Nationals’ Payroll “Beyond Topped Out”

The Nationals are expected to contend for a playoff spot this season, but don't look for them to add much payroll at this year's trade deadline. Principal owner Mark Lerner told reporters today, including Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, that the club's payroll is "beyond topped out." Kilgore writes that there won't be any in-season salary added to the club's $134.7MM payroll (figure via the Associated Press), which ranks ninth in the Majors and represents a $25MM increase from 2013.

As Kilgore writes, the Lerner family purchased the Nationals in 2006, which came with a $611MM investment from the city that was dubbed a "public trust." At the time, the family said it wouldn't take any profit from the organization for 10 years. Forbes recently reported that Ted Lerner (Mark's father) has a net worth of $4 billion, but that doesn't mean the Nats will simply spend as freely as possible: "We went into this thing, it’s a business," said Mark Lerner. "We’ve got to run it smartly. We’re not going to do something where we’re losing tens of millions of dollars a year."

The Nationals' future revenue and payroll is heavily dependent on the dealings with MASN Sports, the television network which airs their games but is shared with the Orioles and owned by Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Though the Nationals have fought to receive a bigger cut from the network, their request has been denied to this point. Lerner is quoted: "If we get a better contract one day, and we can use those funds to do more things, great. Right now, we don’t have anything other than what we’re currently getting, and we’re budgeting accordingly."

One way to increase revenue for the club, Kilgore adds, would be to sell the naming rights to Nationals Park, which could bring in an estimated $10MM in annual revenue. However, now "isn't the time to start looking" for a buyer, said Lerner.

The Nationals will have some contracts coming off the books following the 2014 season, as Rafael Soriano's $14MM club option seems likely to be declined and Adam LaRoche ($15MM mutual option) could potentially hit the open market as well. Scott Hairston's $2.5MM salary will also be off the books. However, they're also facing built-in raises to Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond that total $17MM as well as arbitration raises to Doug Fister, Stephen Strasburg, Tyler Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Wilson Ramos, Craig Stammen, Danny Espinosa, Jose Lobaton and Jerry Blevins.


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