Dodgers exec Kasten pleased by club's progress
CEO and president praises skipper Mattingly; enjoying team's amazing run
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Despite the Dodgers' struggles earlier this season, the possibility of manager Don Mattingly losing his job was never "imminent," club president and CEO Stan Kasten told MLB.com on Wednesday.
"Don and I talk a lot, all the time. What I said to Don and what I said publicly is that I always expected things to fall into place," Kasten said. "I did. I always did. 'If it doesn't happen, I don't know what we might do,' I told him. I was very straightforward and very open with him. We had that kind of open dialogue."
"So nothing was ever imminent?" I asked Kasten.
"No, no, I don't think so," he responded. "Who knows if things had gone bad or if things didn't fall into place when the players got back [from injuries]? But I thought they would. I'm glad to see that they did, at least so far."
The Dodgers, in fact, are on a historic run. They are 39-8 in their last 47 games. On June 22, the Dodgers were 9 1/2 games behind the first-place D-backs in the National League West. Heading into action on Wednesday, they were 7 1/2 games ahead of Arizona, an amazing 17-game turnaround.
Over the course of an interview that began this weekend at Dodger Stadium and concluded on Wednesday in the lobby of the historic Otesaga Hotel, Kasten talked about how far the Dodgers have come in such a short period of time.
MLB.com: So what do think about the job Mattingly has done?
Kasten: I've always been a fan of his. I think the season has had its bumps and bruises, but we came through it. And I like having him at the helm as we come into the stretch.
MLB.com: I know you never tip your hand about such things, but you do have an option to exercise on Mattingly's contract for 2014.
Kasten: We have a lot of time to think about that. Let's get through this season first.
MLB.com: What's your take on the way the club is playing at this point?
Kasten: I feel great. It's been a lot of fun. We expected it to be a good team, a competitive team. It's nice to see that it appears that that's what we are going to be. It's gratifying.
MLB.com: When the Dodgers were going through all the injuries in April and May, I'm sure you projected that things would get better, but not this good.
Kasten: It wasn't just injuries. Injuries were certainly a part of what was going on. It was also the serial nature of the injuries. It wasn't like we had one guy down for three months and we'd just replace them -- like Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley. Every week, it was a different guy. That was what was hard to manage. We assumed that carousel would stop at some point. Eventually, it kind of did -- or eased back -- and we played more like what we thought we were going to be when the team was put together by [general manager] Ned [Colletti] in the offseason and coming out of Spring Training.
MLB.com: A lot was made of the impact Yasiel Puig had, but I thought Hanley Ramirez coming off the disabled list and playing as well as he played during the month of June also had a lot to do with the resurgence.
Kasten: Well, again, that's a key guy we were missing. This is the Hanley we hoped we were getting when we made the trade with Miami a year ago. That's why we made the trade. We didn't want to give up young people. But we didn't see, coming into this offseason, a way to get a Hanley Ramirez in free agency. This is that Hanley Ramirez. And that has been a lot of fun to watch.
MLB.com: That was also the reason you made the Aug. 25 trade with Boston last year. You couldn't sign an Adrian Gonzalez as a free agent in the offseason, or anyone even comparable.
Kasten: Exactly, and I hate to think where we would be without Hanley, without Adrian and Carl Crawford and Nick Punto and even Josh Beckett, who now appears is going to be fully healthy for us next year.
MLB.com: What's Beckett's status?
Kasten: He had surgery to remove his first right rib that was putting pressure on a nerve, causing tingling in his pitching hand. It's going to be several months of rehab, but he has never felt better in his arm and in his fingers. We expect him to be back and healthy next year, and we also expect Chad to be back after Tommy John surgery sometime next year.
MLB.com: Any second guessing about the decision to keep Puig in the Minor Leagues for the first two months of the season after he hit .517 in 27 Spring Training games? I know you had an overload of highly-paid outfielders with Matt Kemp and Crawford relatively healthy.
Kasten: No, I think we had two reasons: The secondary reason was that [Puig] still had much to learn. Most players have three, four, five years in the Minors perfecting their talents, perfecting their skills. Yasiel didn't have the benefit of that. We're trying to speed up his education process. But the most important reason? If he had come up here earlier, he wouldn't have been playing every day, getting four at-bats every day. That's the most important thing. And we were able to get him that in [Double-A] Chattanooga.
MLB.com: So the injuries to Kemp and later Crawford opened the door to get Puig the at-bats in the Major Leagues.
Kasten: Yeah. It's clear that when the opportunity was here, we were going to let him continue his education here, because we knew he had skills. Even here, we see that he still has plenty to learn. But the talent and energy that he brings to the game every night is a lot of fun to watch.
MLB.com: Any player you can compare him to in your lengthy career as president of the Braves and Nationals? You were also once general manager and then president of the NBA Hawks.
Kasten: I compare him more to an NBA player, guys who walk off campuses right into starting lineups, who don't have the time to learn and perfect their skills and come with a lot of celebrity and advance notice. That's what Yasiel has had to live with. He doesn't have the three, four, five years to grow into what he's going to become. And there's a flair that NBA players seem to play with that Yasiel brings with him because of how he grew up playing. I'm not going to name any names, but he's like many guys who are top draft picks and right away are stars in their first year. That's what Yasiel is reminding me of. And so, I see more comparisons there than with your basic MLB player.
MLB.com: While all this has been going on at the big league level, I understand you guys have been spending a lot of money revamping your farm system, too.
Kasten: I'm very pleased with the progress there. You know the front-office changes we made. Adding Gerry Hunsicker, adding Pat Corrales, and most importantly bringing Bob Engle and a whole roster of international scouts on has been very positive for us. I just got back from the Dominican Republic two weeks ago, where we are looking at the next phase of development there. We have a lot to do, but it's very exciting to be doing it in the name of the Dodgers.
MLB.com: So in the year-plus since Mark Walter and Magic Johnson bought the team and you came on board, how do you assess everything?
Kasten: I'm pleased with the progress so far. Remember, when we arrived, we laid out a plan that we were going to try to live by. We wanted to focus on the three prongs of our approach. One was building a team through our scouting department and development, focusing on international. We were also trying to deliver a team now while we built it.
No. 2, we were going to try to improve the stadium experience. We made a lot of progress this year. Fans are really appreciative of what we've done to the ballpark. As a consequence, we're leading baseball again in attendance, just like the old days.
Third is the work we're doing in the community, getting our plans to be more proactive with the fans here at the stadium and out in the community. We have 28 Little League fields we've restored, on our way to 50. I'm pleased, and I think you can say we've lived up to the goals for ourselves. We have a lot more to do, but I think we're on a good course.
MLB.com: That's obvious in the overwhelming response of the fans, isn't it?
Kasten: And yes, why not? We are the Dodgers. From a fan base that has been this loyal and this supportive for 50 years, as of this day, this minute, we lead baseball in not only home attendance, but in road attendance. I don't know the last National League team to do that, if ever. The fan support has been great, both locally and around the country, as we try little by little to rebuild the image of the Dodgers.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.