Nats' president Tavares talks turkey

Tavares talks turkey on 2005 and beyond

Under team president Tony Tavares, the Nationals/Expos were competitive in three of the last four years. In 2005, for example, the Nationals were playoff contenders until the last two weeks of the season.

At the All-Star break, the Nationals were 52-36 and in first place in the National League East, but the team went 29-45 the rest of the way and finished with an 81-81 record in their first season in Washington.

Tavares said there are reasons the team stumbled in the second half. With that in mind, talked to Tavares about the season and the future of the franchise. How did the first season in Washington go in your eyes?

Tony Tavares: Overall, it went pretty well. We were certainly received well by the fans because of the amount of tickets that we sold. The business community embraced us as far as sponsorship sales go.

We have work to do on the field. When I say on the field, I mean player personnel-wise. And the grass was in terrible condition as the season went on. Concessions must be improved -- food services. General cleaning at the stadium has to be improved. You mentioned player personnel. Can you elaborate on it?

Tavares: Sure. I feel that we just have to get better. Generally speaking, I think we had a good first half. We did not have a great second half by any stretch of the imagination. We are all disappointed that we didn't get into the playoffs. I just think we need to improve on the field. We are looking for Cristian Guzman to improve. He came on in September. We are hoping he can get it together a lot earlier next season -- starting in April.

We look forward to Livan Hernandez getting healthy. That was a big issue for us. We had a lot of players that were banged up for a long time during the season. It affected Livan, [Brad] Wilkerson and [Jose] Vidro. Jose has to come into Spring Training in better shape than he came in this season. It was one of the reasons his knee didn't rebound from the surgery in the first place.

We are pleased with our bullpen, but we have to get better. We would love to get a bopper somewhere, but it's a tough free-agent market place. If you really look at it, there is not a lot of quality. There are a few players here and there. I read somebody saying there is going to be a lot of money wasted in free agency this year and I think that's true. There are going to be a lot of bad contracts [that are going to be done] out of desperation. We're assuming the Nationals will not be one of those desperate teams?

Tavares: We always played conservatively. We will intelligently get involved. If things get silly and stupid, there's no point getting involved in that level. The worse thing in the world is when you are paying for players at premium prices and they don't perform for you. That's true failure at that point. We have to avoid it.

I want to spend the money a little differently than we have in the Minor Leagues. We have to improve our instruction down there. We have to improve our overall scouting. [Interim general manager] Jim [Bowden] is trying to address some of that right now. We don't feel we are getting consistent instruction at the Minor League level. It's kind of our fault because we have been on the low end, pay scale-wise. We are not getting top-end people. When you compare us to the Braves [in terms of teaching], we are in a different time zone, different planet. Players such as Jose Guillen and Vinny Castilla made a big deal about Robert F. Kennedy Stadium being too big to hit home runs. What was your reaction to the griping?

Tavares: It didn't seem like the opposing teams had problems hitting home runs. When you [talk about] moving the fences in, I will guarantee you our pitching staff will not be in support of that. It's just silliness. Jim and I told Jose this already: "Deal with the issues that are in front of you. It is what it is." I think it became a distraction during a point in time. When all that complaining started, we lost our focus and we didn't play as well. My point is, quit your complaining and just play baseball. Is there any other reason the Nationals had a bad second half?

Tavares: I just think we lost our focus. Honestly, it's a challenge going forward for the players. There are leadership issues within the locker room. There are guys who have to stand up and show better leadership. Frankly, our coaching staff has to show better leadership. Do you think the coaching staff should have been forceful?

Tavares: Yes. In what way?

Tavares: I don't think we should have had some of the issues that manifested themselves. They should have been handled. Nine times out of ten, they should have been handled by the players, but our coaching staff has to do a better job getting involved. Besides the stadium, which was a big issue with some of the players, what other issues did you feel should have been avoided?

Tavares: We just lost our focus. And I think we have to work harder. I don't think we work very hard. There's an old saying, the harder I work, the more successful I am or the luckier I get. When I compare what we do to prepare and what other teams do, I don't think we work as hard as we need to. We often wondered why the Nationals didn't practice before day games.

Tavares: I wonder that, too. It's something that will not be accepted going forward, I can tell you that. When I say we didn't work hard enough, that's exactly what I'm talking about.

Too many times, we didn't take batting practice. If you look at our record on Sundays, it's indicative of our success. I just don't think we prepare as well.

We are giving up hits in circumstances where our infielders should have been at a different position or our outfielders should have been at a different position. Our preparation is not there right now. According to several sources, you had the team practice on the last day of the season. Is that true?

Tavares: I was angry, honestly. It was going to be the third day in a row we didn't [take batting practice]. I went to Jim and he straightened it out. I said it to a coach as well. The team still doesn't have ownership. When do you think the announcement will be made?

Tavares: I don't know. I wish I did know. In a lot of people's view, the sooner the better. There have been decisions made that said we will not get ownership selected until the [stadium] lease is done. We have been working diligently to get that done, but it takes two to tango. We just can't seem to get the city's attention on this issue. Are you saying the city is totally ignoring the issue?

Tavares: It's not so much ignoring it. We feel they can't get their collective act together and sit down at the table and discuss the situation. The sad part about some of this is, we have a thing we have called the baseball stadium agreement that sets out the basic terms of the lease, including how much rent you are going to pay and things like that. Many of these issues should not be as complicated as they have been made out to be. They should start serving there interest as well. We can't go out and get financing until that lease is done. It's going to be difficult to break ground on this stadium until the lease is done.

We would hope at some point someone would sound an alert and say, "We have to get this done." The contracts for all your employees, including Bowden and Frank Robinson, expire on Oct. 31. Let's say ownership is not in place by then. What are you going to do with the employees?

Tavares: I'll do the same thing I did last year. We go month-to-month. I'm going to put our Minor Leagues in place. We are going to hire scouts and so forth. But in key positions -- like GM, manager and team president -- we just have to wait. Let's say the ownership situation drags on. How will this affect you going after free agents and making trades?

Tavares: It will certainly affect it. At some point, we ... have to have a new owner on board or I have to get authorization to do what I think is best. Do you have a certain deadline on when you could start asking Major League Baseball about making deals?

Tavares: I started asking Major League Baseball before the season ended.

What I have been doing is making decisions that are critical and need to be made. I'll continue to do that on arbitration. Are we going to retain our free agents and make offers, which we have done? You noticed that we signed [2005 draft pick] Justin Maxwell [on Tuesday]. That was a decision I had to get made or he was going back to college. I will make those critical decisions that are time-sensitive and try to postpone [others] until somebody gives me some direction. The team has made offers to Loaiza and Hector Carrasco, right?

Tavares: They are not in writing, but Jim has been working on those. We are not close. What is your future with the Nationals?

Tavares: I don't know. It's impossible for me to answer that. What about Bowden and Robinson? Have you suggested to them to look for jobs elsewhere?

Tavares: What I've told everybody is, "Nobody has made any promises. If you get a job opportunity, you should pursue it, because I can't guarantee anything." Do you want Bowden back with the team?

Tavares: If I come back, I'm definitely offering a job to Jim Bowden. What about Robinson?

Tavares: That would be Jim Bowden's call or a new GM's call. I didn't hire the manager or the coaches, and I'm certainly not going to fire the manager and the coaches.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.