Kasten looks at past, present, sees Dodgers future
Dodgers president following map of success that includes Atlanta, Washington
Stan Kasten knows what it takes to build a franchise into a postseason participant.While there is disappointment that the Los Angeles Dodgers came up short in their postseason bid, Kasten, part of the group that purchased the Dodgers in May, is encouraged about the future because of what he sees in the present. The Washington Nationals won the National League East, the second postseason berth in the history of a franchise that was founded in 1969 as the Montreal Expos, and its first since 1981. The Atlanta Braves claimed one of the two NL Wild Cards and will make their 16th postseason appearance in the past 21 years. Kasten's fingerprints are all over both the Nationals and Braves, which is why, from afar, he can enjoy their success. "Mostly I feel happy for the people in those front offices," said Kasten. "The strength of both franchises is their baseball operations in the front office. I know how hard it is to compete against 29 other teams. "When you are able to succeed, especially like Atlanta for two decades, it is testimony to the hard work. Washington has the same potential for the future." Kasten's track record with those two franchises was a key part of the resume that allowed him to become a major factor in Guggenheim Baseball Management, the Dodgers' ownership group. It is also why, despite the failure of the Dodgers to get a lift from their major in-season acquisitions, Kasten is confident about what lies ahead.
At the age of 34, Kasten became president of the Braves in 1986. It was under his guidance that the Braves made the transition from a team that was in the midst of seven consecutive losing seasons, finishing last in the NL West four times, to a franchise that won a professional sports-record 14 consecutive division titles. He was part of the long-standing management team that included general manager John Schuerholz, who replaced Kasten as team president in 2003, and manager Bobby Cox.Two decades later, Kasten accepted the challenge of revitalizing the Nationals, who had been in limbo for too long in Montreal. Before he left two years ago, he put in place the management team and mindset that led to their success this year. Now Kasten's challenge is revitalizing a Dodgers franchise that has made nine World Series appearances and won five World Series since moving west from Brooklyn in 1958, but hasn't been to a World Series since 1988. "It's not that I am spending time thinking about [the Braves and Nationals]," said Kasten. "I am spending time building the best possible front office I can, and we've got a head start on Atlanta and Washington because of what's already in place." There was hope that the Dodgers could find a quick fix this season. The new owners showed the willingness to spend, approving trades that brought the likes of shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Shane Victorino, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and right-hander Josh Beckett to Los Angeles in midseason deals. The Dodgers finished two games back in the NL Wild Card race. For Kasten, that's added incentive, not disappointment. "I'm a big-picture guy," he said. "When you look how the team performed in June and July (24-30), it is hard to imagine getting this far if we did not make the trades." The deals weren't just about now. They were about next year and the year after. In addition to Gonzalez and Beckett, the August trade with Boston also included outfielder Carl Crawford, who was recovering from elbow surgery and wasn't able to participate. They are all signed for at least two seasons, and so is Ramirez, a July acquisition from Miami. "When you look at the potential free-agent market, we got a top-of-the-rotation starter, an outstanding first baseman and a Gold Glove, All-Star outfielder," said Kasten. "There's disappointment that in 2012 we did not quite finish the way we wanted, but we got a head start on 2013." It's not the approach that Kasten endorses for long-term success -- shopping on the free-agent and high-priced trade market. But it was something Kasten believed was necessary for short-term credibility in a place like Los Angeles while the long-term plan is put in place. "We needed to do that, because in Los Angeles, you need to be competitive now. You have to add star quality," he said. "We have a plan to become a scouting and player-development organization. That's our goal. In the short term, we needed to do some things. We do need to compete in the next two or three years, until we get everything in place. "In the long term, we want to be more efficient in scouting and player development." It was the recipe for success in Atlanta. It is working in Washington. Given his past experiences, Kasten is convinced it will work in Los Angeles.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.