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KASTEN: NO MORE PAYROLL!

[May 5th] -- new Nationals' president Stan Kasten announced on Wednesday that the Nationals will place the majority of the team's resources into it's depleted minor league system, saying that he is not going to be adding payroll dollars anytime soon.

"People want to, naturally, ask about payroll at the Major League level. Said the new team president, "You are asking me the wrong question. That's not what you should be asking. What you need to be asking me is, 'Are you going to spend the money right away on Minor Leaguers? Are you going to spend money on expanding your scouting? Are you going to be spending money on enhancing your training facilities? Are you going to spend money opening up new scouting complexes in parts of the world? Are you going to be spending money signing additional draft picks?' The answers to those questions are, 'Yes,' and that's the way you do it."

Well, of course that's the way you do it. The minor league system within a professional baseball franchise is like the stock market. Generally, the more money you invest, the more return you see on that investment. I couldn't agree more. But the Nationals' situation is different. The fans are like children in a family who have been repeatedly beaten by their parents; suddenly, someone says, "No one will ever hit you again." Well, that's great, you say, but what about all the trauma suffered from the years of abuse? "I'm afraid to walk into my living room," you say. Well, what about all the abuse we've suffered at the hands of Major League Baseball and the city council. Yes, we want the future to be bright; yes, we want a farm system that will produce stars on a regular basis. But we don't want to wait years for that to happen. We're afraid to walk into RFK stadium right now -- what if we see Bud Selig or Marian Barry? Baseball fans in D.C. have suffered when there was a team, then suffered when there wasn't, and are now suffering once again. I thought the new owner would ride into town on a palamino, a mighty sword in one hand and a sack full of money in the other. I believed that Ted Lerner, and Stan Kasten, would lean into the camera's lens and say, "We're going to make things right by you. Watch as we build the team's farm system while make this team respectable immediately.

I never thought I would hear the new ownership suggest anything resembling "fiscal responsibility," at least not today, not so soon.

Kasten says he's going to build a winning tradition through the farm system, and that any trades made will be for prospects. That's fine. But what do we do until then? There is no help at the triple-A level (the Zephyrs just lost their 11th straight) and the prospects at double-A aren't doing very well early in the season. So how many years will Nationals' fans have to wait until we see the fruits of Kasten's farm system? Four? Five?

This "Additional payroll isn't the answer" concept isn't going to fly. Nats' fans face the prospect of watching a very bad team play in a very bad stadium for another 2-3 years, and the farm system, acknowledged by all as emaciated and moribund, holds no hope for the future. It sounds like Kasten is suggesting that we simply have to wait.

Memo to new ownership: You don't sooth the pain of the last two seasons by saying on the day you're announced as the new owner that increasing payroll isn't the answer. You just told us that the Nationals' $60 million payroll is "doable." It's not. We don't expect you to run this team as if it were the Yankees, but neither do we expect it to be run as if it was the Royals.

We deserve more.

Like flushing toilets at the stadium.


Comments:
well, that's not good news. I hope we're not in a penny-pinching mode already.
 
Certainly building the farm system is the way to go. However, Lerner has the bucks to make the Nats more competitive while we wait. The last thing this team needed was an 80 year old pinch penny owner. The Wizards have one of those and they have been in the toilet for 25 years. If the Nats are in the toilet for five years while the farm system develops, like the Braves were under Kasten from 1986-91, then there won't be any fans left when things improve.
 
That's what worries me, Phil. It's like getting beaten for years as a kid, then you're told that you'll stop getting beat when your Dad completes his anger management class, but that it might take 4 or 5 years.
 
Let's not despair just yet. I can see where they might have seen a need to start out with a little bit of expectations-management, so fans don't let their dreams run wild and get set up for disappointment. My bet is that the Lerners plan to make very sensible, incremental investments, starting right away. These will probably be focused initially as much on the off-field elements (especially getting RFK shipshape) as on payroll. But I will be surprised if there are not real improvements made fairly quickly. (That is, over the next 3-4 months). Remember, they don't even get to take over the reins until June.
 
Oh, I don't think it's despair just yet; more like concern. I really expected Kasten et. al. to give us, before anything else, a "fear not" speech.

I haven't heard anything that resembles that, not yet. Maybe it's coming, but I'm sure many, many fans are feeling as jittery as I am about these guys. We've waited 17 months for a new owner without any concern as to who it was; anyone was better than major league baseball.

But there are many bad owners in MLB -- we just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best.
 
I'm feeling like a mom who just had a baby -- kinda blue. You create in your mind this "perfect" owner, and the moment you realize he's not perfect, you get bummed.

I'm sure he'll do just fine, but I had hoped that payroll wasn't going to be an issue, at least not intitially.

Cross your fingers.
 
Wait, wait, wait. I think people are reading waaaay too much into Kasten's comments.

Yes, of course he's going to build the farm system, we know that.

Yes, of course they're going to try to field exciting teams. But "more payroll" isn't the answer. The team needs to start being wise stewards of its money. Tossing money at here today, gone tomorrow free agents like Soriano is not really the way to go, even if it means that the team doesn't have any "star" players for awhile.

The last thing we want is for this team to buy a championship and then have to have a huge fire sale and be left with nothing, like the Marlins have done over and over again.

Give them some time.
 
Brandon,
I'd say you're right (and you usually are!) except Kasten was the one who brought up the payroll issue --- He specifically said that he wasn't going to "add payroll." Does that mean we're stuck at $60 million?

What I heard was this: "We're going to sink a lot of money into the team, but it's going to be in the farm system, and that when we trade, we're trading for prospects."

Maybe I misunderstood, but I don't think so. Many of us are waiting to here where the team plans on pegging our payroll. $80 million? $70 million? Less?

I'd really like to know...
 
I hear ya. I'm not sure that Kasten has firmly decided exactly what number he'll use to peg payroll. A lot will depend on what's going on in the marketplace.

For me, I'd rather endure two more seasons of quasi-contention at $60 million if it means that $20 million per year (arbitrary number) is getting pumped into the farm system! That way, by the time the new stadium opens, we won't have to make moves like grabbing Zach Day off waivers from the Rockies to plug holes in our lineup.

All of this will also depend, a great deal, on who the GM is and how much latitude he is given. Bowden had a blank check from Tavares for $60 million. Kasten might get more involved with trades and free agent signings. Who knows?
 
Farid, obviously my opinion is going to be biased, but I want to echo Brandon's comment. I don't read Kasten's comments as "we are going to pinch pennies". I believe that what Kasten is doing is setting realistic expectations. It's going to take more than a few months for Kasten to get an honest read on this team. He is likely not going to be able to bring his people on board until after the season (beacuse they are likely under contract right now). And once you hire them, they'll need time to figure out what are the strengths/weaknesses of the organization. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Nationals not dive headfirst into this off-season's free agent pool. They may make a couple moves to help the pitching staff, but I think Kasten wants to get a plan in place and make sure he has the right people in the right places and then he can start to work on the team in 2007.
 
Again, I hope you're right Brian, but wouldn't you think that Kasten is aware that Nats' fans are hanging on his every word, and that everything he is going to be saying for the next few weeks will be magnified? So why even talk about payroll now, why even suggest that payroll is on the table in any form?

I guess that's my point.

Perhaps many of us consider the new ownership group a panacea, and demand of them things which they simply aren't able to provide.

We'll see ....
 
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