Nationals president Stan Kasten has good reason to be upbeat these days. The club improved its roster this past offseason by signing free agents Matt Capps, Jason Marquis and Ivan Rodriguez, while trading for reliever Brian Bruney.
The farm system appears to be much improved. Washington's top pitching prospects, Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, are in camp and will see action this spring.
MLB.com caught up with Kasten on Wednesday to talk about Strasburg, the Nationals' future and general manager Mike Rizzo.
MLB.com: There seems to be a positive outlook on the Nationals this spring. Why is that the case?
Stan Kasten: If you look at how much has changed over the last 12 months, there has been a major revamping -- from the front office to the scouting department to the coaching staff.
On the field, we saw real progress over the course of last season -- young players who contributed and showed real promise. We had an aggressive offseason, and all of that leads to the next wave, which so many people are looking forward to. All those elements put together really gives the franchise a different feel than it had a year ago. There's a lot of optimism for the future.
MLB.com: A lot of fans don't want to see the Nationals lose 100 games in a season again. Do you think it will be much better on the field in 2010?
Kasten: I do, but it starts with the players in the locker room. I will give you a little preview of my opening speech Friday. I don't know what people felt or thought when they came to the park in the past, but the days of accepting excuses are way behind us. We have to expect to win. We have to come here prepared to play. The players are all capable of winning. They have to come to the park every day expecting to win. It's what we expect, and I'm pretty sure all the players in the locker room are already expecting to win.
MLB.com: What is the biggest move the team has made thus far?
Kasten: It's not one thing. It's the steady, consistent overall program to change things -- to upgrade things cumulatively, which has resulted in the positive attitude that you are sensing. Things are on the upswing.
2010 Spring Training - Washington Nationals
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Spring Training Info
We have always known from Day 1 that everything will hinge on what kind of starting pitching you can get and how quickly you can get a stable rotation in here. Obviously, on that front, our future looks quite a bit brighter than it did a year ago. That would be reason No. 1 for enhanced optimism. But it wouldn't be that optimistic without all the other things to go along with it.
MLB.com: A lot of people want to see Strasburg and Storen on the Opening Day roster. Do you think there is a rush to bring up these kids?
Kasten: As soon as they can make it up here reliably, that's when we will bring them up. We will not bring them up sooner than they are able, and we will not leave them down there longer than they need to be down there.
In the case of young pitchers, it just takes time. A century of baseball development has shown that you can't just walk into the Major Leagues and get guys out. You have to learn how to use your stuff and get Major League hitters out. Major League hitters are pretty darn good. That takes a little time figuring out. The two guys you mentioned have raw talent. That process is probably shorter than for others, so my guess is -- and my hope is -- that process is very short.
MLB.com: Strasburg will make his Spring Training debut March 9. What do you think about that big day?
Kasten: You can't help but be excited and intrigued by all the interest that has surrounded him. Having been down this road a lot in the past, I know when to temper my expectations -- to give things time and not to get too excited.
It's hard not to get too excited. You are not only watching with your eyes, you are also listening to people who have been in baseball for decades making observations that match what you are seeing.
If Stephen could carry that forward to the Major Leagues, it will be an exciting time for all of us, especially our fans. We have to keep our fingers crossed.
There is also a window to what we could see as the contending team we could be in 2011. If Stephen is what we think he is, if Chien-Ming Wang can come back like we think he can, if Jordan Zimmermann comes back like we think he can, all of a sudden, you have a real big-time rotation, potentially. And that's what you need before anything else good can happen.
MLB.com: A year ago at this time, the team was involved with issues in the Dominican Republic, which involved Carlos Alvarez. How is everything going in the Dominican these days?
Kasten: It has been a complete turnaround. We are about to move into a new complex on March 1. We will probably be in there for this year. It's a brand-new completed complex we are able to move into. We have our eye on yet a different complex for next year. This will be the first time since the scandal [that] we have our own complex to ourselves with a dorm right on the grounds. We no longer have to shuttle players to a hotel like we did last year. So that's good.
We made some signings that we haven't released yet. We are going to release it the next few days, including one who could join the big league team this year -- a little bit of an older player.
We have been aggressive in all areas. I think because of the damage that was done and the things that we had to do, we are still behind the curve in the Dominican, but I think within another year, we'll be fully caught up.
MLB.com: Is Alvarez still a member of the Nationals' organization?
Kasten: Yes. We still have him under control. I can't tell you yet what's going to happen to him. I will tell you there are still open-ended questions with regard to that. There will probably be developments yet to come. But there is nothing I could talk about today.
MLB.com: What do you think about the job Rizzo has done thus far?
Kasten: I think I agree with everyone in baseball: He has done a great job. He came in here on a real level of expertise and respect with him. We saw that in his dealings with colleagues throughout baseball. We saw that in the caliber of professional talent we were able to attract. That all speaks of the respect Mike has. I thought Mike was aggressive in helping transform the front office, and I think it has paid off in all areas.
MLB.com: What's the one thing that impresses you about Mike?
Kasten: Mike is pure baseball. Mike's roots are deep into baseball. He is as well-grounded as any person in the entire sport. He is also open-minded enough to try to reach out in these new directions. That's why we have such a deep staff of people who do financial analysis, sabermetrics analysis -- things like that. He has incorporated that into all of the traditional baseball tools.
MLB.com: Has President Barack Obama been invited to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, April 5?
Kasten: The president has a standing invitation every year. That invitation has been renewed. There is no word yet on if he'll be there. I'm hopeful and optimistic we will see him at the ballpark sometime this year. We'll certainly love to add him to the 16 predecessors who have thrown out the ball. We would like to see him added to that list.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.