As the cost of talent rises, the Washington Nationals are close to their ceiling on spending. They need help from New York and Baltimore.
The harsh economic realities of Major League Baseball is catching up with the Washington Nationals.
As other teams secure lucrative new television contracts where they either receive close to $50 million a year on rights or are full equity partners in their own channel, the Nats are waiting for deliverance from New York.
In the long saga that watched the Montreal Expos leave Quebec and resettle in Washington, MLB had to appease the Baltimore Orioles and owner Peter Angelos. A mere 37 miles from city-to-city, Washington was Baltimore territory. Since Bob Short moved the Washington Senators to Arlington after the 1971 season, the Orioles became DC’s team.
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The deal came in television rights. Angelos could start his own channel with a super-majority ownership. In exchange, the Nationals joined the channel, earned a rights fee and have a minority stake in MASN and MASN2. When MLB sold the Nationals to Stan Lerner, the deal was amended to give Lerner a 33 percent share, in due time.
Flash forward a decade, the Nationals have enjoyed success on levels the Expos never dreamed. A beautiful new stadium sits near the Naval Yard. The team has a mix of homegrown and free agent talent. Washington has been in the playoffs in 12 years the same number of times the original Nationals were in 60 seasons.
Although the postseason losses sting, the return of baseball to the District exceeds everyone’s expectations a decade ago.
But, how long can they continue to chase around big players?
Payroll is around $140 million for 2017. That is without a new catcher, centerfielder or the closer they need to secure. If they can do all that for $20 million, they match 2016’s $160 million mark. Staring at them in two years is Bryce Harper’s future.
As pressure mounts to ensure his financial future, general manager Mike Rizzo warns fans the money is not endless.
He said to the Washington Post:
“[The MASN money] affects us, it’s something we’ve had to manage now for four offseasons. It’s something that needs to get rectified quickly.”
Before returning to the New York Mets, Yoenis Cespedes flirted with Washington. Although you can make the strong case he wanted to stay in Queens, Washington’s insistence on deferred money played a role in the decision. Max Scherzer will receive salary after his Nats days are over.
To be competitive, the Washington Nationals are borrowing against their future.
Look, no one is suggesting the franchise will return to the cheap practices that ended their time in Montreal. For all sides, it is important the Nationals field a contending team. To do that, they need help from the Commissioner’s Office in New York.
Whether it is a renegotiation of their MASN contract to secure more equity, or the release to partner elsewhere as equals, something needs to happen.
The team and fans have come too far to still be second-class citizens in MLB and the Orioles’ eyes anymore.