Column: Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten hints at youth movement, backs Andrew Friedman, Dave Roberts

Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten speaks at a news conference launching a COVID-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 15, 2021.
Dodgers chief executive Stan Kasten, pictured in 2021, said during a 30-minute interview reflecting on this season: “We think we are now on the precipice of the next wave of young guys. We need to make room to allow that to happen.”
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Aaron Judge? Slow your roll.

Jacob DeGrom? Not so fast.

Carlos Correa? Not a chance.


Having watched the best regular-season team in Dodgers history implode after just four nights in the playoffs, it appears that baseball’s biggest spenders might be ready to slightly change course.

Miguel Vargas? He had a .915 on-base-plus-slugging percentage at triple A this year.

Michael Busch? He slugged 32 homers with 108 RBIs at the top two minor league levels.

Bobby Miller? He struck out 12 batters per nine innings at the same two minor league levels.

Those three players form the foundation of the Dodgers’ future and, if you listen to Dodgers president and chief executive Stan Kasten, that future could be now.

“Earlier in the last decade, we had a wave of young guys who were going to be real contributors,” Kasten told the Los Angeles Times this past week. “We think we are now on the precipice of the next wave of young guys. We need to make room to allow that to happen.”

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Kasten emphasized that the team would spend whatever it deemed necessary to improve but noted that this offseason could be a little different.

“If money is what is needed, we’ll certainly do that, as we’ve shown time and time again,” he said. “[But] if we think we have kids who need time to play up here, I’m sure we’ll do that as well.”

The Dodgers' Miguel Vargas stretches before a game against the Padres on Aug. 5, 2022.
The Dodgers’ Miguel Vargas stretches before a game Aug. 5. Vargas, who turns 23 this month, figures to be a big part of the team’s future.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Any other Dodgers winter, those words might be cause for alarm. But, hey, in the wake of the recent lifeless implosion of the Dodgers’ veteran All-Stars — their ninth postseason failure during a stretch of 10 years of regular-season excellence — why not mix in a few energetic newbies?

During a 30-minute interview reflecting on the season, Kasten emphasized he was happy with the organizational direction and its leadership despite the team coming under the most critical public scrutiny since Kasten’s group took ownership a decade ago.

But he acknowledged that the Dodgers will do whatever it takes to change the ending.

“We have succeeded in too many ways on too many fronts for me to think of this as any kind of failure,” he said, later adding, “Just in the last eight years, five LCSs and three World Series, I don’t think those are bad numbers. ... We won one World Series, we lost another one in Game 7, I don’t think those are symbols of a fatally flawed program. I just don’t agree with that.”

However …

“I’m sure there are ways that we can get better. ... We can’t accept that there’s no way we can get better. ... That’s not an acceptable conclusion,” he said. “You can look at everything that happened and you can look at everything we did ... you hope the breaks even out over a period of time, but we always assume there are things we can do to get better.”

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While Kasten refused to provide specific names, maybe the Dodgers take a closer look at a young group that also includes the likes of infielder Andy Pages, outfielder James Outman, and pitchers Gavin Stone and Ryan Pepiot.

Conversely, just guessing here, but maybe the roster spots of veterans Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger aren’t so secure.

Whatever happens, it is clear the Dodgers aren’t going to be the same group that put its fans through the biggest disappointment in franchise history.

“You have to continue to look for ways every day to maximize your output, we certainly do,” Kasten said. “Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t.”

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Kasten acknowledged that watching his record-setting team lose to the San Diego Padres was tough.

“Along the way, I’ve had a lot of seasons that were painful when it ended, but this was certainly right up there,” he said.

He was adamant, however, that he did not consider the season a failure and that he supported the organization’s direction.

”It’s both the best thing and most difficult thing in our sport. ... In a short series, anything can happen,” he said. “I’m blessed and thankful our people put us in a position to contend for a championship every year, and I look forward to that continuing.”

Dodgers players watch in the dugout during the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS at San Diego on Oct. 15, 2022.
Dodgers players watch late in Game 4 of the NLDS at San Diego. After winning a team-record 111 games during the regular season, the Dodgers fell to the Padres in four games.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He strongly supported the two most visible — and criticized — people in that championship effort, manager Dave Roberts and baseball president Andrew Friedman.

“Everyone who is a sports fans think they could a) run a bar and b,) be a manager, and it’s just not true,” he said. “It’s hard, man, it is hard. Every time they don’t win, they think of something we could have done better, and they may be right at various times ... [but] we’re talking about the [manager] that maybe right now has the greatest lifetime record ever?”

He continued by complimenting Roberts’ other duties such as clubhouse management and serving as a calm and charismatic public face of the team.

“By the way, this is a much harder job than Xs and O’s. ... There’s so much more to it, and Dave manages all of those things as well as anyone you’ve ever seen,” Kasten said.

“This is a much harder job than Xs and O’s. ... There’s so much more to it, and Dave manages all of those things as well as anyone you’ve ever seen.”

— Stan Kasten, Dodgers CEO, complimenting manager Dave Roberts

As for Friedman, he said: “We disagree plenty, but we talk through all of those things. Andrew, Mark [Walter, chairman] and I have developed a rhythm that is extraordinarily productive.”

In general, Kasten said he is sold on the club’s leadership.

“I’m very happy with all the things that are currently in place with the Dodgers,” he said. “Andrew is on his way to the Hall of Fame, probably so is Doc. ... We are very fortunate to have both of them here.”

I tell Kasten that many fans aren’t going to like hearing some of these quotes. They want open anger. They want radical change. They’re no longer simply cherishing the summer journey. They want October satisfaction.

Los Angeles Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman talks with manager Dave Roberts.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, right, and manager Dave Roberts have CEO Stan Kasten’s support. “Andrew is on his way to the Hall of Fame, probably so is Doc,” Kasten said.
(Associated Press)

Kasten points out the fact that fans actually vote with their wallets, and as long as the Dodgers annually lead the league in attendance by a large margin, well, the new Dodger Way is working. Give them a good stadium experience, give them a competitive team and hope you catch a break or two in the playoffs.

“I’m so proud we have an ownership group that has lived up to all the things we committed to. It’s rare, you know, it really is,” he said. “We sell about 4 million tickets a year, and these people aren’t here because we might win or lose the last game of the year. They’re here because every night is worth coming to. ... They’re going to be entertained, they’re going to engage, they’re going to enjoy it. ... You can enjoy the whole year without just focusing on the last game or games of the year.”

“We sell about four 4 million tickets a year, and these people aren’t here because we might win or lose the last game of the year. They’re here because every night is worth coming to.”

— Stan Kasten, Dodgers president and CEO

In a city of champions, ignoring those finish-line collapses and enjoying the ride is an increasingly tough task for Dodgers fans. There is a sense that with this most recent debacle, loyalties have become strained.

Maybe some fresh young faces will bring new hope. Maybe not. Maybe at some point the fans might get fed up and stop showing up. It’s happened with every team in this town, including the Dodgers.

After another season like this one, the answers won’t come so easy, and the questions will only get tougher.