Q&A with Nats president Stan Kasten

Q&A with Nationals president Stan Kasten

Despite all the money being spent on Major League free agents, Nationals president Stan Kasten has not wavered from his philosophy, which is rebuild the farm system.

While watching left fielder Alfonso Soriano sign an eight-year, $136 million contract with the Cubs, the Nationals signed 21 Minor League free agents, added 10 people to the scouting department and hired Manny Acta as manager.

MLB.com caught up with Kasten recently to talk about the Nationals, Soriano, the baseball climate and the upcoming Winter Meetings.

MLB.com: How surprised are you that a lot of money is being spent on free agents this offseason?

Stan Kasten: We heard reports of it, so I'm not surprised about the vigorous market, even though it's not one of the best classes we've ever had. But I am surprised at some of the contracts that I've seen.

We heard reports that people were going to have a renewed or a redoubled sense of confidence in the business moving forward. Some people have looked at their own economics and have been able to justify some of the expenditures that we have seen.

In our own case, we are in a very different set of circumstances this [coming year]. So it's hard to put myself in the shoes of other people.

MLB.com: With the new ballpark expected to be ready by 2008, do you see the Nationals spending this kind of money?

Kasten: I don't know what you mean by "this kind of money." The payroll levels in the future will be higher than the payroll levels in 2006 and '07, that's for sure. ... We are never going to do contracts that are unwise. We are going to do the best deals that we can. Having said that, I expect us to be as aggressive as possible always -- whether it's looking at opportunities in free agency or signing six-year free agents, Rule 5 Draft picks or trades.

MLB.com: What I mean by "this kind of money" is, do you see the Nationals giving a player eight years, $136 million or five years at $50 million?

Kasten: I can't answer a question like that in a vacuum. There are times when someone has a greater value to you than he might have other times. For instance, if he is the last piece of your puzzle, you might extend yourself more than you would otherwise. Right now, we are still at the building phase. We are being very aggressive in building things that we can do. But when we get to another phase, we will try to do the things that are appropriate for that time.


"He speaks with real decisiveness and clarity. He articulates a position that brings confidence. The single quality that is most important in a manager and head coach is leadership. Can he lead men? Can he articulate a vision that will cause people to follow him? I get that feeling when I spend time with Manny Acta."
-- Kasten, on Nationals manager Manny Acta

MLB.com: As you know, Soriano signed with the Cubs for eight years, $136 million. How you surprised that he signed for that much?

Kasten: I was surprised at the number and length of the contract, because there is no precedent for a player at that age [Soriano is 30] getting anything close to that [kind of money].

MLB.com: After the season ended, did you think the Nationals had a chance re-sign Soriano?

Kasten: I just didn't know. It was impossible to predict. We had a chance, but this worked out just fine for us and way beyond fine for Alfonso.

MLB.com: So you are satisfied with second-round and sandwich picks?

Kasten: Absolutely. Let's face it, we have a building job that we need to do. We are not happy that we need to do it. That's the situation that we find ourselves in. To ignore it would be foolish. To pursue a free agent -- even to pursue our own free agent -- at that kind of money and not improve our team, what would be the point of that?

MLB.com: Did you think Soriano was sincere when he said he wanted to stay in Washington?

Kasten: I'm confident that if he was offered that kind of money by Washington, he would have stayed. So I guess the answer is yes.

MLB.com: Soriano said during his conference call that the Nationals never got back to him as far as making an offer. Is that accurate?

Kasten: I'm not going to go through the blow-by-blow. But there were numerous conversations from the day I got here to the very end. It is true that they did not get back to us with their final number. I can confirm that. It's clear we were not going to be able to be in that ballpark.

MLB.com: Let's talk about Manny Acta. You said it took 30 minutes for you to think that he could be the next manager of the team. During the interview process, what did Acta say to you that made you believe it?

Kasten: First of all, I love the way he speaks. He speaks with real decisiveness and clarity. He articulates a position that brings confidence. The single quality that is most important in a manager and head coach is leadership. Can he lead men? Can he articulate a vision that will cause people to follow him? I get that feeling when I spend time with Manny Acta.

MLB.com: With that being said, you have been realistic about next year. Do you think, with Acta at the helm, things could be better?

Kasten: I think we will get the most out of what we have next year. I don't know yet what we are going to have or what position we are going to be. I'm already 100 percent confident that we are going to make an awful lot of progress in moving this forward -- building our foundation and setting the stage for even further success down the road.

MLB.com: What moves have you made that you have liked thus far?

Kasten: I've been pleased with so many of them, starting with the program we [announced], which was to build the foundation, first and foremost. Proceeding from there, we helped install a new philosophy in the draft and we came out of it in very good shape. We are much more aggressive in the Caribbean and we were rewarded with a terrific shortstop [Smiley Gonzalez]. We were more aggressive in pursuing opportunities on the Major League level and came up with Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner. All of the trades we made for the rest of the summer brought us back young arms, which were not here six months ago. As soon as the year ended, we brought on this All-Star team of scouts from all around baseball to put our next phase into the program.

Once I got in here, I reached the conclusion that things were more problematic than I realized. On the other hand, I think because of the things that we have been able to do, we will now [contend] quicker than I thought. I expect to be competitive and contending much sooner than I imagined.

MLB.com: Can you talk about how much money will be spent, player-wise, in 2007?


"Jim and I were talking about that [on Wednesday]. We haven't gotten to it yet. We have been working on first, hiring a manager, then preparing for the Winter Meetings. Perhaps in January, we'll turn our attention more fully to that."
-- Kasten, on Frank Robinson's role with the team

Kasten: I don't think about teams that way. I think about assembling assets and not passing up opportunities. As to what the final number will be, I couldn't tell you now even if I wanted to because I don't know what my revenues are going to be. I don't know what money I will have available. Whatever it is at the start of Spring Training, it will be more on Opening Day. It could be more by the trade deadline, assuming that business is going well.

MLB.com: For most of your career, you have worked with Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz as GMs. What is it like to work with Jim Bowden?

Kasten: I think he has done a very good job. We all know we have our limitations. We also have some very exciting opportunities in Washington. He has done well within our limitations and opportunities. We haven't even begun to talk about the Pacific Rim program that we are starting to put in place. Jim has been aggressive doing that. When I named him our GM, the most single thing about him is how resourceful he is. He will look under every rock to try to bring assets to our club, and, so far, that is exactly what he has tried to do.

MLB.com: Have you given Bowden a plan for the Winter Meetings?

Kasten: Yes. He did a lot at the GM Meetings in setting up discussions with other teams. We have a number of scouts who are going to Orlando with specific assignments. We will make sure we cover every franchise's roster to see what fit there is. We will also [talk to] all the agents and see what signing opportunities may exist.

With the market as heated as it is, I expect that it will continue [that way] for a little while through the Winter Meetings. I don't see us signing any of those top-end free agents. I don't think it would make sense where we are.

MLB.com: Have you decided what role Frank Robinson will play within the organization?

Kasten: Jim and I were talking about that [on Wednesday]. We haven't gotten to it yet. We have been working on first, hiring a manager, then preparing for the Winter Meetings. Perhaps in January, we'll turn our attention more fully to that.

MLB.com: Pat Corrales said this about you last week: "Stan is a fair man, but you better do your work. If you don't do your work, pack your suitcase and leave." Did Robinson do his work?

Kasten: Frank's career speaks for itself. The reasoning that went into the decision, which was made by Jim Bowden, was more a reflection on needs and expectations moving forward over the next two, three, five years. That's the reason Jim made that decision, and it was not at all a reflection on Frank Robinson.

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