Mark Lerner: Nats can't 'afford' both Strasburg and Rendon

Ben Krimmel
December 06, 2019 - 9:01 am

Washington Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner says the team can't afford to re-sign both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon.

“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with, so we're pursuing them, we’re pursuing other free agents in case they decided to go elsewhere.”

While this does not close the door to either or even both returning to the club, these comments (the first from Lerner since the season ended) could be interpreted as a message to the fans to prepare them for the eventuality of losing one or two key pieces to the title-winning team. (These comments are similar to Lerner telling Grant & Danny a year ago this week that the club's offer to Bryce Harper was "the best we can do" and the negotiations "went right to the finish line very quickly.")

“Again, it’s not up to us. We can give them a great offer, which we’ve done to both of those players," Lerner said about Strasburg and Rendon. "They’re great people. We’d be delighted if they stay. But it’s not up to us, it’s up to them. That’s why they call it free agency.”

When it comes to money, afford is a relative term for the Lerner's. The Nationals' ownership group is one of the wealthiest in all of American professional sports and high salaries for top talent is an expected cost of business, especially for an organization that wants to be competitive and is coming off a World Series win

However, Lerner could be referring to his desire to stay under the competitive balance tax, which was something he has spoken about before. While there is no cap on salary spending for baseball, the Nationals current 40-man payroll for the 2020 season stands a touch over $129 million, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, which is about $80 million under the luxury tax threshold. 

“They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas, there’s a negotiation that goes on, but...We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.” 

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