forever to be settled. The Nationals' controversies didn't take forever to be settled.
Kasten: It didn't have forever. This was just interfering in too many different ways with what we are trying to do here, and with some very good stuff. So we determined that we had to move as quickly as possible. I can't say that I knew it would wind up quite as smoothly as it did. But it has. We still have some things we have to examine. We have some actions to take. We have some work to do. I'm feeling quite a bit better about the franchise than I did [11 days] ago.
MLB.com: During that period, the games and players were irrelevant to the media. How disappointed were you that no one was paying attention to the team?
Kasten: That was a real concern of mine. As we know, with the difficult times in the real world with the economy and enough worries on the mind of our customers, we didn't need to be adding to those worries. We need the fans to be focusing on the positive story lines that had been built up through a very successful offseason, an offseason that has seen our team return to health and grow and develop by another year. [We have ] seen additions to the rotation, additions to the position players -- the optimism that would lead into this kind of season. So, yeah, [the lack of attention] was both unwelcomed and unfair.
MLB.com: Going forward, how does Bowden's absence affect making trades and dealing with Ryan Zimmerman's possible contract extension.
Kasten: It doesn't affect it a bit. In terms of Ryan Zimmerman's extension, I have been deeply involved in [the negotiations] recently. I spoke to Ryan's agent yesterday. As far as trades go -- things like that -- I myself have talked trades with teams yesterday. Nothing is imminent, but conversations have gone continuously without anyone missing a beat.
MLB.com: Is it too much for you to take on a lot of roles? How are you handling all this work?
Kasten: This is fine. We have an excellent and deep bench. When we got here, one of the things I supported Jim in, and encouraged him to do, was to continue to add quality people to the staff. You see the senior staff that we have -- Dana [Brown], Bob [Boone], Mike [Rizzo]. You see the office staff, who I call the "Mod Squad" -- the little guys who work diligently on sabermetrics, expenses, waivers and rules. They have as fine a cadre of young, future MLB executives as they exist anywhere. So with all of their help, this is going to get done, and it's going to get done smoothly without missing a beat.
MLB.com: Austin Kearns, Dmitri Young and Wily Mo Pena make a combined $15 million, and chances are they will not play often enough to justify their contracts. What will you look to do with those contracts?
Kasten: Well, our payroll is what it is. It's within the limits of what we projected -- subject to changes between now and Opening Day, and also subject to potential injuries. We have to be prepared for that. We are much better prepared for those kinds of things this year than we were a year ago. Obviously, our surpluses will open the door to trades. We are going to examine that between now and Opening Day.
Every year, every team has contracts on its roster that aren't performing the way they want them to. We are no exception, but we'll find, over the next month, ways to deal with it. ... The one thing is, this year, probably more than any other year that I can remember, other teams are not going to be in a position to take on salary. That's going to be a new dimension this year, because of the economy and things like that. That would [be worth] watching, not just for our team, but for deals across baseball.
MLB.com: You said you needed a few days to think about your plan as far as hiring a GM. Why do you need a few days?
Kasten: This was a unique set of circumstances. Things take time to get into place. I can't tell you more than that. But I'm working on it. That's all I can say.
MLB.com: You went through this process with the Braves in 1990, when you hired John Schuerholz as the GM. Can you talk about the process back then?
Kasten: It was a very different set of circumstances then. But that process took several months. I can tell you there was much speculation then and much criticism of me for taking as long as I took. There were dozens and dozens of names written during that time. None of them turned out to be accurate, and that's why I caution writers and readers to be wary of anything they hear until they have some news to report.
MLB.com: How are you holding up?
Kasten: I'm doing great. On our worst day, we are the luckiest people in the world. We get to work in baseball. We get to be part of an organization that is exciting and growing. We get to be part of the team that has real hope to take a major step in '09 and beyond. So, no complaints here.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.