SBD/February 22, 2013/Franchises

Lerner Discusses Nationals' Nine-Digit Payroll, Possibility Of An All-Star Game In DC

Lerner said ticket sales have been "great" since last year's playoff appearance
Nationals Owner Mark Lerner on Thursday "held court on a number of topics" surrounding the team as the club heads into the '13 MLB season, according to Adam Kilgore of the WASHINGTON POST. The Nationals' payroll will exceed $100M this year, and Lerner said, "We try to be smart about it. We always have. ... There’s a lot of factors in this year, obviously. People with new and larger contracts kick in, Dan Haren and (Rafael) Soriano, I think it’s something that will always be fluid." But he added the team is "never going to be stupid about how we do it." Lerner noted ticket sales "have been great" following the team's first postseason appearance. He said, "We put a cap of 20,000 season tickets earlier in the fall and we're very close to it. So it's pretty exciting that we'll have a chance to get there." Lerner was unsure how much of the planned development around Nationals Park will be "ready for Opening Day, but it’s starting to happen again." He noted the "economy is getting there." When asked if delays in development may have hindered efforts to land the MLB All-Star Game, Lerner said, "It’s a possibility." Lerner: "It's not a pretty sight when you walk out the door and see holes in the ground and the thing they have next door. ... Baseball wants to see it at least start, some things starting to happen, a few of the buildings get done. But we’re going to get (an All-Star Game) at some point" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/21). Lerner doubts the Nats will move to a new Spring Training facility by '14. He said, "With the timing, it would just be too tight. I would think next year we'll still be in Viera. You just never know what's going to happen, though. ... We can't continue to drive 100-plus miles to our closest game -- and we will get it fixed. It's just dedication to get the right kind of situation for us. It'll happen" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 2/22).

WHO'S GONNA RUN THIS TOWN? Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, appearing on ESPN Radio 980 in DC, said he thinks the market "could become primarily a baseball town, with the Redskins always being right there in the picture." He added, "I do believe -- because I’m a baseball person and a baseball fan first and foremost -- that when you put a good product on the field, a baseball team that’s an exciting team to watch with good personalities, (players) that you control over a number of years and it’s not just a one (year thing) where you’re always flipping over the roster via free agency and trades, and (fans) can really sink their teeth into these different personalities and personas." In DC, Dan Steinberg wrote, "The 'primarily a baseball town' bit is probably not accurate, for a variety of reasons. But I do think the Nats could nail down the No. 2 spot, if they haven't already" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/21).

THE FUTURE IS NOW: Nationals CF Bryce Harper is on the cover of this week's SI, and HBO’s Max Kellerman said, “Mike Trout might be the best baseball player I’ve ever seen already ... (but) what Bryce Harper just did at age 19 to the National League is pretty scary.” Kellerman said SI “doesn’t have to give him the cover based on what he’s already done,” but he “might wreck National League pitching this year” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 2/20). MLB Network’s Chris Rose said Harper “is not only the face of the Nationals," but he and Trout in two years “are undoubtedly the face of this game.” MLB Network’s Kevin Millar noted, “You’re not going out on a limb there, Chris” (“Intentional Talk,” MLB Network, 2/21).
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