The Lerner family, owners of the Washington Nationals since 2006, has hired the investment bank Allen & Company to identify parties interested in either investing in or buying the MLB franchise, according to The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga.
“This is an exploratory process, so there is no set timetable or expectation of a specific outcome,” principal owner Mark Lerner said in the statement to the Post. “The organization is as committed as ever to their employees, players, fans, sponsors and partners and to putting a competitive product on the field.”
Club officials had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.
Lerner’s father Ted originally purchased the team from Major League Baseball for $450 million. While the club’s value has since increased more than four times over — Forbes assessed its value as $2 billion in March — the coronavirus pandemic disrupted revenue streams for both the baseball team and the commercial real estate business that the family fortune comes from.
Under the Lerner family, the Nationals have reached the playoffs five times, culminating with a World Series title in 2019. Washington routinely sported one of baseball’s largest payrolls during the height of its contention window between 2012 and 2019. The family has also signed off on six players' contracts of at least $100 million: Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg (twice), Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin.
“To say the least, I was shocked,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said Monday, as quoted by the Associated Press. “Those are big decisions that the Lerner family had to make. I’ll support than in any way possible. This doesn’t mean my relationship with the Lerner family goes away. We’re still in this. I know know they’re very committed to this organization, as am I.”
However, the Nationals have reeled back their spending over the last few years. Ted Lerner transferred day-to-day operations over to his son Mark Lerner in 2018, the last year Washington exceeded baseball’s luxury tax threshold. The pandemic then robbed the club of its opportunity to cash in on its championship, limiting the 2020 season to 60 games with fans unable to attend. In the two years since, the Nationals have not signed a single multi-year deal with a player.
Though the franchise’s future at the ownership level is now in question, the Nationals are still in negotiations with star outfielder Juan Soto over a long-term extension. The 23-year-old reportedly declined a 13-year, $350 million offer last winter, coming off a second-place finish in NL MVP voting and his first All-Star appearance. He has three years remaining on his rookie deal, after which he’ll be eligible for free agency.
President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo has referred to Soto on numerous occasions as the team’s “No. 1 priority,” even going as far Friday to say the Nationals aren’t negotiating with other players such as first baseman Josh Bell while they work on a deal for their right fielder. Soto’s agent Scott Boras told reporters in November that his confidence in the Nationals’ ability to contend annually will be key in his decision to re-sign.
Whether Soto can place his confidence in an organization that may soon see a change in ownership remains to be seen. For now, the Lerners are exploring multiple options that will dictate the organization’s overall direction moving forward.