Not long after the Washington Nationals' 7-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the next-to-last game before Opening Day, and before hopping on a plane back to the nation's capital, Nats' team President Stan Kasten appeared on ESPN 980's "The Sports Reporters" with Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin to talk about the end of Spring Training and the upcoming 2010 campaign. After a quick chat about the cherry blossom trees in Nationals Park and when they're likely to bloom inside the park as opposed to those around the Tidal Basin...uh...(ed. note - "I just tuned in in time to hear the end of this conversation, and some talk about Mr. Kasten's travel plans, but after that they got right into it..."):
Steve Czaban: "Were you pleased overall with this year's camp?"
Stan Kasten: "Oh absolutely. I think it was, and it should be the best camp that we've had since coming back to Washington, we had the most talent here, and we have the most talent in our minor leagues that is major league ready. So, we know that our rotation is better to start the year, but the most exciting part of this year is what's coming right around the corner, the next wave that will be joining us...soon, May, June, July. As we said since we came to Washington, we need to develop a stable rotation, and once you have that rotation anything's possible and we're very, very close to now finally having that..."
Steve Czaban: "You say, 'the next wave', would that next wave wear no. 37 and throw a 100 mph fastball and go by the name of Stephen Strasburg?"
Stan Kasten: "Yeah, well that'll be one of the guys, for sure, but we're also excited to see what kind of return Chien-Ming Wang can make and what kind of return Ross Detwiler can make, and soon thereafter what kind of return Jordan Zimmermann can have, and you add that kind of potential to the rotation that we have currently with [John] Lannan and [Jason] Marquis, and Livan [Hernandez] and [Craig] Stammen and whoever, whether it's [Garrett] Mock or [Scott] Olsen behind them, we have a lot of pitching, we have a lot of depth, finally we can say that, not just up here, but also in Triple-A and Double-A and when you have that kind of inventory, we should be able to also use that to get the other pieces that we will eventually need as well..."
Steve Czaban: "Coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons, is not losing a hundred a goal, or is that too low a bar?"
Stan Kasten: [laughs] "No, that's too low of a bar..."
[Steve Czaban: "OK, what's your goal?"]
Stan Kasten: "I can't tell you a goal numerically, because it's silly, you don't know what kind of health you're going to have, you don't know what kind of health your competitors are gonna have, but we do need to see progress. I'm confident that we will see that, I also think because of the next wave that is still coming, and the wave that will differentiate us as a franchise, I think the second-half of the year is going to be markedly better than the first half, and that's what we have to be counting...at least I am, that's what I'm counting on. We all know what our schedule is the first six weeks or so of the season, I think we'll get through that and then progressively get better from that point forward..."
Andy Pollin: "Alright let's talk about a couple of name additions, one is a Hall of Fame-bound catcher in Pudge Rodriguez, what do you expect him to give the ballclub and in particular the young pitching staff?"
Stan Kasten: "Well, we signed him to platoon with Jesus Flores, who we have a lot of high hopes for, but Jesus is not ready, he had some setbacks during the Spring, so I think Pudge is going to get the bulk of the catching duties in the first half of the season, he's been fantastic with the young pitching staff, also good with the young catchers that we have and I think that he's going to be a big help for us. He's a great presence in the locker room, he takes command of the pitching staff and together working with [Pitching Coach] Steve McCatty, I think he's done a good job learning our pitchers and so I expect him to have a big presence, he'll be batting...seventh...in the order, I think, to start the season, and I don't think, like last year a lot of times, 7-8-9 in our lineup just didn't have much of a threat, I think this year it'll be much better."
Andy Pollin: "Alright the other two name signings were pitchers, one a starter and one a reliever, Jason Marquis and Matt Capps, what can you tell us about those two?"
Stan Kasten: "Both of them had very good Springs, and they both progressed, they started off slow and they got better and better and better, as they got closer to Opening Day, as veterans should be, cause veterans do know how to pace themselves, so I think they're both ready for the season, Jason had a very good start yesterday, Matt had a little of a bump yesterday, but had been pitching very well the three or four appearances before that, so I think they're both ready to go and I expect Jason to be our no.2 starter all year and I expect Matt to be our closer."
Steve Czaban: "Stan, from a distance, Jim Riggleman looks like a pleasant, but a journeyman manager, you know him better, what do you like most about him?"
Stan Kasten: "I love that it's all baseball, that he's fixated on everything between the white lines, he communicates to our players the importance of details, and continues to stress it all the time, I know we don't always show it, but I can tell you that he's always working on it and I think the players are making a greater effort to take care of things because of the emphasis that Jim has put on it."
Andy Pollin: "A lot of curious questions when Elijah Dukes was released during the Spring, was this all baseball-related and what do you make of the comment that Mike Rizzo said about the team being more united because of this?"
Stan Kasten: "Well..Yes, it was all baseball-related, because at the end of the day what we saw out of Elijah the second-half of last year, you know, we were hoping that it was a short-term kind of a thing, but through the Spring Training, through the weeks leading up to it, and during the first couple [of games], we just didn't see enough to make us believe he was ever going to get to what we had hoped for...Now, if we had believed he was going to be a problem all winter, we would've made a point to go out and get a right fielder, but we were really counting on Elijah to be with our team, but we just didn't see enough in Spring Training. So, that's why the cut was made. I don't know about the feelings in the locker room or the clubhouse, one way or another, I think that there may have been guys who didn't fit in with him or maybe not, but there was no problem in the clubhouse at all, and there were no incidents with him at all, it was all baseball, we just didn't see him getting up to the level that we once all forecast for him..."
Andy Pollin: "And you say with the level that you wanted him to be, that means only at the plate and only in the field, correct?"
Stan Kasten: "Yeah, everywhere else was just fine...but at the plate and in the field, those are two pretty important things..."
Steve Czaban: "Stan, do you think we're beyond the reclamation project phase of this franchise, we gonna be taking on any more "Elijah Dukes" in the future?"
Stan Kasten: "Well, I think you always have to be on the lookout for...to take a gamble, you should never be afraid to take a gamble cause those things pay off, and in the case of Elijah Dukes, we didn't really give anything up for him, so I thought it was a reasonable effort and Spring Training is for that, you know that's a good time, to do gambles or reclamation projects, because if you don't spend a lot on them, the return can be very great, so I would never close my mind off to taking a chance on someone seeing if you can catch lightning in a bottle, I think even good teams...let me tell you, the National League Champions, last year, picked up a player that had been cut from the Los Angeles Dodgers, named Jayson Werth, and a year from now he's going to be a big time free agent..."
Steve Czaban: "So no regrets then on the Dukes experiment?"
Stan Kasten: "No. There's no reason to have any regrets."
• Notes and ?'s:
- While Mr. Kasten says, "We didn't really give up anything for Elijah Dukes," he could say, "literally" didn't give anything up, Glenn Gibson, the pitcher traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, returned to the Washington Nationals this winter after being released by the Rays.
- Sure Capps and Marquis are veterans who know how to pace themselves to get ready for the season, but can you really say either of them had a good Spring?
- No regrets about Dukes? None?
- And no follow-up question about the starters in right, now that Dukes is gone?
- Since Mr. Kasten's essentially admitting the Nationals were unprepared to replace Dukes, assuming he'd be their right fielder, do you think the Nationals will be looking for a steady right fielder all season?
- Aren't you glad Spring Training is over?