Fresh off the first World Series championship in franchise history, the Nationals are set to lose at least one star player to free agency. That's because owner Mark Lerner told NBC Sports Washington that the club can't afford to pay both third baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg this winter.
"We really can only afford to have one of those two guys," Lerner said. "They're huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with."
Something doesn't line up here. Let's consider some things that we know to be true.
- The Nationals were negotiating with Bryce Harper last offseason and there was a known offer of 10 years for $300 million. This was with Strasburg still under contract and pretty much no one expecting him to opt out of his deal. If he could afford to hand that kind of money to Harper while thinking he was on the hook for the remaining four years and $100 million to Strasburg, why can't they try for both Rendon and Strasburg now?
- After Harper was gone, the Nationals were known to be negotiating a long-term deal with Rendon. Again, let's note that it didn't seem like Strasburg was going opt out.
- The Nationals just won the World Series, which nets ballclubs enormous windfalls. They hosted eight playoff games and playoff prices are off-the-charts expensive. Consider merchandise sales for World Series gear and extra tickets being sold for next season. These are extra revenue streams they previously didn't have while negotiating with both Harper and Rendon.
We have to be fair and point out the Nationals do run high payrolls, among the highest in baseball at times, and haven't been shy about forking over big deals in free agency. It's how they got Max Scherzer and extended Strasburg in the first place.
The Nationals were valued at $1.75 billion in April by Forbes, and that was before they won it all.
Last season, the Nationals ran a payroll of nearly $200 million. The estimated payroll right now with no offseason additions is roughly $115.8 million (). Even if they don't want to increase payroll, there's almost $85 million worth of wiggle room for next season alone -- and backloading deals is generally good business.
I simply can't find any possible explanation as to why the Nats "can only afford" one of the two star players. Is one of the richest ownership groups in baseball really going to slash payroll after winning the World Series?
Now, perhaps the Nationals are choosing to only go after one of the two players for baseball reasons -- for example, worrying about Strasburg's arm holding up into his 30s -- but that's not what Lerner said. He said they couldn't afford both. That's disingenuous and fans should be angry to hear that, especially those who spent thousands of dollars to attend playoff games.