- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

While he said reports of Major League Baseball’s investigation of how its teams sign players in the Dominican Republic represented “the very best kinds of news we could possibly have,” Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten wouldn’t discuss Friday’s report that general manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo are specifically being examined for their possible roles in a financial scandal.

Bowden said Friday he had met face to face with FBI investigators but added he was not questioned about any improprieties he or Rijo might have committed in scouting and signing players in the country. Those comments came in response to an ESPN.com story that said the two were being investigated in a league-wide probe, which reportedly involves skimming money allocated for Dominican players.

Kasten praised commissioner Bud Selig for trying to clean up the player development system in the Dominican Republic.

But when asked whether he was satisfied there is no wrongdoing in the organization, Kasten said, “I’m not going to talk about specific innuendos or allegations or rumors. That wouldn’t be fair.”

He declined to give details on MLB’s investigation, other than to say it was the league that advocated looking into how teams sign Dominican players. Kasten also declined to elaborate when asked whether he would make changes to how the team runs its Dominican operations.

“I couldn’t be more supportive of the effort to make sure everyone’s living by the rules, whether it’s this front or any other front. Whatever is found, wherever it’s found across baseball, it’s a good thing,” Kasten said. “We want things found out, we want things to be on the up-and-up for all who use this. That’s of utmost importance to us.”

Picks still unsigned

With just more than a month to go before the Aug. 15 deadline, the Nationals still do not have any of their first five picks from the June draft in the fold. And according to a source close to one of those picks, the team could have trouble signing several of them.

The source said the Nationals front office has been given a directive by ownership not to give any of the picks a larger signing bonus than MLB’s slot system recommends. All of those picks are believed to be looking for above-slot signing bonuses.

“I spoke with [scouting director] Dana Brown recently, and he sounded absolutely devastated,” the source said. “I’m actually kind of stunned they’re doing this.”

According to the source, the team is prepared to take “a hard line” with first-rounder Aaron Crow. “It’s ‘If he doesn’t want to play for this, we’ll take the 10th pick next year,’” the source said, referring to the compensatory selection Washington would get if it did not sign Crow, who was taken ninth in this spring’s draft.

A club source said the Nationals have not been told to only offer signing bonuses as slotted. And any such directive would contradict Washington’s previous practice; it paid $1.8 million to sixth-round pick Jack McGeary minutes before the Aug. 15 deadline last season, setting a record for a sixth-rounder.

“We’re negotiating with our unsigned drafted players,” Bowden said. “We’ll be fair and equitable with what the market dictates, and we hope our players sign.”

Kasten responds to tragedy

Kasten said on Saturday the team is “terribly saddened” by news that one man was killed and another critically injured while riding a fan shuttle from RFK Stadium to Nationals Park on Friday.

An Associated Press report said the riders stood up on the open-topped upper deck of the Nats Express bus and their heads struck a highway overpass around 8:30 p.m. Friday.

“The most important thing I can say is how badly we feel about this horrible tragedy and expressing our thoughts and prayers for the families of those involved,” Kasten said.

He withheld further comment until police finish investigating the incident, but he said the open-topped buses were not in service on Saturday night.

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