Monday, March 2, 2009
Kasten: 'I've done this before'
VIERA, Fla. -- Five weeks before the start of the regular season, Jim Bowden resigned as the Washington Nationals' general manager. So exactly who is calling the shots on personnel moves until a successor is chosen?
For now, it's team president Stan Kasten.
"I'm in charge. ... I've done this before," Kasten said Monday after meeting with Washington's front-office team. "I'm doing what we need to do to keep the franchise moving forward."
Multitasking is familiar territory for Kasten, who in 1999 simultaneously served as president of baseball's Atlanta Braves, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers.
At 27, Kasten became the youngest GM in NBA history with the Hawks, holding the position from 1979-1990 while concurrently serving as Hawks president from 1986-1990.
When Bowden stepped down Sunday after four years at the Nationals' helm, Kasten promised that the team wouldn't miss a beat. After regrouping Monday morning, he reiterated that it would be "later this week" before any replacement -- interim or otherwise -- would be picked.
A cloud has hung over the Nationals since last summer because of an FBI investigation into bonuses skimmed from Latin American prospects, and the scandal cost Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo their jobs.
But that's hardly the only challenge facing a team that lost a major league-worst 102 games last season.
Bowden leaves a team overstocked with corner outfielders, a logjam at first base and a need for arms to fortify the bullpen. Those personnel decisions were to have played out under Bowden as spring training progressed. Now the Nationals have to decide who will be managing the inevitable roster shuffle.
"We have exhorted people to step up. We expect them to step up. I need them to step up," Kasten said. "We have a deep bench and that's not an accident. It was a philosophy of Jim's and it's a philosophy of mine."
If Washington wants to look in-house for a replacement, Mike Rizzo remains among Bowden's former lieutenants. Promoting Rizzo, an assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations since July 2006, wouldn't require Washington to request a waiver from Major League Baseball, which usually requires teams to interview minority candidates for such front-office vacancies.
Rizzo came to Washington after being passed over for the GM job in Arizona, where he had worked since the Diamondbacks' inaugural season in 1998. He is regarded as a top evaluator of talent and helped the D-Backs draft 2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielder Justin Upton and infielder Chad Tracy. Rizzo's first draft with the Nationals in 2007 was rated by Baseball America as the best in baseball.
Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava would be an attractive candidate if the Nationals opt to expand their search outside the organization. Like Rizzo, LaCava is highly regarded for his ability to evaluate talent and has been considered for recent GM vacancies in Pittsburgh and Seattle.
Notes RHP Joel Hanrahan, the Nationals' closer, has accepted an invitation to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic and departed for Clearwater, Fla., on Monday. He agreed to pitch for the U.S. team after conferring with pitching coach Randy St. Claire, manager Manny Acta and former teammate Chad Cordero. "They said if you want to do it, do it -- just make sure you get your work in," Hanrahan said. "When they gave me the approval, I was excited." Hanrahan said he wavered because he only has a year of big league experience and has a critical role in the bullpen. "You're still committed to the Nationals and you want to be 100 percent for them when April 6 comes around," he said.