Kasten embroiled in 'village idiot phase'

WASHINGTON -- The president of the worst team in baseball is going through his "village idiot phase."

Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten took the optimistic but self-deprecating approach when he appeared Thursday before the National Press Club. It was probably his only recourse, given that his team began the day 29 games under .500.

"I'm currently in my village idiot phase in Washington," Kasten said. "Until we see the record on the field, it's easy to be critical, it's easy to be impatient. I totally understand it."

Kasten offered support tinged with a bit of uncertainly when asked about manager Manny Acta, whose status has been the subject of constant speculation. Acta has a contract option for 2010 that has not been exercised by the Nationals.

"I happen to be a real fan of his," Kasten said. "I think he has the demeanor to be a long-term solution as a manager, the demeanor of a Bobby Cox. ... I can't predict whether it's going to work here, but I think it will. He still has the potential to be a long-term manager here and that's my hope."

Kasten said he's been the village idiot before, when he was helping rebuild the Atlanta Braves some 20 years ago. He said he's using "exactly the same blueprint" with the Nationals as he did back then, building the franchise around a young pitching staff.

"I think we've followed a course that has us very close, much closer than you would think than just looking at the standings. ... Once we get a consistent, stable, mature and ready-to-go rotation of pitching, anything is possible," he said.

Kasten conceded that the present state of the franchise is frustrating. The defense and bullpen are notable disappointments, along with the development of overseas players. In addition, the recession has put the selling of naming rights for Nationals Park "very much on the back burner," depriving the team of what had been expected to be a reliable revenue source.

Washington's starting rotation consists of four rookies and one second-year player, and there are some noteworthy prospects in the minors. The team also is working to sign No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, the most promising pitcher to emerge from college in many years. Once the team has settled on a rotation of "five final guys," as Kasten called it, he hopes he'll be able to shed the village idiot joke.

"Another year or two, and I'll think you'll stop calling me bad names," he said.