Thomas Boswell: It's Time for the Nats to Put Some Pieces in Place

By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'm not quite mad as hell. And I can probably take it a little longer.

However, my fuse is getting short when I think about the Lerners' poor stewardship of the Nationals. In a week or two, if the Nats have refused to spend appropriately on free agents to improve an abomination of a ballclub, while accepting the largesse of a city that paid $693 million to build them a ballpark, then I may go Howard Beale nutty on somebody. I've already canceled the Nationals season tickets that I waited 37 years to buy.

The Lerners, who haven't made a serious offer to any major free agent since they failed to get Mark Teixeira last month, need to show that they deserve to be entrusted with the Nationals.

Does the family, led by billionaire developer Ted Lerner, understand the game as much as it loves it?

Do the Lerners appreciate the precarious state of their relations not only with fans, but with their own executives?

Do they have any idea, after a lifetime of erecting buildings, of how to build a team? Team president Stan Kasten does. But do they? By all indications, his advice is heard but not heeded.

And, most important, are they totally tone deaf to the indignation of a town that, after 33 empty years, is now given an inept team and an owner who won't spend, even in a dream market for free agents, despite the fact that, by 2010, he may field the lowest payroll team in all of baseball?

The Lerners have not spent appreciably to improve their major league roster in nearly three years as owners. They couldn't sign their first-round draft pick, ninth overall, last summer. International activity is nearly nil.

Meanwhile, their farm system, which moved up to No. 9 in baseball a year ago, has now flopped back into the bottom third, according to Baseball America, the industry standard. First-round picks Ross Detwiler, Chris Marrero and Colton Willems have regressed. A good plan has to operate at all levels at all times, including the big leagues.

In baseball's fifth year back in Washington, it is time for a city that has waited so long and paid so much to be offered a product at Nationals Park that is worth the $29-a-ticket average cost, plus pricey food and parking.

During a time of recession, baseball remains the best value in professional sports. Except in Washington.

Ted Lerner is a fine man in my book. Self-made but unassuming, philanthropic but tough, devoted to the Nats in theory but in practice perhaps out of touch with the whirlwind of frustration and perplexity that swirls throughout his organization.

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