Mark Lerner on Nats’ spring training future, an All-Star Game in D.C. and more

February 21, 2013
(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

 

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson chatted with right-hander Dan Haren today after Haren finished throwing live batting practice, telling the newcomer to throttle down his pitches so early in camp. “That’s easier said than done when he’s watching and the owner’s watching and the GM’s watching,” Haren said later.

Principal owner Mark Lerner had been right there, sitting in a golf cart with General Manager Mike Rizzo right behind the batting cage. Lerner arrived in Viera last night and attended the workout today. Afterward, Lerner held court on a number of topics, from the future location of Nationals spring training to Washington’s chances of winning the all-star.

Here is Lerner’s conversation with reporters:

On finding a new spring training site:

We’ve still got a number of options and we continue to negotiate with the different cities and we’ll see what happens.

Could the Nationals move by spring 2014?

I would doubt it. Just 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.

On how long it’s taken to move out of Viera:

Yeah, the timing was a little bad with the economy and everything else. Florida has their economic troubles. But it’s something we have to fix. 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.

Any chance the Nats will say in Viera long-term?

We have an obligation here, we’re honoring it, but there’s nothing I can do and nothing they can do about fixing the geography problem, unfortunately. We’ve said many times they’ve been great hosts to us, and we love the people in the area. But it’s just something that we can’t fix, most likely, without moving. But we’ll continue to look at all the options and we’ll see what shakes out for us.

On development around Nationals Park:

A lot going on over at The Yards. … I don’t know how much of it’s going to be ready for Opening Day, but it’s starting to happen again. The economy is getting there. A lot of buildings that I thought would start construction there in the last 12 months didn’t, like the ones right outside the ballpark. I thought the ones, if you’re coming out the center field gate, the ones on the left, one of them would start. And they haven’t yet. There’s still issues out there, getting financing and other things that we deal with day-to-day, but I can’t wait for it all to start blossoming again. I think it’s going to be one of the great neighborhoods in town one day.

On delays in development hindering landing the All-Star Game:

I think it’s a possibility that it’s affecting it. 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 – The Bullpen, or whatever they call it. I think it’s unfortunate. I think 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. I don’t know how much of a factor it is in their decision making, but I’ve got to believe that it is. It may not be one on the list, but it could be three or four on the list. ‘Let’s see what happens around the park over the next few years.’ But I think things are going to start moving.

On the payroll exceeding $100 million:

Well, we try to be smart about it. We always have. It’s, you know, 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 one thing is for sure, we’re never going to be stupid about how we do it. We try to control it and create our own kind of cap, but this is a special year. We have obviously incredible talent, and there was a couple parts that Mike wanted. And we said, ‘Do what you need to do.’ And that’s basically how it happened. I think each year, depending on where you are in the world, that’s how you’ll fix – we’ll set our own cap of sorts.

On spring pushing Game 5 out of his mind:

Well, I don’t know if you’ll ever forget that. I think it was so unexpected for so many of us that we got that far, it was a special moment. I think these guys have grown from it, I think they’ve put it behind them — and that’s the most important people. It’s behind and in the rearview mirror. But it was a great experience and we couldn’t be in a better position than we are right now. God willing, everybody stays healthy, and we’re talking next year about how much farther we went this year.

On “World Series or Bust”:

Oh, that’s Davey Johnson. That’s all I can say.

On keeping Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg in Washington long-term:

To be smart about it, you always have to look out a number of years, and we’d certainly love to be able to keep them for the long-term. But I don’t think that’s where we are right now. I think we’re focused on this year and next year and 2015. Those decisions will take care of themselves as time goes on. But we do our projections out a few years. You have to if you’re being smart about it.

On ticket sales:

Ticket sales have been great. 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. Prices go up April 1, so if people want to take advantage of it, the next 30 days is really their time to act. But it’s been a terrific offseason. I think NatsFest helped fuel that and obviously the great year we had last year, but we’re really pleased how things are going.

On ticket sales when the Lerners bought the team:

God, I don’t even remember. All I can do is compare it to last year, really, and it’s a significant increase over last year.

On Mike Rizzo having one guaranteed year left on his deal:

I’m sure we’ll all sit down and talk when the time is right. He’s under control for a couple more years [of team options], and I think this is the place where he wants to make his home, and we certainly want him to be here, so I’m sure we’ll come to some understanding at some point in time. I think right now he’s focused on getting this team in shape, and I think that’s his number one concern.

On being at spring training now versus past year:

A little different. I was very excited about coming down. My wife and I came down yesterday. It’s a lot different. The whole atmosphere. Used to come over here, watch these games, and there’d be about six people watching. Now it’s packed every day and it’s a great bunch. It may be the most exciting team in baseball. We’ve come a long ways in four years.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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Adam Kilgore · February 21, 2013

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