WASHINGTON — Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner says the club’s payroll is “beyond topped out” and that his family is “not going to do something where we’re losing tens of millions of dollars a year.”
In a rare, wide-ranging session with reporters before Washington’s home opener against the Atlanta Braves on Friday, Lerner said the Nationals are still negotiating about their future Florida spring training home with current site Viera and possible new spot Palm Beach.
Even if the team decides to move its Grapefruit League base, Lerner said it’s likely the Nationals will spend one or two more years in Viera.
He said sales of full season tickets and equivalents at Nationals Park were “a little bit ahead of last year,” and “just short” of 20,000, where the team would cap such plans.
According to figures obtained by The Associated Press from management and player sources, the Nationals’ opening day major league payroll was $134.3 million, which put them ninth out of 30 clubs.
That total represents an increase of more than $20 million from 2013, and more than $50 million from 2012, according to AP calculations.
“We’re beyond topped out. Our payroll has skyrocketed to like $140 million. … I don’t think we can go much further with the revenue streams that we have,” Lerner said.
Asked about what the team’s 2015 payroll might look like, Lerner responded: “We take it one at a time. We’ll look at it after the season as far as what we can do. We went into this thing — it’s a business. We’ve got to run it smartly. We’re not going to do something where we’re losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Anybody can understand that.”
His father, Ted, the team’s managing principal owner, is a real estate magnate who has a net worth of $4.4 billion, according to Forbes.com.
The Lerners took over the Nationals from Major League Baseball in 2006, the year after the club moved from Montreal to Washington.
The team has remained at Space Coast Stadium in Viera for spring training, but the Lerners have been looking into other options. One possibility is to move to Palm Beach, where a new stadium would need to be built.
“It’s been a long process, but hopefully sometime in the next few months, we’ll cut a deal with somebody,” Lerner said.
On other topics, Lerner said the club hasn’t “actively been looking in the past few years” for a naming rights sponsor for Nationals Park, and that the owners “really weren’t pursuing” having a retractable roof put on the stadium.
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