VIERA, Fla. - Former Nationals president Stan Kasten popped in at the team's camp this morning, squeezing in a visit to his former haunt in the midst of some other work. What that other work is, Kasten wouldn't say - his grip on information hasn't loosened much since he resigned from the Nationals at the end of last season - but in a lively exchange with reporters, he made it clear he's keeping busy.
He maintains his ownership stake in the Nationals, though he wouldn't say if that had him touring sites for a possible Nationals spring training move. But when he was talking about how the team looks this year, there was one subtle, yet significant difference - he called the Nationals "they," not "we."
"I pay attention to (the team) all the time, and it looks exciting," Kasten said. "They had a very active, aggressive offseason, and I am certainly in favor of aggressiveness. Let's keep our fingers crossed. If they just don't have the injuries they had in the rotation last year, they're going to be improved."
As usual, the most interesting part of Kasten's exchange with reporters came when he was talking about something other than himself. He weighed in on the NFL labor negotiations from a unique perspective - he's forged a close relationship with federal mediator George Cohen through collective bargaining sessions in which Cohen represented players - and he's curiously watching the possibility of the NFL Players Association decertifying.
"No one quite knows, legally, what's on the other side of that decertification cliff," Kasten said. "All of us who are sports lawyers have been doing radio and TV in the last week with opinions on labor and legal issues. But if any of us have left out the phrase, 'But we really don't know,' then we're making a mistake, because decertification is something that's just not done. It's certainly not done in the context of trying to do it as a strategic move to gain a tactical advantage. ... So the question's arising: Is it a permissible or legal negotiating tactic? Can you just disavow your legal obligation to negotiate fairly by declaring, 'I'm not a union.' I know the owners can't do that, and yet the union's going to try to claim that. That's a very complicated legal question."
He also took the early temperature of baseball's labor negotiations, which will take place this year as owners and players try to work out a new collective bargaining agreement before the current contract expires in December. Kasten said he expects the process will drag on close to the deadline, but foresees a relatively uncomplicated process. And for baseball, that's refreshing.
"Of all the sports, I see the least amount of trouble going forward for baseball," he said. "There will still be tough bargaining ahead, but I think both sides have more of a common mind on big issues right now than the other sports do. So that bodes well for baseball. ... Let's be fair and give the commissioner an awful lot of credit for the state of the game, the good parts of the state of the game. Sure, there are issues. Sure, there are things owners want, and I know there are things players want, but I think the spirit has been better lately."
He also had a witty retort for the New York Yankees when owner Hank Steinbrenner's recent criticism of baseball's luxury tax was broached.
"They do pay a lot. There's a way to avoid that. That's the good news," Kasten said. "We have a system where, if they don't want to pay a lot of luxury tax, they can avoid it, and I'm sure they're aware of it. So they've obviously chosen to pay it, and the rest of the sport is appreciative."