Thursday, May 4, 2006

As they stated repeatedly during their introductory press conference last night, the Lerner family and Stan Kasten are in this for the long haul.

They intend to build the Washington Nationals into a long-term success, on and off the baseball field. Even if that means fans won’t see immediate success in the win-loss column.

“It is a time-consuming process,” Kasten said. “But if you put the time into it, which we are dedicated to doing, we will have long-term success. We’re not in this for the short-term, we’re in this for the long term.”

And that could bode well for the two men currently running the baseball side of the Nationals’ operation: Jim Bowden and Frank Robinson.

Without committing to retaining either the general manager or the manager, Kasten and Mark Lerner suggested last night that neither is in immediate danger of losing his job.

“Frank and Jim are long friends of mine,” Kasten said. “I spoke to both of them today, and I can’t wait to spend time with each of them to hear them out.”

Bowden, in particular, has forged a strong relationship with the Lerners over the last year and has in many ways hitched his wagon to the family. His fortunes, though, took a huge hit when the Nationals got off to a rough start on the field and then when he was arrested in Miami Beach, Fla., last month and charged with drunken driving.

When asked specifically about the impact Bowden’s arrest will have on his ultimate future with the club, Mark Lerner spoke glowingly about his new GM.

“I have total respect for Jim,” Lerner said. “I think he’s done an amazing job under the worst conditions possible for running a professional sports franchise. We’re supportive of him, and the ultimate decision on him or anyone else in the organization is Stan’s. But certainly Jim is going to be here for the foreseeable future.”

Hired by baseball in November 2004 after former GM Omar Minaya left for the New York Mets, Bowden has been given three six-month contract extensions, the latest of which expires at the end of the season. He does not know whether he will receive another.

“That’s a decision they will make,” he said before last night’s game against the Florida Marlins. “What I have confidence in is that this family is going to make the right decision for this franchise long term. And to me that’s what should be important.”

Though he has been involved in the major leagues for 50 years now, Robinson also has spoken passionately about the long-term state of this franchise in recent weeks. The 70-year-old manager also is in the final year of his contract and does not know whether he will be retained by the new management group.

Robinson declined to talk about the ownership change yesterday during his pregame media session because the official announcement had not been made yet, but he said he’s had a handful of positive interactions with Kasten over the years.

“He’s been very courteous to me, and that’s all I really know of him,” Robinson said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about him.”

The only member of the current administration guaranteed of losing his job is club president Tony Tavares, who will be replaced by Kasten once the sale process is complete.

Hired by Major League Baseball in 2002 to run the bare-bones Expos, Tavares has known from the start he was working on an interim basis. Though it’s possible he would have been retained by one of the other competing ownership groups, he knew he would not be a part of the Lerner team.

“I’ll move on,” Tavares said. “It’s not unexpected, not unanticipated. … We ran the team with a great deal of integrity, under some very difficult conditions. I’m certainly proud of that. We were operating under some very difficult circumstances. People will never understand just how hard this job was.”

Not that the Lerner group won’t face plenty of challenges itself in the immediate and long-term future.

Kasten admitted the Nationals as an organization have a long way to go to be considered a model baseball franchise. It begins on the major league level, where the current bunch already has fallen well out of the pennant race one month into the season.

But it also extends to the minor league operation, which is considered among the worst in the game. That, ultimately, is how the Nationals’ new owners believe they can build a successful ballclub.

“Frankly, we’re starting from kind of a low spot,” Kasten said. “There’s a fair amount of building up that has to be done. I don’t think in terms of blowing up, I think in terms of building up.”

Ted Lerner

Age: 80

Home: Chevy Chase

Background: Founded Lerner Enterprises in 1952, one of the area’s largest commercial real estate development companies. The company has built notable properties like Tysons Corner Center, White Flint mall, Dulles Town Center and Washington Square. Member of George Washington University board of trustees. Has tried and failed to buy professional sports teams in the past, such as the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Redskins.

Prominent investment group members:

Stan Kasten, former Atlanta Braves president

Mark Lerner, Lincoln Holdings partner

Rodney E. Slater, former secretary of transportation

James Brown, CBS sports anchor

Paxton Baker, BET executive

B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., Industrial Bank chairman

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