This is an important time for Mark Lerner.
His father, a legendary hard-nosed businessman, stepped down as managing general partner of the Washington Nationals last June, and the son replaced him as the head of the Nationals family.
The younger Lerner now finds himself thrust into the role of speaking for the franchise and the family, as he did in an interview with 106.7 The Fan last week when he talked about the team’s offer to free agent Bryce Harper and the star’s future in Washington.
The Nationals reportedly made Harper a 10-year, $300 million offer at the end of the season. Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, passed on the offer, and Lerner reasonably reacted publicly to Harper’s preference for the free-agency path.
“When we met with them and we gave them the offer, we told them, ‘This is the best we can do,’” Lerner said in the interview. “We said, ‘If this is of interest to you, please come back to us and we’ll see whether we can finish it up.’
“If he comes back, it’s a strong possibility that we won’t be able to make it work,” Lerner said. “But I really don’t expect him to come back at this point. I think they’ve decided to move on. There’s just too much money out there that he’d be leaving on the table. That’s just not Mr. Boras’s M.O. to leave money on the table.”
My God, that is as much truth as we’ve ever heard from this ownership.
Lerner said they made Harper an offer (one that, contrary to a lot of the reaction, was a good one).
Harper may wind up getting much better offers, and if he does, don’t expect the Nationals, to match it.
Note that Lerner did not say they are done talking to Harper. Nor did Lerner close the door on another offer. He said if Boras and Harper come back with their best offer and ask the Nationals to respond, they likely won’t, if it is significantly higher than their initial offer.
That doesn’t mean that if that best offer is in the ballpark of the Lerner’s offer to Harper at the end of the season, they won’t try to better it.
And he spoke the truth about Boras — which seems to have angered the super agent.
Speaking to reporters at the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas, Boras basically accused Lerner of violating the collective bargaining agreement with players. I could give you chapter and verse about the clause Boras used to attack Lerner, but that would give it more credibility than it deserves.
This was just Boras lashing out at the notion that the Nationals might not play Boras ball at the negotiating table.
If that is, indeed, the case, it would be a refreshing change from the way the Lerners have done business over the years with Boras.
Maybe, with a new Lerner at the head of the table, the Lerner ATM may be shut down for Boras.
Here’s how it has worked before — sometimes for the good of the team, sometimes to the detriment.
Boras had a closer who needed a contract in 2013 in Rafael Soriano. Washington had a closer in Drew Storen, who they were going to go with even after his 2012 National League Division Series Game 5 blown save against St. Louis.
Boras went to Mark Lerner’s father, Ted Lerner, at the owner’s summer home in Palm Springs, California.
He left with a two-year, $28 million contract for Soriano, who had a forgettable tenure with Washington. Not a win.
In 2015, Boras had a high-profile free agent pitcher — Max Scherzer. Boras went to Palm Springs to meet with Ted Lerner, and left with a seven-year $215 million contract for Scherzer — numbers that forced the Nationals to increase their payroll budget by at least $20 million a year.
It’s turned out to be a profitable deal for everyone involved, as Scherzer has become the Nationals’ most popular and productive player, with two Cy Young awards and just missing a third this past season. A big win.
In 2017, Boras was stuck with catcher Matt Wieters. The Nationals had already dealt for catcher Derek Norris to avoid having Boras try to shove Wieters down their throats. It didn’t work. Boras made his annual winter pilgrimage to Palm Springs and came away with a two-year, $21 million deal for Wieters, who batted .239 in 199 games in two seasons for the Nationals. A big loss.
Now, if we are to believe what happened when Mark Lerner took over last June, the only thing Boras should get if he goes to Ted Lerner’s Palm Springs home to try to squeeze out significantly more free agent money for Bryce Harper is a suntan.
Boras, apparently, isn’t buying the change.
He reportedly told the media in Las Vegas that he doesn’t think Mark Lerner is calling the shots. He told reporters that when it comes to deals like this, he typically does business with Mark Lerner’s father.
Here’s what Mark Lerner should do — get Boras behind closed doors in Vegas and tell Boras that if he ever insults him like that again, there won’t be any more phone calls or meetings between the agent and owners.
Ever. Give him the number of the Nationals switchboard and tell him to leave a message for general manager Mike Rizzo.
That would undercut Boras, who likes to do business by bypassing baseball people in organizations and making his sales pitch to owners.
If Mark Lerner is truly the managing general partner of the Washington Nationals, he can’t let Boras insult him.
There is more at stake now than just Bryce Harper’s future. Who is in charge — Mark Lerner? Or Scott Boras?
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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