There’s more to wonder about than revel in after Mark Lerner’s announcement that his family is no longer pursuing a sale of the Washington Nationals. Start with this: What is the level of commitment to rebuilding the organization — in baseball, in fan experience, in every aspect?

That’s from a spending-on-major-league-payroll perspective, sure. But lay it over the entire operation. If this really is the end to nearly two years of limbo — Will they sell? Who will buy? What’s the price? Man, this team stinks. — then the charge is to dive in headfirst. That should be in how ownership pours resources into the roster. But it should also be in providing the infrastructure upon which the best franchises are built, paying for unheralded but necessary elements — technology, personnel, brainpower — across all departments.

This could be good news for the Nationals and their fans. We just don’t know that it is yet. In brief remarks Monday, Lerner told The Washington Post’s Andrew Golden, “We’re very happy owning the team and bringing us back a ring one day.” Very few follow-ups were permitted. Many are necessary.

Does bringing back that ring mean the Nationals will develop the young core they have in-house and build around it with veteran free agents? You know, the kind who cost not $5 million for one season but hundreds of millions for several? Or will they hang it all on drafting and developing?

That’s absolutely the way to start a build. It’s not a way to complete it. The Nationals have a critical mass of potentially impactful prospects. The key word there is “potentially.” They’re not all going to succeed. At some point, outside reinforcements will be necessary.

Keep in mind, though, that the Lerner family oversaw the first build, the one that led to four National League East titles and a wild-card appearance in an eight-year span. Does credit for that go to General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff for drafting and developing Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Jordan Zimmermann and others to add to incumbent pieces Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond? Sure.

But the Lerners made a financial commitment, too, one that landed Jayson Werth as the player who believed in the vision the Nats laid out. They paid Max Scherzer $210 million over seven years — at the time, the richest contract ever given to a free agent pitcher, a deal that became one of the best signings in the history of the sport.

From 2013, the year after the Nats’ first division title, through 2020, the year after their World Series title, here are Washington’s ranks in team payroll, according to the website Spotrac: 11th, eighth, fifth, 15th, sixth, fifth, seventh, seventh. That’s more than competitive.

So they can do it. Now, will they?

There’s also the question of why the Lerners decided not to sell. We’re left only with clues — but they’re significant.

Since the family announced its intention to explore a sale in April 2022, only the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics have lost more games. Did those two last-place finishes somehow rekindle the family’s love not only for the sport but for running a team whose attendance has fallen from a peak of more than 2.65 million in 2013 to less than 1.87 million last year — a drop of almost 10,000 fans per game?

Unlikely. What’s more probable: The Lerners had a price in mind — think a dollar more than the roughly $2.4 billion Steve Cohen paid for the New York Mets in 2020 — and didn’t get it. Previous reporting by The Post revealed Ted Leonsis, who owns the NHL’s Capitals and the NBA’s Wizards, bid more than $2 billion. That apparently wasn’t enough.

Since the Lerners said they would search for a buyer, the only baseball franchise to be sold was the Baltimore Orioles, a deal between the Angelos family and Washington-based philanthropist and private equity tycoon David Rubenstein that hasn’t been approved by MLB (but is expected to be). The price: $1.725 billion.

The Orioles commanded only that much — even though they own the Nationals’ broadcast rights. Forbes reported last week that the network on which those games appear, MASN, is essentially worthless, adding no value to a sale price. And it’s possible the Orioles and Nats finally reaching an agreement that established what the Nats were owed in back pay for those rights could compel the Lerners to say, “Well, at least we know our revenue going forward.”

Add all that together, and Mark Lerner saying, “We’ve just decided that it’s not the time or the place” for a sale could seem unsurprising.

Still, Lerner’s proclamation comes at a time when the Nats not only aren’t set up to contend but aren’t spending to improve the product. From a baseball sense, Rizzo and his front office believed this past offseason wasn’t the time to sign the equivalent to Werth — say, outfielder Cody Bellinger, who’s still a free agent. It’s too early, and so many of the players the club figures to be mainstays in the future — led by outfielders Dylan Crews and James Wood — aren’t even in the majors yet.

But spending only $9.25 million in free agency — the 24th-highest total this offseason, according to Spotrac — leaves open the question: If not now, when? The answer had better be next offseason.

Buying players, though, isn’t the only way to show commitment. The Nationals haven’t had a forward-facing team president — someone who could speak to both baseball and fan experience and provide some connective tissue between the two — since Stan Kasten departed. That was in 2010.

Hiring someone to fill that role would take some heat off Rizzo, who has long had to offer explanations for ownership decisions. It also would serve as an acknowledgment that this announcement — going from “We might sell the team” to “No, actually, we’re keeping it” — should be a time for a full-on reset.

When Mark Lerner’s late father, Ted, bought the Nationals from MLB in 2006, Mark was so pumped about the opportunity that, in ensuing years, he would suit up and shag balls during batting practice. There was real, boy-like joy in helping run his hometown team.

Mark Lerner is older now. He has survived cancer that cost him one leg. He has hoisted a World Series trophy and lost 107 games in a season. He has said his team could be sold and then decided not to sell. If holding on to the franchise is to be best not only for the Lerners but for the Nats and their fans, then this can’t be a decision based solely on failing to get an asking price. It has to be a recommitment to the product and the experience, with enthusiasm baked in.



Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *