- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2009

VIERA, Fla. | The daily demands of maintaining a major league roster, especially one in as precarious a state as the Washington Nationals‘, are not conducive to searching for a general manager a month before the season starts. Fortunately for the Nationals, the man performing both of those tasks at the moment is hardly a stranger to multitasking.

Team president Stan Kasten said Monday he is in charge of the Nationals’ baseball operations while the team determines how to replace departed general manager Jim Bowden.

Kasten has not addressed the particulars of how he will conduct a search for Bowden’s replacement - internal or external, interim or permanent, though there were indications Monday that several candidates are interested if the team opts for a wider hunt - but he made it clear that he does not expect the Nationals to suffer because there is no one in the general manager’s office.

“I’m in charge. I’ve done this before,” Kasten said. “I’m doing what we need to do to keep the franchise moving forward, and I’m pleased to say that’s exactly what has been happening.”

Kasten has never been a baseball general manager, but he likely has more experience running a franchise than most GMs in baseball. He was named NBA executive of the year in 1986 and 1987 while he was general manager of the Atlanta Hawks, and he later simultaneously served as the president of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers. He is still the only man to serve as president of three teams at once.

The rest of baseball hasn’t waited for him to get acclimated. He already has received a phone call about trade talk, and he met with the rest of the Nationals’ front office on Monday morning to discuss how the team will operate in Bowden’s absence.

He said the members of the front office mostly are operating in their usual roles, with Kasten adding Bowden’s duties to his list of responsibilities. But he said he also stressed to the staff that new ideas won’t go unnoticed right now.

“We have a deep bench. That’s not an accident. It was a philosophy of Jim’s; it was a philosophy of mine,” Kasten said. “When I came in, we did make some hires. We brought in senior people like [assistant general manager] Mike Rizzo. We brought in the guys I call ‘The Mod Squad,’ the guys who work night and day on sabermetrics, on all kinds of other new media tools. They have performed a broad range of functions in the past, and I invited and challenged each of them to do even more.”

The front office executive with the most to gain might be Rizzo, who has been seen by many in baseball circles as Bowden’s successor-in-waiting. During an appearance Monday morning on ESPN 980, Kasten said “you really shouldn’t” read into the fact that Rizzo was not immediately named interim GM.

Still, multiple sources confirmed Monday that Braves president John Schuerholz, who worked with Kasten for 13 years as that club’s general manager, called Kasten to recommend two candidates for the job - Rays vice president Gerry Hunsicker and Rangers senior adviser John Hart. Both men, who won division championships as the GM of the Astros and Indians, respectively, are said to be interested in the job.

Another baseball source said Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava has not spoken to the Nationals yet but expects to be a candidate.

It should be clearer later in the week how Washington plans to replace Bowden, but Kasten also said Monday he is comfortable with how the Nationals are moving along.

During his radio appearance, he said though he believes Bowden is innocent of any wrongdoing in the Dominican Republic, the GM made “the right choice” in resigning to turn attention away from the potential implications of a federal investigation into the practice of skimming bonus money from Dominican prospects.

He declined to speculate on whether any senior officials close to Bowden would leave the organization but said “all of the senior people are close to me, and I hope that continues.”

c Staff writers Mark Zuckerman and Thom Loverro contributed to this report.

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