A sale of the Nats is over; it kind of has been over for awhile…now it is just official!

There was no shortage of chatter and sightings that Washington Nationals principal owner, Mark Lerner, was more engaged, and around his team more than he had been in years, during the 2023 season. And even though the team was technically “for sale”, sources said that was more of a facade since the team was still under the contractual process when they engaged the investment banking firm, Allen & Co., to explore a possible sale in early 2022. Two years later, and here we are with the team officially taken off the market as Lerner told the Washington Post that the team is no longer for sale. A Nationals spokesperson confirmed the Post’s report.

“I’ve never spoken to [ownership] about their commitment, and if they’re going to sell the team, and that type of thing. I’ve never seen the Lerner family and ownership more involved — and more focused and more into this thing than I’ve seen this year and the last couple of years.

— General Manager Mike Rizzo said right after the 2023 season

While social media polls showed that an overwhelming number of fans were hoping the Lerners would sell, there are no shortage of opinions out there now after this breaking news that the team is no longer for sale. Let’s face it, the Lerners have not helped themselves with their public image with numerous missteps that include not spending enough money this offseason, and the ongoing drama with pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

Two years had now elapsed from the time it was announced that the Lerners would explore a sale — but we had written before that Lerner addressed all of their partners in the team back in November and said that the team would not be sold during the 2024 season.

“But the Washington Nationals, per a source, won’t be sold any time soon. Last month in a meeting with Lerner’s partners in the Nats, we were told by the source that Lerner said they will play the full 2024 season without being sold. Our source said he expected the Orioles to be sold before the Nationals.”

— an excerpt from that article in TalkNats.com back in December

Many were skeptical that the team would ever sell given how the Lerners move slowly on big decisions like selling the stadium naming rights which is well over eight years since those rights were marketed, and a sale of advertising jersey patches still are not sold. That is potentially tens of millions in annual revenue not capitalized on.

As we now know, the Orioles might very well be sold before the start of this 2024 season to the Rubenstein group, and the Nationals might gain back ownership of their TV rights per the Baltimore Sun. All of that seems to be a positive for the Lerners — but the past few years has painted a picture that looks like an ownership group that might not be willing to spend the money needed to contend.

Lerner’s own words sounded positive, and that the team would spend — but actions showed that it never happened in this offseason with high hopes that it would have mirrored the 2011 season when the Nats were coming out of that rebuild and signed Jayson Werth to what was a record deal at that point for the Nationals.

General Manager Mike Rizzo opened up Spring Training to say they just couldn’t find the contract(s) that they were looking for. A starting pitcher was the top priority, and the best the Nats did was sign a few struggling pitchers to minor league deals. The most they spent during the offseason on a player was $5 million to Joey Gallo on a one-year commitment with an almost worthless mutual option for the 2025 season.

“I just couldn’t find that starting pitcher that was going to impact us at this time, for not only the right amount of years — but the right salary at this time.”

— Rizzo said last week

A statement of fact: The Nats got none of it. Right now, the Nats look to be going with the exact starters they had for most of the 2023 season, and have some depth behind them with Zach Davies, Jackson Rutledge and DJ Herz, with Cade Cavalli on the mend and most likely not available until mid-season as he recovers from UCL surgery last year.

Who, what, and where do we start with the blame game? We heard Lerner’s words before and after the 2023 season that he talked about winning and spending — but the evaluators think this current roster will be a cellar dweller. Not good.

“We’re all in. … Just like we did the last time with Werth [in free agency], at the right time, we will be back in the free agent market again. … Trust me, nobody wants to win more than me.”

“ … We are totally in on building this back to where we all expect it to be, to where our fans expect it to be. … It’s [Mike Rizzo’s] call as to how he wants to fill the holes … a free agent or whatever, he knows the gameplan he wants to follow … whatever he desires. He knows he has the resources … to build a winner.”

— owner Mark Lerner said the first comment before the 2023 season and the second comment after the 2023 season

We won’t call Rizzo or Lerner liars — but Washington Times writer, Thom Loverro, went there yesterday when he wrote, “Nationals fans deserve better than owners who lie to their faces. I don’t know what else to call the hollow words …” Maybe a better word is ‘disingenuous.’

The team spent more on Nelson Cruz‘s $15 million deal in 2022 than they did in total this offseason. That is shocking. Rizzo inked three free agents on MLB deals this winter that netted the Nats: Nick Senzel, Dylan Floro, and Gallo. Together they cost just under $10 million combined. Insert the photo of the dumpster on fire. Maybe those three players will all be good for the Washington Nationals — but there is usually a saying that you get what you paid for. The team needed some “sure things” that would have brought some optimism to the fanbase and the computers that crunch the numbers on how the team will do during the season.

There is a circular equation that fans buy tickets when a team has a big offseason, and even more tickets when the team is winning. Sell the naming rights to the stadium and the jersey patch if you need the $25 million or more to spend, and get the player this team needs. You will be ahead in the long-run with the extra ticket sales.

When Lerner indicated he would be willing to spend on players that Rizzo coveted, the Nats’ owner also talked about his desire to win. The fans took it at face value, only to see payroll grow by just under $10 million. That just was not what the fans were expecting.

While nothing is an absolute indication that this Nats team cannot exceed expectations like last year, this is about entering the season with optimism that the team did enough to improve. Did they? No, they did not in my humble opinion, and the evaluators clearly agree, and especially in the PECOTA projections. That 104.1 loss projection is brutal. The Nats are penciling in two starting pitchers for this season, Corbin and Williams, who had ERAs north of 5.19 last year. How can you consistently win with that? Nothing would make me happier than to see the Nats win more than the 71-games they won in 2023. The easiest path to getting there would have been to upgrade the roster with a star player or two to add to what the team currently has.

“We’re not going to block guys — but if we’re fortunate enough that we have this influx of guys knocking on the big league door, then that’ll be a good day for us here. Players, they tell me when they’re ready by their play on the field. We’ve never had a problem with moving players quickly to the big leagues if they can perform up there. And we’ll have no qualms about putting them there now.”

“Our goal is never to win 71 games. Our goal is to win a division, to win a world championship, and I feel that we took a step in the right direction last year toward doing that.”

We’re going to try and facilitate another roster that allows us to take another step forward and get into the action with a terrific division that we have to deal with. We understand the challenges in front of us, and I think we’re a capable group. You’ve seen in the past what we’ve done, and I think that we’re going to be able to do it in the future.”

— Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings

Yes, the top prospects should not be blocked, and like the Cincinnati Reds pulled off last year, they added five top prospects to their big league roster throughout last season and fell just short of making the playoffs with 82-wins, a 20-win improvement over the prior season. So yes, that can happen if Rizzo is committed to promoting his top prospects. It just does not fix that this team was in dire need of an ace with no starting pitcher finishing with better than a 3.91 ERA last season. That ranked the Nats best starter’s ERA at No. 44 in the league. Josiah Gray was a solid No. 2 ERA — but far from an ace.

“It all starts with starting pitching. Our starting pitching needs to get better, that’s for sure.”

— Manager Dave Martinez said after the 2022 season. You could put that message on repeat.

Without a clear ace in the team’s minor league pipeline, the Nats just needed to spend on long-term starting pitching. Sure, easier said than done. However, some of the best free agents are still available — and it was just a matter of being like Ted Lerner in 2015 — when he shocked baseball by signing Max Scherzer to a record contract. But here’s the difference: Ted made his own decisions — Mark has to get family approval to break the budget per a source — and sources tell us that one of the Lerner family members has been opposed to breaking the budget — a budget that seemed constrictive to begin with.

So if Lerner had a chance to give that year-end speech again, would he say the same words? Did the budget change things, or was he, as Loverro said, just lying? Or was Rizzo telling the truth and the right deal just wasn’t there? Maybe Lerner has an explanation for all of this. We will have to wait on THAT speech.

“… our family has determined, that we are not going to sell the team.”

“Nothing has really changed. We’ve just decided that it’s not the time or the place for it. We’re very happy owning the team and bringing us back a ring one day.”

— Lerner said today to the Washington Post

We are not going to play judge, jury and executioner and assume anything — but if the Lerner family cannot agree on smart baseball acquisitions and spend the money needed to bring another “ring one day” — then maybe it is time that they sell “one day” soon. Do the fans a favor and sell the team if you are not going to put all efforts into building a winner. These sports monopolies have to be part of the public trust that the owners will actually try to win — not say they want to win and pocket millions in profits.

The Lerners bought the team in mid-2006 and were officially exploring a sale of the team back in April 2022, and we broke the news in January 2023 that the team was not going to sell with any of the potential buyers at the time. You cannot force the Lerners to sell — this is just doing what is best for the fans that deserve an ownership group committed to winning. Potentially losing in 2024 would make it five consecutive years of losses, but what we need now is full transparency on the future direction of this team.

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