Stan Kasten still wears the massive World Series ring he won 17 years ago as president of the Atlanta Braves, and he says there has rarely been a day when someone hasn’t wanted to touch or hold it.
“I take it off every day,” he said Wednesday. “Because I’m asked by a fan, by a staffer, by a player to see it. And I want them to see it. This is why we’re here.”
Kasten, 60, was standing in front of home plate at Dodger Stadium wearing a crisp white Dodgers home jersey over a blue tie as he spoke about how he, as team president, planned to turn the Dodgers into consistent winners — just as he had done in Atlanta.
“We intend to be aggressive on all fronts always,” said Kasten, who won 12 consecutive division titles, five National League pennants and a World Series as president of the Braves. “Something’s not possible? I’m not going to say that today.”
If Kasten was big on ideas he was understandably short on details in his second full day on the job. However, it was clear that while investment banker Mark Walter was the ownership group’s money man and former basketball star Magic Johnson its public persona, Kasten is its baseball guy.
“It would be incredibly stupid for me to tell him how to run a baseball team,” Walter said.
Said Kasten: “The blame stops at my desk. It doesn’t go farther than me.”
That means everything from Dodger Stadium parking — it will cost $5 less come Monday, the first home game under new management — to concessions, where Kasten is negotiating for a wider variety and lower prices.
Fans can also expect to get closer to players during batting practice and, occasionally at the turnstiles, where the new president wants to have uniformed Dodgers greet spectators from time to time. Kasten will also take suggestions for other improvements at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Everything is on the table,” he said.
But his chief focus will be on improving the team’s performance on the field, something he did in Atlanta and later with the Washington Nationals, whom he served as president for four seasons. Kasten did that in both places by investing heavily in scouting and player development — a blueprint he plans to copy with the Dodgers.
“A baseball program starts, it’s foundation, is the scouting and player development system,” he said. “No team has had success, sustained success, without that first. So we’re going to turn our attention to that.”
That was something previous owner Frank McCourt all but ignored. Last year, for example, the Dodgers spent only $170,000 on signing bonuses for international amateurs — more than $600,000 less than any other team and nearly $12.7 million less than the Texas Rangers, according to Baseball America. And the Dodgers spent only $3.5 million to sign players chosen in the domestic amateur draft, the fifth-lowest total in baseball.
“We have to have the best people, give them the resources to do their job, both domestically — and increasingly more important — internationally,” he said. “These are things that are very important to us.”
In Atlanta, the Braves endured four losing seasons waiting for its farm system to develop. Kasten doesn’t plan to wait that long this time.
“These fans expect and deserve a team that can win,” he said. “We’re not going to pass up any opportunity. When we can acquire someone, we’re going to do that. We’re not going to wait for 25 kids to grow into their uniform. It doesn’t work that way.
“We expect to compete as soon as we can and that means right now.”
Kasten wouldn’t say what he thought that would cost, but he did say he expects the payroll to “be north” of where it is now, roughly $95 million. Part of that increase could be used to sign outfielder Andre Ethier to a long-term contract before he becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
Kasten said he planned to meet with General Manager Ned Colletti, perhaps as early as Thursday. Which may explain why Colletti bounced away from Wednesday’s news conference wearing a smile every bit as broad as the one Johnson wore.
“I’m just encouraged across the board with everything,” Colletti said. “I think we’re in a good spot with a chance to be in a great spot.
“It’s all about winning. I really am excited.”