Friday, September 24, 2010

The Kasten Years

An odd narrative emerged during the 2008 postseason -- Chuck Lamar, the former general manager of the moribund Tampa Bay Devil Rays, was portrayed as the unappreciated master builder of the now-emergent Tampa Bay ballclub. During the American League playoffs, the announcers afforded Lamar relatively brief mentions, but when Lamar's new team (the Phillies, for whom Lamar became director of scouting) faced his old team in the World Series, Lamar became something of a fulcrum of the broadcasts. "How ironic it is," we were told in meaningful tones as Lamar was captured on camera looking on, "that he is now watching the team he works for compete against the team he put together."

This theme sounded very peculiar, something bordering on cognitive dissonance, because Lamar had been regarded as a thoroughly lousy general manager, one of the worst of his generation, when he was fired after the 2005 season. But suddenly a new message was emerging: Lamar had a very keen eye for talent and could have fared much better had he not taken some bullets for Tampa Bay's impulsive former owner. So by the time of the 2008 World Series, Lamar's successor, Andrew Friedman, was building on the foundation Lamar had started.

That stuff was probably 75 percent bunk, but this post isn't about Chuck Lamar's curriculm vitae. It is about how perceptions can change over time.

Although a case certainly can be made that Stan Kasten's time as president of the Washington Nationals has been a failure, I'm uncertain that this perception will take hold in the long term.

As it stands, of course, the organization has accomplished almost nothing meaningful since the Lerner/Kasten ownership group took over during the 2006 season. The initial forecast of punting 2007 to consolidate resources for an exciting opening season in Nationals Park was so drastically amended that we're now supposed to be pleased that the club won't be losing 100 games for the third straight season. Attendance has tanked (except for the Strasburg starts), and the team creates almost no buzz (except for what Strasburg himself created). What the organization itself has accomplished over the past few years (such as bringing in Strasburg and Harper), it has accomplished only as a direct result of its own on-field futility.

We were told that this was a long process -- I swear that they've officially been in a "building phase" for approximately 1400 days -- but that the organization had a plan. You know, "The Plan." I can't remember when "The Plan" was coined or by whom -- not by the organization itself, although Kasten did nothing to dissuade the term -- but the topic attracted a lot of attention and commentary in late 2006, throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and maybe into 2009 for the true believers. Most of us realized that there was nothing really novel about the team's approach to player development, whether it be called The Plan, The Process, or Doing It the Right Way. But it got some people very excited; these people extolled their patience as a virtue.

There's not much actual talk about "The Plan" these days, but, truth be told, the Nationals organization isn't in terrible shape and the future seems brighter. The team's base of talent is broader, as we're seeing what seems to be the first wave of sustainable home-made prospects. It's folly to suggest that all positive developments are attributable to Kasten, and the Lerner family does create a certain unease about whether they'll come through, but the Nationals organization has as good a chance as any to emerge in the post-Kasten years as a consistently competitive and fruitful one.

And if it does, I'm sure you'll see plenty of articles crediting Kasten, even in his absence, for this success. Will the praise be earned? Depends on your perspective, I suppose, but some of the praise will indeed be earned. There's much behind-the-scenes that we, as fans, do not know. Kasten's talk is certainly cheap (cue up the StanSpeak Translator, Chris!), but I do think that substance was there too. If it's true that Kasten held the organizational structure together and paved the way for a grown-up GM to assume command, then those contributions more than outweigh heading up the regime that inflicted Mike Bacsik on us.


  • We're dying out here. What do we need to do, Chris, beg? Please, please, one more time with feeling. The StanSpeak Translator, please?

    By Anonymous Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for-Me, at 9/29/2010 9:25 PM  

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