Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon were key components in the Washington Nationals winning the franchise’s first World Series title this year, but Mark Lerner, the team’s principal owner, is already preparing to say goodbye to at least one of them in free agency.
“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington in a interview excerpt published Thursday. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”
The Nationals ended the 2019 season with a total payroll of nearly $228 million, according to Spotrac.
Lerner said the team has made offers to both players but is making backup plans in case either or both players leave.
“It’s not up to us,” Lerner said. “We can give them a great offer, which we’ve done to both of those players. They’re great people. We’d be delighted if they stay. But it’s not up to us; it’s up to them. That’s why they call it free agency.”
Lerner’s comments drew a response from Strasburg and Rendon’s agent, Scott Boras, who indicated to The Athletic via text that the Nationals have plenty of revenue to support big free-agent deals if they want to.
“The franchise value has increased by nearly $2 billion since their purchase,” Boras wrote. “The Nationals made an extra $30 million winning the World Series. Attendance will increase by more than four to five hundred thousand. TV ratings and advertising rates all skyrocketed.”
Strasburg, 31, became a free agent after winning the World Series MVP and opting out of the final four years of his contract. He had a career-high 18 wins and led the National League with 209 innings pitched in 2019.
Rendon, 29, is considered the top offensive free agent after having a career season in which he hit .319 with 34 home runs and 126 RBIs while finishing third in National League MVP voting.
He has already met with the Dodgers and Texas Rangers. Some high-ranking club executives told ESPN’s Buster Olney earlier this week that Rendon would be the first of the mega-dollar free agents to come off the board.
This isn’t the first time Lerner has prepared Nationals fans to see one of their stars leave. He used a similar tactic with Bryce Harper last offseason, saying the Nationals had maxed out their offer for the outfielder, who ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
NBC Sports Washington’s full interview with Lerner is set to air Dec. 17.