In September 2006, a season ticketholder invited me to meeting with Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten. In the meeting, he explained his three pillars of running a baseball team – player development, customer satisfaction, and community involvement. It seems appropriate to judge his tenure against these 3 pillars. Today, I will focus on player development.
Q: Name all player the Nationals drafted who has been an All-Star since Kasten became president of the team
A: Ryan Zimmerman, drafted in 2005 before Kasten was involved.
Okay, that might be too simple and since Kasten was only around for 4 seasons, so let’s offer a different question:
Q. Name all the position players that were drafted under Kasten that have been a starter for more than 1 season
3B Zimmerman was in the big leagues before Kasten arrived. SS Ian Desmond was drafted by the Montreal Expos and just finished his rookie season. 1B Adam Dunn was a free agent (probably will be again). 2B Danny Espinosa, drafted in 2007, who got called up late this year seems to have a good shot at being a starter. At catcher, two free agents, Ivan Rodriguez and Wil Nieves were behind the plate for most of the season. Wilson Ramos, acquired from the Minnesota Twins for Matt Capps spent time in the minors before being called up late. Rule 5 draft selection Jesus Flores is still trying to heal from shoulder surgery. I think prior to being injured, the case could be made that Flores was a solid pickup.
In the outfield, LF Josh Willingham came in a trade with Scott Olsen for Emilano Bonifacio. Roger Bernadina was signed in 2001 and only became a regular this year. Nyjer Morgan arrived in a trade. Willie Harris was a free agent and 28 year old Michael Morse arrived in a trade for Ryan Langerhans.
So, the Kasten record on position players is not something to brag about, though that may improve if Espinosa continues to play well.
The Nats have developed one starting pitcher who was a member of the rotation for at least two seasons and that is John Lannan who was drafted in 2005. Lannan had sub-4.00 in his first two complete seasons, but regressed in the first half of this year and was demoted. He returned to the majors and regained his old form in the latter part of the season. Two promising pitchers, Jordann Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg (#1 overall pick) have both had Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann is just coming back, Strasburg has to get through his rehab. Ross Detwiler, a 2007 #1 pick, had a hip injury that cost most of the 2010 season. There is still hope with starting pitching development, mostly from Zimmermann and Strasburg, but it remains less than a pipeline of talent.
International development, something Kasten suggested the Nats were better primed to take advantage by virtue of being in Washington, has not happened. Perhaps the Smiley Gonzales/Carlos Alavarez scandal made him or ownership gun-shy about international prospects, because nothing seems to be happening on that front. Given that in addition to Gonzales/Alavarez lying about his age there were allegations of criminal misconduct by GM Jim Bowden and other subordinates, I can’t fault Kasten for going easy in Latin America. Yunesky Maya, a Cuban defector, was signed this season though and has made several starts for the Nats.
The elephant in the room of Kasten’s tenure of player development is Bowden. There are plenty of cocktail party suppositions that Bowden had more influence with the Lerner Family than Kasten did and Bowden prevailed upon them that he could take shortcuts with teambuilding by grabbing questionable characters on the cheap instead of spending significant money and following Kasten’s Atlanta Braves model. Throw in some poor drafts by Bowden and the farm system that was gutted during MLB’s ownership of the franchise and Kasten was in a very deep hole. I don’t think he ever got out of it, but history may vindicate him a little bit. I certainly hope so.
Overall, I don’t think Kasten was getting too many good pitches to hit and he couldn’t overcome it. In 2 years we will have a better idea of Kasten’s player development record but so far it isn’t good. Current GM Mike Rizzo, handpicked by Kasten in 2006 as an assistant GM and promoted in 2009, is an improvement over Bowden but his grade is also incomplete.
In my next installment, I’ll look at the Nats community involvement under Kasten.