Inside Pitch Live with President Stan Kasten

Stan Kasten 1.jpgNationals President Stan Kasten spent 20 minutes on Saturday in the PNC Diamond Club fielding questions from fans for the fourth installment of Inside Pitch Live. There wasn’t a topic that was out-of-bounds.

SK: I’ll get to your questions right away, but before I do, let me tell you why this is a particularly exciting time for me. Usually when I do a speech, the first question I get isn’t always the same. Except for the last few months the first and only question people ask me is, “When is Strasburg coming up?” Fortunately, I’m getting really close to not having to hear that question anymore, and we can get back to the other question I’m always asked, which is, “When is Teddy going to win?” Now, the answer is always the same: I don’t know, I don’t know.

It’s a really exciting time, as everyone in this room, in this stadium, in this city, in this country knows. We’re thrilled to be in the center of attention in the baseball world both on Monday, as we have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and then again on Tuesday, as last year’s number one pick in the draft makes his Major League debut, keeping your fingers crossed at all times.

Do you care to comment on the couple instances with the umpires that have been going on lately?

I have been in sports for 30 years, including 11 as a GM in three different leagues, so I’ve had my battles with the umpires and the referees since the beginning. In fact, I will tell you, the oldest storied custom in this country, dates back more than a century, and it’s fans going to a ballpark screaming “Kill the ump!” That’s just the nature of our business. We’re never going to agree with all their calls. Their percentage of getting things right is breathtaking. It’s unbelievable how often we complain out there, we go back into the clubhouse or the video room and find out that they were right and we were wrong. Now, we’ve had some celebrated instances, including one other horribly unique instance in this last week. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough. But it gives rise to the question of instant replay. I’ll tell you my view on that. I don’t think the day will ever come where every call is an instant-replay call. But I do think there’s going to be a bit of an evolution in our use of technology. We don’t want to slow the game down. We don’t want to unnecessarily distract them. But more and more I think we’re going to see exceptions like we have in baseball over the last few years with unique circumstances that we say, “Okay, let’s go to the videotape.” I think time will evolve and we will continue to have more exceptions. If there’s a better way for us to get the call right, I think we’ll do that. As traditionalists, we’ll continue to fight against that. But I think that little by little, we’ll continue to evolve and have more use of this replay, though it’s not going to be sudden. It’s not going to take over the game anytime soon, but we’ll continue to have an evolution in its use, including, I think, cases where maybe the call the other night with the perfect game might have been overturned. There is no mechanism today in place to do that. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we got to that time, with a system, with exceptions that allowed momentous occasions with obvious mistakes to be overturned. It wouldn’t surprise me, although there is no mechanism for that today.

This is a little off topic, but can I have your autograph?

Yeah, and that will be the cheapest thing here at Nationals Park. There will be no charge for that. Do you have a camera? You can take a picture too.

He said it was a little off topic, I thought we were going to go to the Middle East or the oil in the Gulf. Fortunately it was one I could answer.

I’ve been following baseball since 1951. I’m an old guy.

That’s before I was born.

Right. I don’t know if you can honestly give an answer to this because of your position, but when Richie Phillips pulled the stunt and had the umpires resign several years ago, why in the world did baseball take back the most arrogant umpire in my lifetime, Joe West?

Well, I’ve had similar conversations with baseball people recently. You should know that historically, Joe has been a highly rated substantive umpire. Yes there are people who have issues with him that don’t involve the substance of his umpiring. But I think in the settlement that came out of the labor action, there were a lot of good things for baseball. We want the best umpires in the world. I think at the time the decision to bring back those umpires was made, Joe would have been in that class of umpires who are among the best in the world.  That’s the short answer for that. I think you’re asking that because of other more recent events.

He’s so arrogant.

The funny thing about arrogance, this is a subject I know a lot about (laughing).

And confrontational.

I once wrote an essay about this because I worked with the different leagues and the leagues are all similar on this subject. Yes, arrogance and confrontation can be a problem, but when you look at the profile, the psychological profile, of guys that we want, too often, it’s all the traits that lead to arrogance are the guys that we want–guys with strength, the guys that will believe in their call, that will not back down out there. Now, those are the kinds of things we want in a good umpire. And too often the line is too fine and crosses over into arrogance. So that’s the reason why you often see umpires whom you would describe as arrogant, others might say that’s also a personality trait that is good. The short answer as to why we have some many umpires that appear arrogant. That’s actually a flip side to a really good trait.

Would you rather have a better pitcher or a better hitter?

That’s a good question. Historically, baseball guys would tell you that they would take the everyday position player because he plays every day. Because if you get a starting pitcher, your starting pitcher is going to give you, let’s say, six innings, 30 times a year, whereas a position player is going to give you nine innings, 160 times a year. Having said that, though, there’s another element and that goes to the importance of modern-day starting rotations. This offseason, we counted No. 1 starters in baseball. We counted 18 of them. Period. Now maybe it’s 15. Maybe it’s 22, depending on your definition. But they are extremely rare. If you have one, you’re ahead of the game. If you have two, you are competitive. If you are one of the rare teams that has three, you are a contender almost no matter what else you have going for you. I think I’ll modify my answer by saying if I had a No. 1, I’d take a No. 1 over an everyday player, but if it’s anybody else, then I think you take the everyday player.

Stan Kasten 2.jpgHypothetically, say you take Bryce Harper with the first pick. Do you foresee him being in the Majors in several years? And would you make him a catcher or play right field?

I’ve never seen Bryce in person. Everyone on our staff has multiple times. So I’ve had a lot of conversations about it and honestly I know quite a bit what scouts think. I think they believe that he is a kid who is well-developed for a 17-year-old, mentally and physically, and that he will have a short path to the Major Leagues, especially if he signs really quickly. I’m just saying, okay? I’m just offering advice. In addition, the baseball people I talk to think his bat is so advanced, he’d be better off in the outfield, where he has an above-average arm, wouldn’t have the wear and tear or the learning curve that a catcher would need. I think a catcher might take three, four, or five years from a 17-year-old to really make it up here, whereas an outfielder could be here in three years maybe. That’s what I think most baseball people feel. Did I mention the point about the desirability of signing early? I think that would really help him.

I read, this may not be true, that Roy Oswalt would not be averse to joining the Nationals. What would it take for the Astros to trade him?

I happen to know that team is looking for an established Major Leaguer and a premier, ready-to-go prospect, a very top prospect, in a package of other things. Now do they get that? Hard question about whether they get that. But right now, we are currently not in a buy or sell with Roy. I know their owner very well. He’s close personally, very close personally, with Roy, and in the back of his mind, he hopes they never trade Roy. So they’re not giving him away or even trading him cheaply at all. They want 100 cents on the dollar or more.

I know Strasburg is great, but do the Nats have their eyes on Danny Hultzen?

We follow everyone. Do we have our eye on him? Do we know about him? Of course we do. Do we have people scouting endlessly? Of course we do. I can’t tell you what his future is going to be, and we can’t talk about players until they are drafted anyways, but you bet. We know about him. It’s a complicated process, the drafting and scouting process, but we have an army of guys, whether full-time or part-time, dozens and dozens of people, looking at, in any one draft, over 1,200 different players in America. And we have reports on all of them. So the answer is, if he’s playing baseball in America, and if he’s a high school senior or anywhere in college, we know about him and we’re watching.

Word through the grapevine is Philly fans have already started getting buses to ship their fans down here for the July 31 game. After Opening Day, which was really not the greatest time for Nats fans due to their presence, are you doing anything to counter this?

It is a good question and none of us are happy about Opening Day. And we’re still not completely sure why all of it happened, because there was nothing done differently for this Opening Day than has been done for other Opening Days, or for Yankee games, or for Red Sox games, etc… But we have taken steps to change things for the next time. Now, we’re reluctant to talk about the specific steps we’ve taken. So we’re trying to be strategic about it, but both in the use of tickets, the crowd control in the ballpark–all of those things, we’re going to take steps that we haven’t had to take before. My guess is it’s going to be a very good game. I think people will look back [on Opening Day] and realize it was an anomaly for various reasons. But yes, we take it very seriously. We don’t at all want what happened on Opening Day to ever happen again.

From the very beginning after Strasburg signed, you and Mike Rizzo said, “We have a plan.” Now that we’re on the cusp of his Big League debut, can you just reflect a little bit on the plan? Does it always go this easily? I mean, obviously the answer is no, but can you talk about that?

Over the years, I’ve had a bunch of good teams and an awful lot of good players, but I’ve never had this kind of attention or focus on any one player ever. Mike had a plan, not only after we signed him, but Mike had a calendar and a plan that we gave to Stephen before we signed him. We all had lunch a couple of weeks before he signed, and we laid out what we thought would happen. We were all aware it would have to be adjusted day-to-day, and it was. He got in the Fall League, just as we expected that he would, came to Spring Training and had great development. It wasn’t until Spring Training that Mike and Spin Williams, our pitching coordinator could really get into details about where we should send him and how long we should send him. I think we’ve always thought the right thing would be three to five starts in Double-A, assuming he was ready for Double-A, which became clear early that he would be…three to five starts in Double-A, three to five starts in Triple-A. Our preference would be an opening at home because we could control the environment better at home–that means media, that means access to fans, access in the locker room, control the field conditions in case it rains… But it was an adjustment.

This is an extraordinary talent. Now he has to come up here and use all the skills, the talent that he has. He’s going to learn a lot up here, but Mike feels like he’s learned all that he can learn in the Minor Leagues.


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