Could a sale of the Nats be off the table?

WASHINGTON, DC – September 28, 2022: Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner on the field; (Photo by Sol Tucker/TalkNats)

Sources have told us that the Lerner family and sports team investor, Ted Leonsis, were getting close to an agreement on the sale of the Washington Nationals earlier this month, but on Friday a source told us that they were still too far apart on being able to shake hands on a final price due to each sides’ valuation of the MASN situation.

That source told us that a sale of the team has not been formally called off, however our source is very skeptical if the two sides can meet in the middle on a final price. That has led to this source to think that this sale might not happen at all this year or ever. Okay, ‘ever’ is a long time — but that was our sources wording.  Another source we reached out to, thought that a different structure of the deal was a possibility, to still bring Leonsis in, however, this source would not elaborate any further on that. 

There was never a guarantee that the Lerner family would sell the Washington Nationals just like the stadium naming rights. For those who forgot, it was six and a half long years ago when the Lerners hired Korn Ferry to try to sell those rights back in March of 2016. The stadium is still called Nationals Park, just like it was when it opened in 2008, with the generic name — and no revenues derived from a third party that would want to advertise their name on top of the stadium. The Lerners still own the Nats, and we still do not know which direction this team is going in this offseason, both on and off the field.

“Word is the Nats are almost sure to sell,” Jon Heyman wrote in the NY Post in June 2022. “They’re expected to fetch at least $2 billion, but the behind-the scenes goal is $3 billion.”

First off, the difference between $2 and $3 billion is so big that you could buy the three Lerner children their own super yacht like Dan Snyder’s and still have $400 million left over to buy a huge stake in the Washington Commanders.

Sources had told us, and we broke the news, that the MASN debacle was the hold-up in the sale of the Nats — and we broke that news back in September. It’s still a problem. Since then, we have posted a few stories of the progress and regress on the situation as even MLB got involved in trying to fix the MASN standoff by dangling the 2024 All-Star game to the Orioles per our sources — and that did not work.

But if you took what the Lerners said on face value, when they first started exploring the sale of the team, it was never a sure thing that they would sell.

“This is an exploratory process, so there is no set timetable or expectation of a specific outcome,” Mark Lerner said in the statement on April 11 as the family began exploring a possible sale of the team. “The organization is as committed as ever to their employees, players, fans, sponsors and partners and to putting a competitive product on the field.”

Well, Mark Lerner was very wrong about fielding a competitive team, that’s for sure as this year’s team lost 107 games and was last in all of baseball. It is imperative that general manager Mike Rizzo has the power to greatly improve the team in this offseason. That should be the top priority. Maybe one signal of better things ahead is that the Washington Nationals had placements for over a dozen new front office jobs in analytics and player development. Here is a November 11 listing for a biomechanist on Zip Recruiter.

Snippet from Zip Recruiter job listing

Ted Lerner, 97, transferred day-to-day control of the Nationals to his son, Mark, in 2018. Less than two years later, the younger Lerner was hoisting up a World Series trophy, and since, has been finding out that it is not as easy as it looked back then.

Forbes estimated Ted Lerner’s net worth at $5.5 billion in 2016 as real estate prices were on the way up. In 2020, Lerner’s net worth plummeted to $3.7 billion due to the COVID crisis in that year and the crash of commercial real estate and shopping malls. Forbes places his current net worth at $6.2 billion today, and that cannot all be from a higher valuation of the Nats. Just seven months ago, Lerner’s net worth was $4.4 billion per Forbes at the time that the Lerners were exploring a possiblesale of the team.. This updated valuation by Forbes of the Lerner fortune is up over 40 percent in a year that blue chip stocks on the S&P 500 are down over 20 percent.

At the same time, Leonsis and his Monumental Sports & Entertainment  is surging in its valuation.  That makes Leonsis and his partners wealthier. Is it enough to get them to inch closer to the Lerner asking price? Time will tell.

This Nationals’ team needs a leader at the top to financially pull this team up and get it back on-track. That will take an ownership commitment, money, time and patience while the farm system matures to put it all together to once again be a force at the top of the NL East.

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