Bud Selig Defends Nationals and Lerner Family

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ST. LOUIS, July 14 -- Facing pointed questioning about the state of the embattled Washington Nationals franchise, Commissioner Bud Selig said he did not feel the need to defend the team's owners, then did exactly that, saying the Lerner family understands "what they need to do" and insisting the team is "on the right track."

"They bought a team from Montreal that didn't really have anybody there," Selig said of the Lerners, who bought the Nationals from Major League Baseball in 2006. The Nationals previously moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005. "I've evaluated [every team's] farm systems, and I think they're on the right track. They need to continue on that track, and they know that."

Pressed to explain why he feels the Nationals -- who lost 102 games in 2008 and are on pace for 114 losses this year -- are on the right track, Selig said: "Because I've been talking to them, and . . . I know what they have in their farm system. And while obviously this has been very painful for them, I have every confidence [the Lerners] know what they're going to do."

Asked about the Nationals' attempt to sign Stephen Strasburg, the former San Diego State pitcher whom they made the No. 1 overall draft pick on June 9, Selig said: "They're very sincere about signing Strasburg, and I'm hopeful they will, and I know they are going to make him a very meaningful offer. . . . I have faith in the Lerners and the Nationals."

In other remarks Selig made Tuesday during his annual question-and-answer session with members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America:

-- He rebutted recent claims by some agents that the owners were colluding against free agents in order to keep salaries down. "Given the world we live in and what's happened [to the economy] in the past 18 months . . . I can't fathom that anybody can think that," Selig said.

-- He said a rule change is needed to prevent players on drug-related suspensions from playing in minor league games to ease into playing shape ahead of their reinstatements, as Los Angeles Dodgers star Manny Ramírez did this summer. Ramírez was suspended for 50 games under the drug policy, and played in several minor league games before returning to the Dodgers on July 3.

"I think that's something we need to really change in our next labor negotiations," Selig said before adding, "You [should] sit out the 50 games, then you do what you have to do to get ready."

Still Haven't Spoken

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' lone all-star, said before the game that he had not spoken to either interim manager Jim Riggleman or acting general manager Mike Rizzo on Tuesday about Sunday night's firing of Manny Acta, and said he would not be attending Riggleman's initial team workout Wednesday at Nationals Park.

"I'm taking a day off," Zimmerman said.

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