Kasten focused on Dodgers, impressed by Nats
WASHINGTON -- Stan Kasten is now working 3,000 miles away, with a different team on another coast, but his imprint is all over a Nationals club that is competing right now for first place in the National League East.Kasten's focus is on the Dodgers, but he was in town this weekend to attend the graduation of his son from nearby University of Maryland as his former employers played the Orioles at Nationals Park. "They've done a terrific job building it the right way," Kasten said of the Nationals on Saturday, giving much of the credit to his hand-picked baseball operations department. "They have a lot of homegrown talent and have an opportunity to be good for a long time." Kasten's jobs as president of both the Dodgers and Nationals began under similar circumstances. He took over the once-economically challenged Expos, who had been owned by Major League Baseball and moved to Washington in 2005, more than a year before the club's sale to the Lerner family. Kasten came in with the new owners. He joined the Dodgers earlier this month, again under new owners, who bought the heralded franchise as it is emerging from bankruptcy. From there, the comparisons end. The Nationals were moribund in mid-2006. The Minor League system was bereft of talent and Kasten quickly learned at the time that "the hole we were in was deeper than I realized." Under his watch, the Nationals used the top overall picks in consecutive First-Year Player Drafts to select right-hander Stephen Strasburg (2009) and outfielder Bryce Harper (2010), who could be impact players for a while if they remain healthy. "Clearly, that was very significant," Kasten said. "You can't usually find marquee players, unless you get them in free agency. It's great when you can get them on your own. We had a high level of confidence that both of those guys would pan out. But by themselves, they wouldn't have been enough." On the current big league roster, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, second baseman Danny Espinosa and first baseman Tyler Moore were all drafted under the watch of Kasten, who ultimately named Mike Rizzo general manager as Jim Bowden's replacement. Kasten arrived on the Nationals scene with a long resume of experience in Atlanta as president of the Braves, GM and president of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and president of the NHL's expansion Atlanta Thrashers. Kasten's teams there made it to the playoffs 30 times, with the 1995 Braves winning the only championship. He's still looking for No. 31. During the Nationals' waning days at RFK Stadium in 2006-07, Kasten talked about building his new club from the roots up, starting with young pitching. "That was always the plan and that was always the hope, and it looks like it's going to come true," said Kasten, who resigned from his Nationals post after the 2010 season. "We didn't invent that. That was the way Branch Rickey did it. But you need the right people to do the right things and make good decisions. Mike and [assistant GM] Roy [Clark] and [scouting director] Kris [Kline] have done a really good job." In contrast, Kasten takes over the day-to-day operations of a Dodgers club that is currently in first place in the National League West with the best record in the Major Leagues entering Saturday. He is bullish on the job general manager Ned Colletti has done during the last year despite the turmoil of the bankruptcy that resulted in the $2.15 billion sale of the franchise by Frank McCourt to controlling owner Mark Walter, who arranged the financing as the chief executive of Chicago-based Guggenheim Financial. Former NBA great Magic Johnson is also a high-profile member of the group. Kasten has taken over a club that's humming along at the Major League level and needs little work at the Minor League level. "This is a completely different situation," Kasten said. "In Washington, we had to revamp the Minor Leagues. The Dodgers are not the case. Additionally, we're a big-market team with big-market expectations, so we'll have to focus on the Major Leagues. But they will be done side by side." About the job Colletti and his cohorts have done, Kasten said: "We have the best record in baseball, so you're going to have to draw your own conclusions. Ned and the people he has around him have done a good job, obviously -- a terrific job, considering the circumstances." Times and those circumstances certainly do change. With the Nationals consistently in a rebuilding phase, there was never any thought in-season of bolstering the team. Instead, management had a habit of shedding players around the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline to look at youngsters. The Dodgers went into action at home against the Cardinals on Saturday, leading the second-place Giants in the NL West by 5 1/2 games. If the Dodgers need help at the deadline, Kasten said he will certainly consider going out and getting it. "That's up to Ned," Kasten said. "When Ned comes to me with something he wants to do, we will discuss it." It's a new job another 3,000 miles away, and Kasten, at 60, is about to put his imprint on another team.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.