On one level I feel bad for the Nats with respect to their TV situation. They did have a deal with the Orioles and MASN that was to increase the amount they are paid by the Orioles-owned TV network over time. The Orioles and MASN have reneged on that and litigated it and have done everything they can not to pay the Nats more money under the deal. Finally, either their lawyers or Major League Baseball or someone messed up the legal strategy in such a way that this dispute has dragged on even longer than it should have and now there is no end in sight.
But on another level, they should not be allowed to use this as an excuse for failing to improve their club, and that sounds like exactly what they are doing. From the Washington Post, reporting on Nats’ ownership’s statements in a sworn affidavit in the ongoing legal saga:
“While the Nationals have a strong business, with access to revolving credit lines, and maintain adequate cash reserves, the Nationals nevertheless have various cash flow needs necessitated by payroll and other ongoing expenses,” Cohen said. “MASN’s underpayment of rights fees has already required the Nationals to fund payroll and other expenses from its own reserves, and further delay could require the Nationals to seek further financing.
“This is not only burdensome in its own right, but it places the Nationals at a competitive disadvantage to other baseball clubs, which typically receive fair market value from their regional sports networks for their telecast rights.”
The Nationals made a reported $200 million offer to Jason Heyward, a reported $100 million offer to Yoenis Cespedes and made efforts to get Darren O'Day, Brandon Phillips and others this offseason. In the past couple of years they have given MONSTROUS sums of money to Max Scherzer and several other free agents. They have one of the higher payrolls in all of baseball, sought to send it higher this winter and at no time have been reported to be insolvent or even particularly struggling. They draw well, have a favorable stadium deal and have owners who are freakin’ billionaires.
The Washington Nationals are not getting the money they deserve under a certain media deal and that needs to be addressed, but it is NOT keeping them from fielding a competitive team. To the extent free agents don’t want to come to Washington it’s either because the Nats’ pursuit of them has been somehow lacking or, possibly, the Nationals’ dysfunction over the past year or two is enough to scare them away.
All of which is to say that the Nats owners are either making excuses to their fans for their failures, trying to puff up their damages in litigation or, in all likelihood, both. Don’t buy it for a second.