With the July 31 trade deadline weeks away, the Nationals could add a player as needed — but all with the long-term goal of building the franchise into a consistent contender, principal owner Mark Lerner said Friday. While the team’s ownership has enjoyed the current success and winning, it doesn’t mean that the Nationals will pursue players in trades that will solely help them win now.
“If [General Manager Mike Rizzo] feels there’s a part out there that he thinks will help us, we’ll talk to them,” Lerner said. “But really, we’re not really interested in rentals. If there’s somebody available that we can get more than a rental period and he wants to pursue it, be glad to discuss it. But it’s his call. Right now, everybody is very happy standing pat.”
Calling up rookie phenom Bryce Harper in late April represented a shift in the Nationals’ mentality. Even when they labored at the bottom of the standings, they focused on player development. Harper’s promotion, ahead of schedule, was because winning had now taken precedent.
Lerner said the team wants to win this season but not at the cost of adding players essentially for the season’s final months and just for a playoff push. Injuries may change that. But Lerner said he is content with the team’s chemistry and doesn’t want to tamper with it.
“This is a long-term thing,” he said. “We want to make sure we have an organization that is consistent and not a one-time wonder. It’s great where we are and hopefully good things can happen this season but this is not something for one-and-done. We want to make sure that we are consistent every year, like the Braves of the ’90s and the early 2000s. That’s our goal, to have that kind of quality and consistency. And always be a player, even in a bad year, when you’re trying to get a wild card, even in an off year.”
The Nationals have the lowest team payroll in the National League East at $81 million, and in the bottom third of the major leagues. Lerner said the team wouldn’t be frightened to spend more, if needed.
“The number doesn’t mean anything to us,” he said. “… Whether it’s 50 or 120 [million], it’s a team we feel very comfortable with. We’ve always intended to have a mixture of youth with veterans. And I don’t think it makes you better because we’re spending another whatever million to get up to over 100 [million]. It doesn’t make a difference. We’re going to do what we think it right and smart, and people know by now we’re not shy about spending money. It’s just we have to be smart about it.”
After six straight losing seasons, there’s a different buzz to what’s happened this season, Lerner said, and it’s helping erase those previous difficult seasons.
“Winning is contagious in every facet of the organization,” he said. “It’s a great healer.”
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