Since assuming the position of president of the Washington Nationals, Stan Kasten seems to be in many places at once. If he isn’t concerning himself with the plans for the new $611 million facility to be built along the Anacostia Waterfront, it’s restructuring the front office, working to improve RFK (where the Nationals will have to play till 2008), or dealing with a nasty carrier dispute between Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN and Comcast)…oh, and did I mention that he has to consider whether to replace GM Jim Bowden and manager Frank Robinson?
At the beginning of May, I interviewed Kasten just two days after the club was awarded to the ownership group headed by developer Ted Lerner. That interview, for Business of Baseball, covered how Kasten’s relationship in the past with the Lerners made for an easy transition into the group, whether the formation of the Red Sox ownership group in 2002 had any bearing on the Nationals’ ownership creation (Selig moving individuals from the groups around to get a “super group”), and what Kasten learned in the development of Turner Field that can be applied to the new Nationals stadium.
This interview follows up on the prior interview with Kasten having a better command of the situation now that he’s been immersed in the process for roughly a month and a half. As usual, he was detailed and engaging. We also had to schedule the interview for a time and place where he was less likely to be interrupted: flying down the road. It seemed an appropriate metaphor for Kasten these days.
Baseball Prospectus: What will be the first order of business as soon as the ownership is transferred?
Stan Kasten: We’ve hired the beginnings of a senior staff, and there are a lot of staff people that are going to evaluate who works under them. They all have their own department initiatives that they will turn to on that first day. We also have a plan to make gestures and statements to the constituencies that we have and we hope to be able to announce those right on the very first day we take over. We’re thinking through those things. In the meantime, I continue to talk with the various departments to try to make sure that as soon as we take over, we’re ready to hit the ground running.
BP: Has the current attendance situation altered any of those views on what you’ll address first?
Kasten: No. We’re taking a long term view of this. Whether you get high attendance now or low attendance doesn’t impact what we perceive as the long-term view. The vision is a long term vision, and that’s all we’re focusing on, and short term developments won’t distract us.
BP: You met with District officials on Wednesday regarding the two parking structures that are designed to sit just outside center field in the new ballpark design. From what is being reported, it sounds as if the idea of underground parking is not in line with ownership’s position to get the stadium built on time. Would you say that as of this point, all parking will be above ground at the new ballpark?
Kasten: I think that’s been mischaracterized a little. We don’t have a specific opinion on whether one scheme is better than another or not. All we care about is what is doable in the time left, and for the budget. And the particular schemes we saw for underground parking, everyone acknowledges can’t be done on time and on budget. We think our responsibility as stewards of this baseball team is to make sure the stadium is built on time, on budget and in a first-class manner and we are absolutely determined to help the people in this city who have never been involved in this process avoid the mistakes that would derail them from achieving those goals.
BP: What concerns do you have regarding DCSEC’s need to authorize almost half of the stadium’s $19.3 million in contingency funds just one month into construction, due to environmental site issues?
Kasten: Well, I don’t know much about that. Apparently there may yet be some difference of opinion as to how much they’ll have to pay for remediation. But, every project has a contingency budget now and this project was no exception. It had an adequate one and you know you have it there if it needs to get used. I’m not alarmed at this stage by what has been earmarked so far. I assume they’ll find a way to get everything done. We think we can help them get everything done with our experience in building commercial buildings and stadiums, and operating stadiums.
BP: When you say “help them,” I assume you’re helping them in the organizational process. If they run out of their contingency budget, I’m assuming that the discussion as to whether there would be any funds provided by ownership or whether…
Kasten: I’m not talking about that. What I’m saying is that if you allow us to help you in your decision-making along the way, questions of overruns would never come up. We’re going to try to use our expertise, of which we have a great deal, to help make sure that the project remains on budget and on time and first-class, which is what everyone who is a taxpayer in the D.C. area wants and what we want to make happen.
BP: Have you met with the DC Council members and the Mayor, and what kind of issues surrounding the new facilities do they seem to be focusing on?
Kasten: I have met with many of those people, and we do so regularly. Mainly right now we’re focused on getting the stadium built on time, on budget, and first class, without cutting corners. And I’m confident we can do that.
BP: Now that you’ve seen the plans that HOK have to start with, have you and the Lerners seen anything that you might wish to alter or augment at this stage?
Kasten: Everyone might have done something differently than someone else. But I guess that’s kind of human nature. I do think both the program and the design that we’ve seen thus far is terrific. We can do a lot, I think, to animate the stadium in a way that makes it appeal to fans above and beyond the architecture of the design, and we’re going to focus on those things looking forward.
BP: On naming rights and corporate advertisement, are you working packages where those who wish to advertise within the new facility must also advertise in the last year of RFK (2007)?
Kasten: We haven’t gotten to those kinds of packages yet. We still don’t have a full inventory of what kind of sponsorship opportunities we’ll have in the new stadium. We just have had a marketing director come on a week ago. We don’t even take over for a month. Sometime over the course of the summer we’ll figure out what our strategy is for 2006. And it is possible we’ll get to all those opportunities. I think I’d like that naming pinned down before we get to whatever remains in our sponsorship inventory.
BP: Sony has been mentioned as being interested in a sponsorship deal with the Nationals. Just how soon do you and the Lerners plan to move on these deals once ownership is finalized? Is it something of fairly high priority?
Kasten: In my own mind, I would like to commence the naming rights search process by Labor Day of ’06 and have it done by Opening Day or Labor Day of ’07. It’s a big, big, big ticket item and it takes a long time to make the search, so it could take us six months or nine months or a year. That’s what I envision. Certainly I’d like to have it done well before the stadium is built.
BP: There had been talk that Dayton Moore was looking into considering a position with the Nationals if David Glass had not offered full control over player personnel decisions with the Royals. Were there any discussions with you and the Lerners with Moore, and if so, what were the substance of those discussions?
BP: I’m not discussing personnel issues. I’m certainly not going to discuss personnel of other teams.
BP: Since it is possible that you may not be able to make any decisions in terms of a General Manager before the trading deadline, did you work with Jim Bowden on any particular players of interest for the draft?
Kasten: First of all, when we take over–whenever that is–we’ll be able to do whatever we need to do, and that should be well before the trading deadline. As for leading up to the draft, I’ve been consulted on, I think, all the major things which are going on, and if I’m able to offer an advice or opinion, I do so. But it’s clear that until we sign off, baseball continues to own it and all decisions have to finally be approved by Major League Baseball.
BP: What is your sense of the team now that you’ve seen it? Any particular players that you see as foundations from which to build from with the non-waiver trading deadline on July 31?
Kasten: I can’t insist on any one player being here come hell or high water. I don’t look at it that way. I look at building a whole franchise, which means the whole major league team augmented by a minor league infrastructure. We have to do all of that. It’s far more complex than any one or two or three players. That’s simply not how a team gets built. It’s the whole big picture you have to have in mind, when I look at the 25 man roster, when I look at our minor league system which is between 150 to 200 players. All of that plays a role in getting the result you want, and that’s how I look at it.
BP: Has there been any movement on the MASN/Comcast dispute, and has there been any consideration as to options should that dispute linger on?
Kasten: There’s been consideration of everything. There are talks that have been going on. There’s no resolution as yet. The position of the Washington Nationals continues to be that there is only one acceptable resolution and that is for all our games to be in all the homes. That’s what we expect. I’m fairly confident that’s what we’ll get. Whether we can do that on our own or we’ll require external forces to intervene, I can’t say. One way or the other, I’m very sure of what the end result will be.
BP: The Lerners will take over with roughly half the ’06 season left. What are the expectations for the last half of the season for the Nationals?
Kasten: I hope to be fully operational right on day one. I hope to work out all the things that I’ve announced, the three most important pillars of which are: building the team through player development, enhancing the fan experience and involving the team in the community. We intend to be active in all areas and have a plan to start effectuating positive changes in all three areas right away, immediately on day one.
BP: Finally, you’re a busy man these days. Do you ever rest?
Kasten: Not a lot lately, and I really haven’t been sleeping much, so I could use a little rest. Maybe in the off-season. The last seventeen years I ran teams, I didn’t have an off-season, so this might be kind of nice.