The more that is revealed about the Lerner's efforts to sell the Washington Nationals, the less certain the future of the team's ownership becomes.
After apparently halting their search for a new owner this past offseason, it is now being reported that Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis offered the Lerners $2 billion for the team, which had been the team's estimated value according to Forbes. The news presents one big burning question: Why would the Lerners, if they really wanted to sell their franchise, refuse such an offer? Did they seriously expect that the team, which had the worst record in MLB last year, to fetch a higher price? Was the announcement of a sale merely a bluff to leverage the ongoing MASN litigation? Have the Lerner family's intentions about a potential sale changed since the passing of patriarch Ted Lerner?
Before this news, the public had been led to believe that the sale process had ended because the Nationals were anchored to MASN, limiting the potential income a new owner could receive from television broadcasts. We now know that Leonsis did, in fact, submit a reasonable offer despite the MASN debacle.
None of these potential answers is much consolation to the Nationals fanbase, which must endure a rebuild without any financial support. Other rebuilding teams such as the Chicago Cubs are able to expedite their rebuild process by bolstering their lineup with big-ticket free agents, but the Nationals have refused to take such steps to move the process along. Instead, Mike Rizzo used the limited resources at his disposal this offseason to sign Dom Smith and Cory Dickerson to one-year deals, two veterans who are unlikely to fetch any return on the trade market or contribute much to the team while they're here.
What's more, Leonsis apparently also offered to but MASN itself, only to be told by the network's owner, the Baltimore Orioles, that the broadcast was not for sale. This bit of news is frustrating, but not particularly surprising. The MASN issue has been a thorn in the side of the Nationals for years. Leonsis may have hoped to merge the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network with his own station, NBC Sports Washington, giving Monumental total control over the DMV's sports broadcasts. Such a development would have been great for Nationals fans, who could have seen an increase in broadcast quality as well as a boost in revenue for the team itself to sign players. However, Orioles ownership has little incentive to give up their leverage over Washington's baseball broadcasting.
If the Lerners won't take $2 billion from Ted Leonsis, what sort of offer would they accept? Or do they plan on selling the team at all? No new owner could change the Nationals' on-field fortunes overnight, but a rebuilding team needs a steady, committed hand at the wheel. If the Lerners truly mean to be the owner of this franchise for the long run, they need to start acting like it and invest in this rebuild. If not, then it's time to give Ted Leonsis a call, and cash out.