- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ST. LOUIS | Baseball commissioner Bud Selig offered up full-throated support Tuesday for the Lerner family, insisting the Washington Nationals’ ownership group has the franchise headed on a path toward success despite its struggles on the field, at the ticket gate and in the standings.

“While obviously this has been painful for them, I have every confidence they know what they’re going to do,” Selig said. “And they’re going to do it.”

Speaking to members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at his annual All-Star question-and-answer session, the commissioner fielded three inquiries about the Nationals. He was asked twice about the Lerner family’s stewardship of the club and once about the negotiations with No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, which are expected to intensify soon.

In each case, Selig supported the Nationals’ business practices and praised the Lerners. After losing a major league-worst 102 games last year, Washington has dealt with scandals that led to the departures of former general manager Jim Bowden and top assistant Jose Rijo, an 18 percent decrease in attendance at Nationals Park and a 26-61 first half that led to manager Manny Acta’s firing this week.

Since officially taking control of the franchise on July 21, 2006, after it moved from Montreal, the Lerners have guided the Nationals to a .397 winning percentage. Selig, though, cited the club’s progress in rebuilding a barren farm system as evidence of improvement.

“Look, you’re never going to have 30 teams on top,” he said. “They understand what they have to do. I really think they’re in the process of doing it. They bought a team from Montreal that didn’t really have anybody there. It wasn’t like they were even able to start themselves. But they understand what they have to do, and I have every confidence that they will do that.”

Staunchly opposed to clubs doling out excessive signing bonuses to draft picks, Selig understands the Nationals will have to go “above slot” to lock up Strasburg before the Aug. 17 deadline. The former San Diego State right-hander, who on Tuesday won the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top amateur player, and agent Scott Boras are seeking a contract that far surpasses the record $10.5 million the Chicago Cubs gave Mark Prior in 2001.

“They’re very sincere about signing Strasburg, and I’m hopeful that they will, and I know they’re going to make him a very meaningful offer,” Selig said. “Now, what happens from there is going to be up to Mr. Boras and Mr. Strasburg and what they want to do and what the Nationals want to do.”

Selig did go out of his way to tout several All-Stars who signed for less than the recommended slot - including Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder - and pointed out that they’re all “doing pretty well.”

“I have faith in the Lerners and the Nationals,” the commissioner said. “They understand what they have to do, and they have to do it. I understand that. And they’ll be very, very responsible.”

Selig also mentioned the District as one of several cities seeking to host a future All-Star Game. The 2010 (Anaheim) and 2011 (Arizona) games already have been awarded, but 2015 appears to be the soonest the Nationals are likely to receive strong consideration.

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