The New York Mets tried to play fantasy baseball with no rules and a flawed plan with their 2023 roster adding future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander to a rotation with Cooperstown-bound Max Scherzer, and an infield that looked like an All-Star team from years past. It did not work, just like the 2015 Nats’ roster did not work. The 2023 Mets, Padres, and Yankees all spent big with a slim chance that any one of them would hoist a World Series trophy. What was their plan? Ah, the plan boss, the plan!
Having a great plan and sticking to it when you are painfully at the bottom is part of survival of the fittest. The Nats went through a long and painful rebuild before from 2007 to 2010. Taking that plan and seeing it through all the way to the pinnacle of success — is a job well done. The Washington Nationals are in their Rebuild 2.0, and the plan is in motion. When winning begins, you will be one of those that will look back to July 2021 to 2023 with memories that you lived through it.
The Nats of 2015 were just a point to learn from as to why it failed with the biggest payroll in baseball that season. Winning the division was never enough for Ted Lerner. He wanted to hoist the trophy that eluded Washington D.C. for over 90 years of his life. He had only heard the stories from the older D.C. kids in his neighborhood, that the Washington Senators won the World Series a year before Lerner was born in 1925. The tales of Walter Johnson, the Big Train, always had Lerner believing that he had two Big Trains in Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. What the Nats needed were some bounces to go their way, and they finally did.
Getting that championship in 2019, with arguably a roster that was not their best, proved that winning goes beyond statistics and into the intangibles that nobody can measure. It is like trying to come to a conclusion on the optimal heart size that varies between 250–350 grams. Having that steady heartbeat is essential in the business of baseball. Having a good heart counts when you judge a person for how he lived. Walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you try to judge him. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
MLB teams in each town are a monopoly with a congressional exemption. There are plenty of bad owners that control sports teams. Washington had one that owned the local football team for about a quarter century. If you could ever stage a coup d’état against a sports owner, that might have been the time, of course without the violence. Maybe that is an impeachment. Seriously though, it is hard to get rid of an owner. Sometimes the one that replaces the previous owner is a nightmare scenario like going from Eli Jacobs to Peter Angelos. So far so good with Josh Harris of course. But the tale is, be careful of what you wish for.
Personally, I don’t know columnist Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post or his motivations for some of what he writes. The recruiting site, Indeed, defines a journalist’s job as “researching and writing informational news articles and stories about real events using a fair and unbiased perspective.” Nothing in there about slice and dice articles for clickbait. Interesting. But when they train you how to increase your readership for more clicks they tell you that negativity sells. The more polarizing, the better. Svrluga’s counterparts on the football desk of the Washington Post actually helped to force the previous owner of the Washington football team out. Real stories with real facts of sexual harassment and other disgusting acts of behavior that were hard to believe.
So, as predicted, and it was brewing this way, it did not take long for Svrluga to fan the flames and write a piece titled, “The best thing the Lerners can do for the Nationals is sell” but Barry gave no plan. He made a couple of good points, but you need a plan. Svrluga’s article came after The Athletic went on full attack-mode on Lerner about the Strasburg retirement event which actually never was a set event. The follow-up pieces had more built up drama than a mid-day soap opera. The problem is that perception becomes reality, and the public was ready for a coup d’état based on just a bunch of what?
Incredible, that tweet got 2.8 million views. First off, you cannot cancel a retirement press conference that never existed -or- a jersey retirement that certainly was not going to happen in 2023 according to three sources we spoke to on these claims. There might have been more inaccuracies there then at the OJ trial. Journalistic integrity out the window. How sad. No retractions or clarifications.
Yes, a Strasburg retirement negotiation was in discussion as well as a September 9 press conference per our sources, and they could not agree on the terms. That happens in negotiation and should have been left in private. We all know who leaked it. Now you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can hope that the Nationals relationship with Strasburg can be repaired after the salvo of accusations were leveled.
As of now, Strasburg will just continue to stay on the Nats’ roster and continue to get paid his $35 million a year per his contract for three years beyond this year. In a rare rebuttal, Mark Lerner actually indirectly responded to Ghiroli’s tweet about there was NEVER a press conference slated for Saturday. Lerner did not respond to the claims that he is writing personal checks to fund losses at Nationals Park or that President of Baseball Operation and general manager Mike Rizzo got rid of some of his scouts and international staff totaling over a dozen employees.
The response fell short and at the end Lerner threw in a barb that they would see Strasburg in Spring Training. Not smart. Because sports owners are mostly afraid of pissing off journalists, Lerner only responded to the fact that “no such event was ever confirmed by the team or promoted publicly” and did not address the rest. Imagine that. All Svrluga did was try to pile on. He has the power of the pen, and a whole bunch of people around him to help him retweet and spread the word. Plenty of pitchforks came out. Why are people so angry? What is the plan?
Okay, Svrluga does make a point I agree with, “Still, the sentiment in the offices at Nationals Park and throughout the sport is: Why does everything have to be so hard?” By making things hard and stumbling time and again on simple things, the Lerners open themselves up for criticism. Incompetent Media Relations and Public Relations will hurt you at the turnstiles. Just look at the Commanders under their previous ownership when attendance plummeted to the lowest in the NFL last year. I don’t think the Lerners understand this. Many people won’t spend their money on businesses they do not like. A very simple concept. By the way, I don’t care if the Lerners sell or don’t sell — being committed to winning is all I care about.
Svrluga wrote his reason that Lerner should sell is, “For the sake of this franchise, the Lerner family should move aggressively this offseason to sell. Not just because of this regrettable [Strasburg retirement] situation. But because the organization feels adrift. Because there is a clear absence of strong leadership. Because dysfunction too often rules the day.” Is that all you have Barry? That is some weak apple sauce. It feels adrift? A clear absence of strong leadership? Under Lerner ownership, their President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo, has been that leader. The Lerners don’t come from the Jerry Jones book on ownership of being seen incessantly and heard from often. Ted Lerner always left that up to his team Presidents from Stan Kasten to Mike Rizzo. In fact, Rizzo said recently that he speaks to Mark Lerner almost every day and sometimes more than once a day. It is Rizzo’s plan, and he is the leader.
At the Dylan Crews introductory press conference, Lerner did not take a seat at the table or talk at the podium. He stood directly behind Rizzo like a proud parent. He gave that honor to Rizzo. If Svrluga is looking for a change in leadership — he might have inadvertently pointed straight at Rizzo, the man with the plan. This is not a game of checkers, this is a game of chess. You always have to know several moves that you will make ahead of your current move. That is how the greatest business minds work. Becoming a billionaire after you started from nothing was Ted Lerner’s story in almost everything he touched, even though their were failures like 2015 and their handling of the final stages of White Flint Mall, the successes were there in much greater percentages. His life might best be described by Dave Martinez‘s “bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.” Nobody said there wouldn’t be some potholes on the yellow brick road. You must have a forward thinking plan — and make the right adjustments when you encounter the potholes.
My opinion is that when the Lerners announced in April of 2022 that they would explore a sale of the team that seemed to stall at the point when we broke the news of “NO SALE” that they should have taken the team off of the market. Michael Jordan sold a majority stake of his Charlotte Hornets basketball team without ever publicly putting it up for sale. If someone wants to buy the team, they know where to find you Mark. You can take it off the market and just get approached if someone wants to buy it. By the team technically being up for sale, it does cause a narrative that the team could be adrift. But Lerner made it clear, that it is business as usual with a goal of winning.
If you take that statement, and believe it pertains to this offseason, then great. The key words “at the right time” does not necessarily mean that it happens this offseason, but we can certainly hope. Because we are all mostly powerless as to shaping the future of the Washington Nationals, all we can do is hope. We hope Lerner does the right thing. They have not always done it how we wish they did. Two year contracts to top executives like Rizzo’s past contracts with a third option year for instance is just a vicious cycle because once you enter the second year you are right back in a final season unless the option has been picked up. This is just a simple example of what opens up the Lerners to criticism.
And it has been 17 years of the Lerner ownership, and they have not changed how they do business. But it is their business, and we are all just living in it with the Nats. Do you keep complaining for the sake of complaining or just know that it is what it is? Maybe at some point they do change, because again, negative public perception will hurt you at the turnstile. Svrluga used the word, “dysfunction” which he says “too often rules the day.” Dysfunction seems to be a go-to word by writers for big effect, and isn’t this really that the media opens up a closed door and sifts through the closet to try to expose what they don’t like and labels that as dysfunction? Do you think Mark Lerner looks in the mirror and sees dysfunction? No, he does not. Again, this is the same 17 years of how they do business.
Painful to read the same stories of 17 years rehashed like sins of your life. Again, you just don’t agree with how they do business. That is all this is at the end of the day. Less than four years ago the Lerners delivered a World Series championship, and that never generated the goodwill most teams get because of the COVID outbreak, and then the clock ticked and it just became, what have you done for me lately? Rebuild 2.0 began in July 2021 by Rizzo’s own words, and now we do not know when we shift to “spend” mode. Ghiroli points to job cuts, and the Lerners are writing personal checks to keep the team afloat if you want to believe her on that.
Lest we forget, baseball is a business, and so is the The Athletic and Washington Post. They all had recent layoffs. The Post more than others this year per this link. A source told us that the team has a plan to get all of the work done by personnel they have as well as with new hires. While you never like to see people lose their jobs, some is addition by subtraction — but we were assured that none of these moves were for the purpose of saving money for the Nats.
We are 199 days from Opening Day of 2024. Baseball is being played with less than 20 games remaining in this 2023 season. By many measures outside of the veteran starting pitching on this team, there are so many positives. Look, you could be one of those that thinks the Lerners should sell and hope for a better replacement — but caveat emptor, be careful for what you wish for as there are plenty of wolves in sheep’s clothing circling around the green pasture. In the end you could go from Jacobs to Angelos and that is over 30 years and counting of dysfunction. Do you have that much time to wait?