The Lerner Family Needs To Face Reality And Sell The Team

After the Orioles were quietly sold without any sort of public announcement or planned bidding war, the attention turns to the Lerner Family who publicly announced their intentions to sell the Nationals almost two years ago with no results.
Cincinnati Reds v Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds v Washington Nationals / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages

In a stunner, the Baltimore Orioles were sold yesterday for a price of $1.7B to an ownership group led by David Rubenstein that also includes Cal Ripken Jr.

If you go around and poll fanbases in baseball, or maybe even every sport, it seems like most fans have a desire for their team's ownership to sell the team. Nationals fans know this all too well.

Orioles fans knew this all too well too, but their dreams actually became a reality yesterday. There was no public announcement by the Angelos Family that the team would be put up for auction or even rumblings of a proposed asking price - just a report of a finalized deal to sell to a group led by David Rubenstein. We had first heard rumblings of a potential sale to Rubenstein a few months back, but since then it has really been radio silence and it is a bit surprising how quietly, and quickly, this deal came together.

Now there are a couple of layers to this, especially as it pertains to the Nationals. First and foremost, the sale of the Orioles includes MASN and also the Nationals' TV Rights, so no luck there. While the MASN debacle is better than it once was, it is still a mess with no end in sight. Although perhaps new Ownership will help expedite the process.

The Orioles also, in theory, could now be a major player for the remaining top free agents available, particularly Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery. After leading the AL in wins last season with a young, cheap and controllable roster but getting bounced in their first playoff series to the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers, many expected the Orioles to be more aggressive this offseason. That has not happened yet, and may still not happen as it is almost February, but it could.

The biggest area of intrigue is the sale price - $1.7 Billion.

The Orioles own their own network (and another team's TV rights!). They have a young roster full of emerging stars and superstars with a cheap payroll. They don't have an extremely large Media Market, but Baltimore is nothing to laugh at either. All of this, and they did not even come close to the Mets' sale price of $2.4 Billion, nor did they even try. There was not a bidding war nor an attempt to put up the team for auction - it was just a simple sale to a group that was invested in owning the Orioles. Even the Angelos Family had a grounded sense of reality and sold the team for a fair price.

And then there are the Lerners...

The Lerners need to sell the Nationals, even if they do not get a record price.

Here is a quick timeline refresher on how this has played out:

April 2022 - The Lerners announce they will explore selling the team
Winter 2022 - Ted Leonsis offers 'at least $2 Billion' for franchise, which is rejected by Lerners
February 2023 - Lerner Family Patriarch Ted Lerner passes away at age 97, team still intent on selling
March 2023 - Sale on pause through 2023 season so as not to cause "distraction"
As of January 2024 - Team still not close to being sold

There are more finer details within that timeline, but that is the gist. It has been nearly two years since the Lerners announced their intention to sell with no real progress made in that time. Not only was their no real progress made, they actually received a substantial offer of $2 Billion, which is the Forbes valuation of the Nationals' franchise. There is no argument to be made that it was a bad or unfair offer, especially when the offer included the intention to buy MASN as well. The only explanation is that the Lerners had too much pride to sell to Ted Leonsis, as their history is rocky to say the least. Or that the Lerners were trying to exceed the $2.4B sale price of the New York Mets, which is completely unrealistic.

This is not a pro-Ted Leonsis rant or anything like that, but to see the Orioles and John Angelos, one of the least respected owners in baseball, reach a deal to sell the franchise in the same offseason where the rumblings first started, without even an announcement or bidding war, is infuriating. Instead, the Lerners have the Nationals' franchise treading water without any real direction. Fans are supposed to be thrilled with one year, cheap signings of players whose play was abysmal (to put it kindly) last season instead of a real investment to the team.

If the Lerners are slashing payroll in order to prime the team for sale, fine, whatever; they would not be the first ownership group to do so. But they are slashing payroll and not doing anything else to further the potential sale of the team, nor have they made any action to the contrary that would suggest they are planning on keeping the team.

I do not believe the Lerners are bad owners - we have seen them invest hundreds of millions of dollars into this team that directly led to a World Series title back in 2019. But it is because of that investment that I can say they are bad owners right now.

We have seen what the 'Good' Lerners look like, spending money and letting GM Mike Rizzo cook. To pretend that is the same as what we are seeing currently and have been seeing for the past several offseasons is asinine.

The Nationals are in baseball purgatory and you would think that coming off an impressive season where the on-field product widely exceeded expectations that ownership would be excited to re-invest in the team - just look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. But instead, we are proceeding like it is business as usual.

The best thing the Lerners can do is to take a fair offer and relinquish control of this great franchise to an ownership group that has the fire to invest into this team properly, even if that ownership group is led by Ted Leonsis. I am not necessarily a Leonsis fan, but it is hard not to believe the grass isn't greener on the other side at this point. Beggars can't be choosers, but I am begging the Lerners to sell the team.