Mark Lerner announces the Washington Nationals are no longer for sale

Almost two years after announcing ownership would be exploring the sale of the franchise, Mark Lerner announced today that the team was no longer for sale. With the news very large development coming out of Washington today, what does this mean for the future of the franchise?

This duo faces a lot of questions with the breaking news out of DC today.
This duo faces a lot of questions with the breaking news out of DC today. / G Fiume/GettyImages

October 30th, 2019. The date the Washington Nationals won their first and only title in franchise history. It is a date and time where you can probably remember exactly where you were, if you are a diehard fan like myself. Daniel Hudson tossing his glove towards the dugout was the culmination of a lot of moves, whether by trade or free agency, that helped to shape the organization into the World Series Champions, and the top of the baseball world.

Between a dispute with the Orioles and the never-ending saga about their TV deal with MASN, and the overall lack of aggression in the trade market and free agency, one thing that every fan was clinging to was the fact that the team was due to be sold by the Lerner family, as announced in April of 2022. While there was never an established timeline to this, the expectation was that the team would take on a new ownership group, with rumors of sports and business figures from all over the world potentially being involved in the impending bidding war for the franchise.

All of that leads us to present day, and as Spring Training just began for the Nationals down in West Palm Beach last week, team owner Mark Lerner announced today that the team is no longer for sale, citing, "It's not the time or the place (to sell the team)." (via Andrew Golden, Washington Post)

To myself and many other Nats fans on social media who had quick reactions to the news today, all this does is create a lot of questions on the future of the team, and the true direction of the franchise in terms of personnel moves. Due to the team's lack of aggression in free agency and their commitment to rebuilding a farm system that was decimated during the team's near decade-long contention window, the signing of bargain bin free agents in hopes of trading them at the deadline such as Jeimer Candelario, Joey Gallo, Nick Senzel, etc. line up with a team in a rebuild. Where the vision becomes blurry is when Lerner makes comments insinuating that the team will look to be big spenders in free agency again, even going as far saying the budget is up to GM Mike Rizzo, despite the Nats never really being mentioned seriously in any major free agent additions for years now.

If this team is serious about competing again, Lerner will need to truly let Mike Rizzo get back to his ways, and allow him to have a legitimate budget (and not just say it) to address the severe lack of talent on the current roster. Ultimately they need to build a contender that will not only lead the team back to the playoffs, but fill seats at Nationals Park. The Nationals need to stop trying to be an organization that is able to produce a contender strictly based on an abundance of homegrown talent, and need to supplement the talent in the pipeline with major free agent additions that will get this team continuing to move in the right direction.

The only explanation that I can logically think of is that the Lerner family has been hesitant about spending big on a major free agent due to the contracts of Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg eating up a combined $60M of the team's $90M current payroll - despite still having ~$120M in effective spending ability before they would hit the luxury tax threshold. However, Corbin will be off the books following this season, and perhaps there is still hope for resolution with Strasburg's deal, although it can't be overlooked that the team declined to insure his contract, which as of right now means the Nats are on the hook for the entirety of his deal, carrying a $35M AAV through 2027.

With the arrivals of Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House, and others on the horizon, coupled with Corbin's contract officially coming off the books after 2024, the Nationals will need to abandon their recent bargain-hunting practices of the last 5 years and take advantage of an absolutely loaded 2025 free agency class. Perhaps the outlook on the Lerners holding onto the Nats isn't as doom and gloom as initially thought, provided there is a true re-commitment to investing in the team. However, for Mark Lerner, the next calendar year will be more about walking the walk, rather than talking the talk. Only time will tell if this decision to hold onto the team ends up being one that helps propel the team back into relevance, or if they will continue to fall off the face of the baseball world.

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