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It’s the Messaging, Not the Methodology



Two years of ownership uncertainty was seemingly resolved on Monday when the Washington Post reported that the Nationals are no longer for sale. Assuming we take him at his word, and there’s no reason not to, Mark Lerner and his family will retain control of the franchise going forward.

 

This news has predictability generated a wide spectrum of takes. For some, the Lerner family is golden because they delivered a parade five years ago. Many are relieved Capitals/Wizards owner Ted Leonsis won’t get his hands on the team, especially after the controversial decision to move his teams to Virginia. And there is a vocal bunch who want anyone but the Lerner family in charge.

 

There is validity to all mindsets. Yes, the Lerners won a title here and that should not be glossed over. Yes, there is reason to be leery about another Leonsis enterprise in town. Yes, the Lerner family operates in befuddling fashion often.

 

Primarily at issue is the club’s lack of offseason spending in recent seasons, as well as cost-cutting measures across all areas of baseball operations. If the team was for sale, it would stand to reason that the Lerner family would look to minimize their financial obligations looking to maximize profits in a sale. While unpopular with fans, there was economic logic behind the thought process.

 

Therefore, news that no sale is coming just increased fans’ confusion at the recent lack of offseason activity. And this gets to the real issue, in my opinion. I think ownership and the front office has been smart to more or less stay on the sidelines, and I will get to that later. However, what has really tripped up this baseball operation is its messaging, not its methodology.

 

The Nats have continually conveyed one message while executing another strategy entirely. General manager Mike Rizzo has been insistent that this is a “retool” rather than a “rebuild” since the great sell-off of 2021. The organization made a big financial investment in upgrading its player development staff and technology in 2022, then promptly slashed that budget and staff after the 2023 season. Last season, Lerner declared the Nationals’ rebuild – not “retool”, so more mixed messaging – complete and the most successful rebuild in modern MLB history. Yet he fired large swaths of personnel who seemingly were part of said legendary rebuild.

 

Well, we’re entering the third straight season in which the Nats are not attempting to contend. That’s a rebuild, Mike, not a retool. If the rebuild was so great, why did you fire so many people, slash so many budgets and sit out free agency, Mark?

 

What gives?

 

In my opinion, the Nats have not done anything out of the ordinary for a typical rebuild. They have dealt all their trade chips for young talent. They have moved the big salaries they could move. They have signed rebound-candidate free agents hoping to trade them in July. They have let young players take their lumps on the field before they attempt to contend again. They have avoided adding significant payroll, hopefully keeping their powder dry for the contention phase. This is all standard operating procedure.

 

Exercising patience and taking lumps is part of the process. Most successful rebuilding teams have used the same playbook. This team is not ready to win in 2024. There was no realistic path to contention this offseason unless you want to convince yourself investing $300-400 million in Cody Bellinger and Blake Snell is a shrewd investment. They could have spent maybe $20-$30 million more to maybe build a 75-win team? That’s the worst possible outcome in a Draft Lottery-eligible season.

 

This season is about one thing and that’s getting more clarity with what you have in the farm system. Is James Wood the next Aaron Judge or just a speedy Joey Gallo? Is Dylan Crews one of the next faces of MLB or a solid 3-4-WAR outfielder? So forth and so on. This is a year to get a much better picture of what the core of your team looks like so you can plan accordingly moving forward.

 

A year from now, the never-ending MASN nightmare might be resolved. Patrick Corbin will finally be gone. The organization should be judged then.

 

With that said, the fan angst is totally understandable because this organization refuses to treat them with an ounce of respect. A little humility and transparency would go a long way. Just tell the fans to stick with you because it will pay off down the road. Don’t publicly state that you’re “casting a wide net” in free agency then deliver a class of Joey Gallo/Nick Senzel/Dylan Floro.

 

And please, I’m pleading with you, stop referencing 2012-19 and how you’re going to relive that experience. You’re not. To summon Rick Pitino: Stephen Strasburg isn’t walking through that door. Bryce Harper isn’t walking through that door. Max Scherzer isn’t walking through that door. That doesn’t mean you can’t build another championship-caliber team. If you draft/sign a few foundational young stars and spend in free agency like you did previously, you absolutely can.

 

The issue is not what you’re doing, it’s what you’re saying. The organizational arrogance coming from a group that created this mess is tone deaf to state it in its kindest form. And the continual lying to the fanbase about the true state of the franchise is flat-out disrespectful and needs to stop. You’re creating false expectations instead of painting a realistic portrait. Do better.

 

With that said, if this group of prospects pans out and you make it rain next offseason in free agency, everyone will be happy, and the ballpark will start to fill back up. Let’s try that.

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