Outgoing Nationals president Stan Kasten talked with reporters for about a half-hour on Wednesday afternoon, sitting in a leather chair in the Presidents’ Club at Nationals Park and reflecting on his 4 1/2-season tenure with the team. He revealed little about his future, batting away questions about the possibility of him succeeding Bud Selig as MLB commissioner. But he did express some regret that the team didn’t win more in his time as president, and shed some light on possible changes in the future. Here’s the transcript of the interview. Make yourself comfortable:
Since this is your last week with the Nationals do you feel emotional?
I wouldn’t say I feel excessively emotional. Again, I’ve been planning this for more than a year. People close to me have known about it and been planning it for a long time. So it’s been a build-up and given me time to prepare. In addition, the exit is kind of going to be slow motion because today is my last official day, but I’ll be back later on this week to do some other stuff next week and in a couple of weeks I’ll be back. And I’m still very close to all the owners, all the people in the office. So I’ll be in and out. I also - to answer the question you asked me a few weeks ago - I also am going to hold on to my ownership for at least the time being. Besides wanting, too, for now I also had legal and tax reasons for it. That’s more than you need to know. But I would anticipate doing that through the winter. Probably even during spring training I will still be an owner. Because I don’t really expect to do anything different by then. I don’t think. That could change. So because of all those things it feels kind of comfortable and natural and casual so no, I wouldn’t say it’s been particularly emotional, no.
What exactly will you be doing when you come back in a few weeks?
There are a couple things that I’m handing on to people and will be available to help out. Technically, I’m still a technical employee through the end of the year - although I am free to do whatever I want right now and today is my last official day. We’re working on a radio deal for next year. Andy [Feffer] and his staff will be completing it, but I’ve been working on setting that up. I’m going to continue to help on that. We’ve been working pretty hard on the future of our spring training. We’re looking hard at what might be doable in Viera. We’re looking very hard at other alternatives in Florida. We’ve looked very hard at other alternatives in Arizona. I think there are going to be developments on that score soon. And I’m going to continue to help out on that.
But again, we had goals when we came in here to get the best of everything that we could. We gradually improved the facilities we have in our minor-league affiliates. Getting the very best spring-training complex and location that we can is also high on our list. And we’re making good progress on that.
The Dominican: There are issues going on in the Dominican. Very proud of the work our staff has done in completely turning around where we were 18 months ago. And it was only 18 months that we lived through the beginning of that crisis. But we’ve come a very long way since then. In addition there’s been a lot of progress on the greater issue of fixing the problem that we have across baseball. And that’s getting rules in place, enforcing those rules, getting at and punishing the people who have been breaking the rules and taking advantage not just of teams, but taking advantage of young players. We’ve been outspoken. We did not sweep this under the rug, as you know. We got very vocal about we need to do that. And we’ve been leading the charge in helping baseball.
Again, led by Bud Selig, the Department of Investigations and Sandy Alderson. They’ve all been terrific in getting to the problem and we’re going to continue to be big players in that. And I’m going to continue to help out on those things. There’s more news to come. I will tell you it didn’t begin in March of ‘09. It’s when you all heard about it. But I heard two years before that and I started working hard for those two years. And if we hadn’t done that this stuff wouldn’t have come to light. Well, now we need to keep working hard to pursue that case and we’re going to do that. And there’s more to come. That’s all I can say for now.
When you say two years before was it Smiley Gonzalez at that point?
That’s when I started hearing stuff that troubled me and I - we as a team - kept at it and kept pushing and pushing. And it wasn’t until, I guess, late February ‘09 that everything finally unraveled and we got to the bottom of it. But it took two years of work by a bunch of folks.
In general, do you feel like you were successful?
Well, obviously, this job is far from complete, so you can’t give a final grade. But no one in this business is truly successful unless they win it all. and yet there are things which are real milestones and real progress on the way to becoming successful. There have been real good things that have happened here in the last couple years that were important to us, starting with a scouting and player development system that I’m really proud of, with people that I’m proud of, starting with Mike. People right behind him like Roy Clark and Chris Kline. On the development side, Bob Boone and Doug Harris. All these people do terrific work and have now put us in a place where we always want to get to, and that is having a pipeline that delivers players annually to the major leagues. You can’t really accomplish much until you’re in that situation. This past year, our minor league system produced not just Strasburg and Storen, but Desmond and Bernadina. Next year, at a minimum, we expect to be producing Ramos and Espinosa, and more. there will certainly be more. We have a chart in our office for the classes that we foresee two years from now, three years from now, four years from now. Names will change, because that’s life. But I think we count now on consistent delivery to the major leagues of real, bona fide players every year. That was very important. And that’s why I feel so good about the future. We can debate whether it could have been done quicker. I think that’s a fair position to take. Perhaps it could have. But the way I see this team now, I have a philosophy about teams. I didn’t invent this. Many people feel this way. You have your defense up the middle, and your power on the corners. I think that’s the kind of team we look to have next year. We will have young, athletic, talented guys who are going to become a really good defense up the middle. We are going to have power on the corners, and that’s a really good place to be with your position players. We have a very strong bullpen that we’re very proud of. Finally. It took some time. But a lot of young guys in that bullpen, too, so they should be here for a long time. Now, everything begins and ends with your rotation. That continues to be the area of greatest concern, but we’re going to go into ‘11 in a stronger position than we’ve ever been in. We always have had a long list of guys who could be in that rotation. A year ago, we talked about ‘12 or ‘13. Well, now we can look at the ‘11 rotation and identify let’s say six guys out of whom we can almost surely know that four will come out of that group, and that doesn’t yet include Strasburg. And that doesn’t yet include the other guy or two that Mike and the owners are intent on acquiring this offseason. So that’s why I think the future is really bright and that we now are in a position maybe for the first time since we got back to D.C. to really, really compete. And as you’ve heard me say before, it’s a short distance from competing to contending. So those things are real progress. Is it success yet? No, it isn’t, because success is winning, and we haven’t done that yet. But we’ve made real progress, and the future, I think, is very, very bright, and it’s a great time to be a Nats fan.
Do you have personal disappointment at not coming close to playoffs?
I do. As you guys may know, if you go into my office, you see the number 31 on my board. That’s what drives me. With the Hawks and Braves, I’ve been to the postseason 30 times. It’s a really cool experience. It’s worth everything you do to get there. And that’s why No. 31 is really important to me. I do think we here at the Nats are on the course to get there. But I miss not being in the postseason. I really do. And it will be worth all our struggle and pain once we do get there.
If getting closer, why leave now?
It was a personal thing. I made the commitment to stay here for the five years. And as I told you a couple weeks ago, it just has to do with my own personal expectations, goals, aspirations for myself. I thought when I fulfilled this commitment _ and it was important that I did that _ but when I fulfilled it, I really thought I would be better doing something else. And that’s all. I still love everyone here. I love this team. Love this city. But for my professional goals and aspirations, I think I need to be doing something else. It’s really that simple.
See yourself working for another team, league?
I don’t know. And I’m not ready to say. And let me tell you why; partially why. I don’t see myself doing anything very quickly. Yes, I could, if I want to, that’s true. I’ve decided not to, and I’ve decided to take time. And I have no idea how long that might be, and here’s why: I told you I discussed this sometime in 2009 with Ted and the family, but there are other people in sports who knew about this as well. I did a good job of just not letting it get to the media. But there were plenty of people in sports that did know about it. So people have been talking to me off and on over this last year about different stuff and to most of those people, I said look, let’s wait until after this season. Let’s wait until the offseason. So I have a bunch of people that I need to talk to and see and visit and listen to. Truthfully, I’m really busy between now and Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, I hope to take a little time off. My wife has scheduled our first ski trip since I came to Washington. So I’m going to do a little bit of fun stuff. So that’s why I don’t see anything happening in the near term, because I’m really going to take my time to consider everything.
Would you be interested in being the commissioner if Bud Selig steps down in 2012?
First of all, I reject the premise. I know no one in baseball who thinks Bud is stepping down in 2012. And everyone in baseball, starting with me, is very happy that he won’t be, and we’ll all encourage him to continue to stay there. I know it’s chic to make fun of Bud, but you can’t look at the things that have happened in the last two decades without giving a lot of credit to Bud for all he’s done. I know that the people who write things like that intend it to be flattering, and I am flattered and appreciative for mentions like that. But I don’t think things like that are really realistic. Those things aren’t on my mind.
Is that a job you could see yourself ever being interested in?
There you go with the hypotheticals. There’s no point in discussing it. Again, I’m flattered by the question. But those questions are just kind of silly and really unrealistic. Truly, that’s how I feel.
What do you think of the idea of working for the league vs. a specific team?
I don’t rule anything in our out. I think that’s the safest way to do it. When I did this five years ago, or seven years ago, whenever I stepped down the last time, I truly did not know where I would wind up, and in fact, at the time I stepped down, there was no Washington Nationals. No one knew what would happen. So who knows what’s going to happen in the next six months or year or two. But I had a funny e-mail from a friend of mine who runs one of the most prominent sports agencies in America, really big. And his e-mail was jokingly, ‘Hey, Stan, maybe it’s time for you to consider being an agent now.’ I’m sure he was joking. And what I said to him was, ‘Gee, this came up in 2003, when I stepped down.’ What I said at that time was, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I know two things I would never do. Number one is sell cigarettes. I couldn’t do that. Number two is be an agent, because I consider both equally vile, immoral and ugly. However, I’m starting to come around on cigarettes.
Will you be part of search committee for next team president, or offer your suggestions to the Lerners?
Sure, if they need my help. I’m devoted to this franchise, in any way I can help them, officially, unofficially or otherwise. They have continued to reach out to me over the last two weeks. I’m sure that will continue in the future. Remember, I remain an owner, at least for the time being. So I want the very best that we can have here.
Has the search for the new president already started?
Not that I know of. I think for now, we’re well-situated. Mike Rizzo will deal with most of you on an everyday basis on baseball matters. If there’s a business matter, Andy Feffer, our COO, I’m sure, will be available for that. And I’m not aware of any other changes beyond that right now. You may have to ask them.
Are you disappointed not to bring the playoffs to DC?
Well, that part is (disappointing), yeah. Every year that you don’t make it is one year you didn’t make it, and that’s unfulfilling. But, it’s hard. I recognize how hard it was, and that’s why I appreciate every year I did get in. We compete, on a daily basis, against 29 other groups of really smart, dedicated, talented, hard-working front offices that are trying to do the same thing you’re doing, trying to beat you at it. So it’s hard, and that’s why you should appreciate every one, and I did, and I do, and I look forward to my next opportunity to do that, if I wind up being with a team.
What problems are there with the Viera location?
It’s not a secret that Viera, while having so many great things to commend it, also has some challenges associated with its location. Those challenges have increased with the departure of teh Dodgers. It just made our location more difficult. Now, whether we can improve those by moving elsewhere or by attracting teams closer to us, I wouldn’t rule anything out. I can assure you both of those ideas have been considered. We’re not ready to talk about anything yet. But perhaps soon. Because it’s something I’ve worked hard at. Our owners are intent on achieving this and have given us great support and the staff here is ready to continue working toward that. And I’ll certainly be available to continue helping work on it. That would be a cool thing to accomplish, and we’d like to do that.”
What’s the soonest you could move?
I don’t know. That presumes moving the operation. That’s why I wouldn’t want to say. We have a lease that runs through 2017. Now, does that mean we stay there beyond that or leave earlier. I wouldn’t rule anything in or out. I just wouldn’t until we know what we’re going to do.
Is Arizona a possibility?
It’s something we would consider. It’s something we’ve been considering. I think I’ve been to every complex there except for two. I know Mark has been to the two I haven’t been to. And obviously we’ve been to every complex in Florida. So yeah, we’re giving it a good hard look and examining all our options. And we’re not at all ruling Viera out. We’re keeping everything on the table. I don’t think we’ll be sitting here a year from now with this question still unknown. I think we’ll have something to say long before that.
Are you confident ownership will spend?
I think so. I hope so. It’s what we’ve been talking about. We think we’re getting closer. And I know the owners are intent on making this successful and on winning here. Believe me, it’s their best case. It’s how all of us do better, when we win. They’re intent on backing Mike up and pursuing the things he wants to pursue and giving him the resources to do it. That’s all we talked about all summer. I think we’re all on the same page. So when I talk about an active offseason, it’s because it’s what we’ve all talked about, internally with each other. Again, let’s see how the winter unfolds. There’s still many unknowns about it. But I do know the desire is there. The willingness is there. And I think the follow-through will be there too, I really do.”
Is the reason for not having success quicker because of farm system not producing or because didn’t spend to add?
I think both of those, and probably other reasons, are behind it also. What I tell people, because I think it’s a fair question and a fair criticism, but the past is the past, and I tell people this. Yes, it might have been done quicker. But then the finished product would not have had a Strasburg in it, and would not have had a Harper in it. And remember, when they get here, not only will we be a good team, a winning team. We’ll also have something teams go decades without having, and that’s real marquee star power. In addition to quality product on the field that can really help make this the marquee franchise we thought it should be. So don’t minimize the importance of that. Yeah, it might have been successful, but it would have had a different look and a different feel. And I think you’re all going to be really happy about a successful team that also has that star quality. ... And by the way, that reminds me of maybe the best line of the year by one of my favorite all-time players, Joel Hanrahan. ... The night after Stephen’s debut, Joel and I are talking around the batting cage, and he talked about being booed the night before by fans here. And he said to me, why are they booing me? Don’t they realize without me, they never would have had Strasburg? But that’s the point. We had to suffer through stuff. And we got a Strasburg, a Harper, along with all the other things that will make us not just a good team but also an exciting, interesting, really cool, fun team to follow.
Are you disappointed not to get naming rights for the stadium?
We were, I won’t use the word victims, but we just happened to have bad timing there. Mark and I were at the new Meadowlands Stadium Sunday night touring it - we hadn’t been there before - touring it for the football game. I call it the new Meadowlands Stadium because they also don’t have a name because they hit at the same time. If you go to the new Cowboys Stadium, they also don’t have a name because they’re in the same market at the same time. We’re one of the three big - you know, smaller naming rights are getting done. We’re not that kind of product. We’re the most important venue in the most important city in the world. So we have to wait a little longer to get a partner and a deal that is really right for us.
Were there opportunities that didn’t make sense?
Oh, oh, sure. We could have done smaller deals. That didn’t make sense. Our owners are all real estate guys, so they’re all about long-term plays. And this is one of them. They didn’t want to take a small amount of money just for short-term dollars with not the right partner, not the right name, not the deal. They didn’t want to do that. We’d rather wait it out until the right deal and the right partner comes along.
Will the market for stadium naming rights come back?
I do see that. I don’t know when. We see signs. I’m told the recession end a year and a half ago. That was good news, I guess. All of us weren’t aware of that yet, because there are still companies that continue to take their time building back. We still that in our marketplace. That’s why we were so appreciative that we were able to maintain our attendance this year, even coming off a 100-loss season last year, and still with an economy that is struggling. We’re still there. We’re not fully there yet. I do see the economy coming back. Why? Because we also have. So I know we will. I don’t know when.
When the team came here, you had 22,000 season ticketholders. Now, it might be half that, based on estimates of some of the late-season crowds. Do you think you have squandered goodwill with the fans?
I think squandered is probably too strong of a word. Clearly, some of it has dissipated. But let me tell you, I’ve lived through this before and I’ve seen it many, many times before. It’s going to come back if you have the right market, and this is the right market. A huge fan base. A good mix. A diverse fan base with good demographics. And much better in terms of the economy and disposable income that most other markets. As soon as we get our product to where we’ve always wanted it to be but haven’t gotten it yet, this is going to be great. And there will be a day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future when we shoot past 22,000 season tickets. But first we have to get our jobs done. The fans will come if we do that.
Are you encouraged by the reports of the Rangers’ TV deal?
I’d be surprised even if it were true, and it’s not. It’s been exaggerated in the papers. But there’s no question that that’s an interesting play. I expect news shortly about Houston that will be exciting. There is continued speculation about what might be in the future for L.A. All these things are good. Those kind of developments in the media raise all boats and should work to our benefit and to the Orioles’ benefit as well down the road. That’s going to be a big thing for us. It’s going to help us to get our jobs done. Those are all positive developments.
Do you think Adam Dunn will be here next year?
Well, I’m going to say for today, yes, I think so. Everyone here knows I hope so. I said that externally and I’ve said the internally and I’ve said that to Adam. You have to wait and see. Obviously, the free agent window is shorter this year so we’ll all know, I think, sooner than we might have in the past. I hope that happens. I think it will be the right thing not just for us. But it would be the right thing for Adam.