Big Market Nats Payroll To Be Pared To $35M?!

You can take the Expos out of Montreal, but you can’t take the Expos out of the Expos. Despite a fancy new ballpark, the Nationals are heading for their worst season in four years since relocating to the District and are in a tight three-way race for the worst record in all of baseball. The only reason to show up these days is to see if Teddy Roosevelt wins the president race ever again.

Nationals President Race

Now comes word that the Nats may be considering trimming payroll next season by as much as $20 million (from $55 to $35M), frustrating a fan base and even team employees who are dumbfounded as to why the organization would continue to trot out an inferior product at a beautiful new venue in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.

The WASHINGTON POST’s Thomas Boswell has the bad news:

…the tone of the team, from executives to the clubhouse, has begun to alter as the club wrings its hands that ownership has not made a single investment in a prime free agent over the last two winters or made an important trade that increased payroll. Is the support there?

“We are making money,” said one player, “but it doesn’t look like we are spending money.”

The Nats entered this season with the game’s 26th-ranked payroll. After subtracting Paul Lo Duca, Felipe López, Jon Rauch, Luis Ayala and, if he doesn’t recover from arm miseries, Chad Cordero, that budget for ‘09 may fall by nearly $20 million from its current $55 million.

The Nats rank 19th in attendance this season, and are facing dwindling crowds as the honeymoon seems to be over between fans and Nationals Park. They also were unsuccessful in signing first-round draft pick Aaron Crow because he was asking for more than the team was willing to pay.

Teams like the Pirates, Reds, and Brewers have marketed new stadiums as a launching pad for a franchise renaissance but all have been miserable failures (until the recent modest success of the Brewers). As they limp to the finish line yet again, the Pirates drew under 12,000 fans to last night’s game against the Dodgers while the Reds attracted just shy of 15,000. And if things don’t change in a hurry, the Nats will be lucky to bring in these kinds of crowds next September.

Things are so bad that the future face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, is going on record as saying that he’s probably not going to stick around if ownership doesn’t make a commitment to making the team better:

“I love it here. It would be so much fun to win in Washington. And it’s close to home” in Virginia Beach, Zimmerman said. “But every player in this game is the same. Most of all, you want to win. If it looks like we’re going to lose 90 games every year . . . I’m not going to play here my whole career if we’re not going to win.” 

Zimmerman, who won’t be eligible for free agency for three years, already turned down a long-term offer from the club along the lines of what Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, and David Wright signed with their teams, presumably so he can get out of Dodge at the earliest possible moment.

Owner Ted Lerner has hinted that he would listen to ideas that might increase payroll, but doesn’t seem overly eager to make that happen. Nor does the stated amount in Boswell’s article ($6 to $8 million) amount to enough to sign a marquee player along the lines of Mark Teixeira or Ben Sheets.

In other words, get used to sucking, D.C.! You wouldn’t want to be taking any headlines away from the Orioles anyway.