Wednesday, October 6, 2010, 6:25 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Stan Kasten's last official day running the Washington Nationals came Wednesday, but the outgoing president was already talking about meetings and issues still on his agenda over the next few weeks. He's got a radio deal to negotiate, a spring training relocation to consider and any number of other items yet to address.
So the message of Kasten's press conference Wednesday was less "farewell" and more "see you around."
"The exit is kind of going to be slow motion," he said. "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."
Kasten will retain his minority stake in ownership of the Nationals, at least until he finds employment with another professional sports franchise or a league office. That, he said, probably won't happen for a while, probably not until sometime in 2011.
Until then, the 58-year-old executive will continue to assist the Nationals' front office in a variety of matters.
"I'm devoted to this franchise, in any way I can help them, officially, unofficially or otherwise," he said. "They have continued to reach out to me over the last two weeks. I'm sure that will continue in the future."
Kasten publicly announced on September 23 his intentions to resign at season's end, a decision he made and revealed to members of ownership earlier this year. After agreeing to join the Lerner family's bid to purchase the team from Major League Baseball in 2006, Kasten signed a five-year contract to serve as president. He chose to honor the full length of that contract but not to return once it expired.
His tenure as the point man running day-to-day operations of the franchise included the opening of Nationals Park, the hiring of Mike Rizzo as general manager, the hiring and firing of Manny Acta and manager and the hiring of Jim Riggleman as Acta's replacement. It included a rebuilding of the organization's once-barren farm system, bolstered by back-to-back No. 1 draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But it also included a scandal involving a Dominican prospect that led to the firing of several team officials and the forced resignation of GM Jim Bowden, not to mention a 331-478 record over the last five seasons and not even a whiff of a pennant race.
The net sum of all that suggests Kasten's term as president was anything but a success.
"Obviously, this job is far from complete, so you can't give a final grade," he said. "But no one in this business is truly successful unless they win it all. ... But we've made real progress, and the future, I think, is very, very bright."
Among the topics Kasten addressed during his 30-minute "exit interview" with reporters at Nationals Park...
-- He first became aware of issues involving the Dominican prospect who claimed to be 16-year-old Esmailyn Gonzalez in early 2007, about six months after the club gave the player a 1.4 million signing bonus but two years before the public became aware Gonzalez was actually named Carlos Alvarez and was four years older than he claimed.
That revelation, along with accusations that team officials skimmed money for themselves off Alvarez's bonus, led to the firing of special assistant Jose Rijo and head of Dominican operations Carlos Baez as well as Bowden's forced resignation on March 31, 2009. The case is still pending.
"I heard two years before that, and I started working hard for those two years," Kasten said. "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."
-- The Nationals have been looking into relocating their spring training headquarters from Viera, Fla., to somewhere else in the state or perhaps even Arizona. The club has a lease with Brevard County that runs through 2017. If they break that lease, which was negotiated back when MLB owned the Montreal Expos, they must reimburse the county millions of dollars in construction-bond payments.
The Nationals, though, are interested in relocating so they can be closer to other teams' facilities. Space Coast Stadium sits nearly an hour from the closest other facilities in the Grapefruit League: the Houston Astros' complex in Kissimmee and the Atlanta Braves' complex at Disney World.
No East Coast team currently trains in Arizona, but Kasten said either he or principal owner Mark Lerner has toured every facility in the Cactus League and said their interest in moving there is legitimate. "We're giving it a good, hard look and examining all our options," he said.
Kasten did say the club might be willing to stay in Viera if it can convince another organization to relocate closer to the area.
-- Despite speculation he might be in line to succeed Bud Selig as MLB commissioner -- Selig claims he will retire after the 2012 season -- Kasten insisted that's not in his plans at the moment.
"I'm flattered by the question," he said. "But those questions are just kind of silly and really unrealistic. Truly, that's how I feel."
-- Despite attempts to secure a naming rights deal for Nationals Park before the stadium opened in 2008, no deal has been completed to date. And none appears to be likely in the near future. Kasten said the club had offers from companies interested in acquiring naming rights before the ballpark opened but chose to hold out for something better. Once the economy faltered, the possibility of a better deal become nonexistent.
"Our owners are all real estate guys, so they're all about long-term plays," he said. "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."
-- Though he won't have much say in the matter, Kasten was asked whether he believes the Nationals will re-sign free agent Adam Dunn.
"Well, I'm going to say for today, yes, I think so," he said. "Everyone here knows I hope so. I said that externally and I've said that 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."