After a dozen years as the front-man in the Nationals’ ownership, Ted Lerner is transferring control of the organization to his son, Mark, reports Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. The move has already been unanimously approved by the other 29 owners, per the report. Both Ted, 92, and Mark, 64, have issued statements to Svrluga regarding the transfer, and the column is full of quotes from Mark on his new role as well as the organization’s future.
While many ownership changes and transfers are followed by shakeups on the baseball operations side of the equation, that doesn’t sound to be the case in this instance. The younger Lerner notes that most of the team’s larger decisions have been a collaborative family effort. Ted Lerner, his three children (Mark and sisters Marla and Debra), and their spouses have all been weighing in on major ownership-level decisions, even if Ted ultimately had final say. “I don’t think you’ll see much difference in the way Dad and the family running it vs. myself and the family,” said Mark.
Of course, many will wonder exactly what this means for the Nationals’ future with Bryce Harper. The 25-year-old is set to become a free agent following the season, and the rapport between Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, and Ted Lerner has been well-documented. Svrluga notes that Boras negotiated contracts for Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth (presumably, among others) directly with Ted Lerner. The Nats have no shortage of Boras clients on their roster, with Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Matt Wieters, Jeremy Hellickson and Gio Gonzalez all repped by the Boras Corporation (as can be seen in MLBTR’s Agency Database).
Mark calls the relationship between Boras and his father both “interesting” and “successful,” adding that he expects his father to be involved in future negotiations with Boras (i.e. the Harper negotiations) as long as he wants to be. Regarding Harper, specifically, Mark says the outfielder “feels like a member of the family” and speaks optimistically about being able to retain the outfielder on a deal that “makes sense for the long-term vision of the club.”
Nationals ownership already resolved one key issue earlier this season, extending general manager Mike Rizzo through the 2020 season and thus ensuring that he’ll continue to serve as the primary voice overseeing baseball operations, having already done so since 2009. Manager Dave Martinez, meanwhile, is in the first season of a three-year deal that contains a club option for the 2021 season.
The manner in which the Nationals handle the managerial and coaching staff following today’s transfer will be an interesting scenario to follow in the coming years. The organization has become notorious for having short leash on its field staff; Dusty Baker, for instance, was surprisingly cut loose after consecutive NL East titles, and Martinez is somewhat incredibly the seventh manager of the team dating back to 2009. That’s long been attributed to ownership rather than Rizzo, who reportedly fought to keep Baker at the helm before ownership made the call to dismiss him. There’s likely no way to know exactly how (or if) that’ll change in the short-term, with Martinez in his first season as skipper. The 2019 and 2020 seasons figure to be more telling in that regard, though, especially if the Nationals either fail to make the postseason or endure yet another NLDS exit.
Generally speaking, however, it doesn’t sound as if the transfer will bring about radical change in the operation of the club in the near future. Furthermore, it sounds as if the Lerner family plans on retaining control of the organization for years to come. Svrluga notes that a third generation of Lerners is already becoming involved in the business, and Mark Lerner spoke candidly about the fact that he and his siblings have had zero thoughts about selling the team. “We well never sell the Nationals,” said Mark. “…[C]ertainly while I’m alive and my sisters and brothers-in-law are alive — nobody’s going to sell this team.”