Analysis: Drew Storen for Ben Revere Trade

jm021350105491It wasn’t matter of if, it was a matter of when and who the Nats would get in return for Drew Storen. Trading Storen was the only guaranteed transaction for the Nats this offseason. His time here had expired. 2016 Drew Storen personified The Guy Who Needs A Change of Scenery.

But before we get to Storen, let’s look at the other end of the trade. The Nats acquired Ben Revere from the Blue Jays, filling a hole in the outfield opened up when Denard Span left via free agency.

Revere is a certified pest. He has no power whatsoever (4 career home runs in 6 six seasons), but he gets on base (.342 OBP last season), rarely strikes out (averaging fewer than 50 per season the last 5 seasons), and he’s aggressive on the basepaths (49 SBs in 2014). Mike Rizzo choosing to target Revere tells us a few things about the 2016 Nationals.

Whether intentional or not, this team is starting to form in the image of new manager Dusty Baker. Baker a few months ago, quite controversially, said he’d like more “speed” which is more likely to come from “African-Americans.” Even if the acquisition of Revere is a coincidence, it signals more shifting towards the style of play favored by Baker. Daniel Murphy, another high contact, high speed player, signed with the Nats this week to play 2B. The high strikeout Ian Desmond will depart and may be eventually replaced this year by the speedy Trea Turner. The Nationals lineup will not only be different this year, it’ll play different. Contact. Speed. Baserunning. The 2016 Nats might be look less like the Nats and more like the Royals, who crafted a World Series team out of players built in the Ben Revere mold. It’ll be interesting to see how this new approach fits with the holdovers in the Nats lineup.

This trade also probably means the Nats are done acquiring outfielders this offseason. Assuming Revere in penciled in to CF, Michael Taylor moves to a reserve role, which is probably appropriate this stage of his career. Taylor will find plenty of at bats, occasionally platooning with the left-handed Revere in CF and filling in for Jayson Werth, who has often needed a sub the past few seasons. With Murphy also capable of playing outfield, this team has plenty of OF depth. The Storen/Revere trade also probably eliminates the likelihood, however small, of the Nationals jumping in to acquire one of the few elite free agent outfielders still on the market, Juston Upton, Chris Davis, or Yoenis Cespedes. Personally, I was holding out hope for a big free agent signing, but it was always a longshot considering the Nats current finances.

Finally, this trade closes the book on perhaps the most aggravating and tragic figure in Nationals history. Storen had a few highs in DC, but nobody had lower lows. Storen won’t be remembered for his 95 saves in Washington; he’ll be remembered for the ones he didn’t get in the playoffs. Most notably, of course, was his meltdown in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, when all he needed was one strike to win the first postseason series in Nationals history. Heartbreakingly, I remember standing in Nationals Park only two years later when Storen again failed to close out an opponent, this time the Giants in Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS.

It wasn’t the athletic failures, however, that will give Storen a deserved level of DC Sports ignominy. It’s the mental failures that make his run DC so ultimately disappointing. When the Nats replaced Storen with Rafael Soriano as closer before the 2013 season, Storen could have excelled in his new setup role. Instead, he let the “demotion” go to head until the Nats had no choice but to actually demote him to AAA. Again, last season when the Nats acquired Jonathan Papelbon, Storen could have chosen to embrace the setup job for the good of the team. Instead, he chose make it clear through the media how unhappy he was with the trade. Storen’s performance on the mound again suffered. His struggles culminated in a truly sad moment: a complete mental breakdown against the Mets in a critical game last September. Storen physically couldn’t throw a strike as he walked the bases loaded and then tying run, blowing a commanding 7-1 lead. It was clear that day Storen’s troubles weren’t physical. Whatever doubts we had about Storen’s emotional fragility were eliminated.

But that’s over now. Storen gets a new opportunity with a 2015 playoff team. If Storen again sees the mound in a deciding moment in a playoff game next season, I’ll be very curious to see if his considerable physical ability wins out over his mental frailty. Thankfully, however, that’s somebody else’s problem.

 

How much would you pay to watch the Nationals on TV?

If you’re reading this, you’re likely a fan of the Washington Nationals, so allow me to ask you a question. How much would you pay to watch the Nationals on TV? Sure, technically you already indirectly pay to watch the Nats on TV through your cable bill, but I’m posing this hypothetical as if cable TV didn’t exist. If it was the only way to watch the Nats on TV, how much would you pay for a Nats.TV internet streaming package?

$20 per season? $100? $200?

I ask this question because that’s the direction we’re headed. The cable industry is dying. Slowly, to be sure, but it’s dying. The Washington Post had an interesting article this morning about Disney, the owner of ESPN, and their looming financial trouble due to cord cutting. According to the article, ESPN has lost seven million subscribers over two years, which is a big considering how much money ESPN has been paying sports leagues to televise their games (ESPN is paying over $1 billion per season to both the NBA and the NFL).

(I wrote about how cord cutting may affect the Nationals here and here.)

What’s happening is a shift in consumer appetites. Viewers are opting out of cable in its entirety and instead relying on cheaper and more flexible providers of entertainment, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. As noted in the article, this gives sports networks like ESPN a tough dilemma. Do they jump into the growing internet streaming marketplace? Offering an ESPN streaming service might generate short-term profits, and offset the losses from lost cable subscribers, but it only increases the consumer’s incentive to cancel their cable service. I, for one, still pay for a cable subscription. Once live sports are available via streaming, I’m probably opting out too. ESPN built their empire on cable subscription fees. Once cable dies, ESPN as we know it dies too. ESPN’s dilemma is not too dissimilar from the record industry last decade: do they jump into digital music sales, even if it means people will buy more individual songs and fewer albums? History tells us the record industry saved itself from collapsing in its entirety, but sales will probably never go back to it’s peak, when consumers were forced to buy CDs if they wanted to listen to music.

ESPN has just over 90 million subscribers who pay around $7 a month for ESPN. Of course, not all of ESPN’s subscribers are sports fans. The Washington Post article noted, using basic math, if one third of current ESPN subscribers—30 million—paid $21 a month, ESPN could survive in its current state. Would you pay $21 a month to watch Monday Night Football, the MLB Wild Card Game, and the NBA Playoffs? Somewhere, an ESPN executive is praying 30 million people would answer yes to that question.

Put simply, we’re witnessing the collapse of a broken system. Cable subscribers are forced to pay for networks they don’t watch. MASN is no different than ESPN. Washington/Baltimore area cable subscribers are forced to pay for MASN even if they don’t care about the Nationals or the Orioles. The majority of non-baseball fans are actually subsidizing those of us who do watch baseball on TV.

Which leads me back to the original question. Once the cable industry implodes, whether that’s five years or 10 years from now, the cost of televising baseball on TV will likely be paid by the actual people who watch it—you and me. So how much money would you pay to watch the Nats? ESPN is hoping one third of their subscriber base like sports enough to pay three times as much. The percentage of actual baseball fans in DC is much smaller. Let’s say 10% of the area actually cares enough about baseball to pay for a MASN.TV streaming service. That audience would have to pay 10 times as much as MASN currently charges cable companies to provide the channel. Any way you slice it, a cable streaming universe probably means less money for baseball teams. Bryce Harper better sign that $500 million contract before it’s too late.

 

An outside the box idea for a Bryce Harper contract extension

Twice I’ve tried to project what a Bryce Harper contract extension would like. The first time, I followed the Mike Trout model, which included the last few years of arbitration and then a few free agency years (at a high average annual value-AAV), spitting the player back on the market when it’s the best age to be a free agent.  The second time, I followed the Giancarlo Stanton model, with a lengthy deal at an AAV you’d expect for a player of Harper’s skill level.

Both of those approaches have the their merit. In Trout’s case, if he continues to play at his current level–a safe bet–he’ll probably maximize career earnings. The Angels agreed to give Trout such a high AAV for his contract because it’s of a relatively short duration. Trout will cash in long term when he finally hits free agency. Meanwhile, he’ll have huge annual salaries ($34 million) for his first few free agency years already in the bank. The reasoning behind Trout’s approach is simple: it’s better to hit free agency when you’re 29 than when you’re 26. A 10-year contract at 28 is more valuable to the player. A 10-year deal at age 26 spits you back onto the free agent market when you’re a declining player, whereas the 10-year deal at 29 locks you into large salaries well into your late 30’s.

Stanton’s approach gives the player more certainty, but likely diminishes overall earnings. While Stanton’s total money, $325 million, looks huge, he’s actually giving away money on the front end of the deal. Stanton at his peak is worth more than the $27 million AAV he’s earning. Stanton has the option of opting out of his contract at age 30 and locking in another huge contract, but at that point he’s already been underpaid for three years of his prime. Stanton is essentially trading earning potential for certainty, which is a fair deal considering he’s already guaranteed himself $325 million. (Here’s a good read from the economist how opt-outs in contracts often benefit the team as well the player opting out).

Here’s my outside the box idea for a Bryce Harper contract extension. It follows the Trout model but carries it even further. Scott Boras is the type of agent who wants to make his client money, but also blow up the current market, rising the tide for every boat. The safe money right now says Bryce Harper will take his talent to free agency where he’ll get a record setting deal. But as demonstrated above, his deal may be record breaking in total value, like Stanton’s, but he may be selling himself short on total career earnings, even if the contract contains an opt out.

Bryce Harper is scheduled to hit the free agent market when he’s 26. For total career earnings, he would be better off hitting the market when he’s 29. A 12-year contract at 26 would pay Harper handsomely at a high AAV until he’s 38. A 12-year contract at 29 however, would pay him at a high AAV until the end of his career. Hitting the market at 38 when he’s well past him prime would give him a much smaller contract than whatever he could secure for himself if he were to sign a deal at 29.

So I propose giving Harper a 3-year “bridge” contract at age 26. But not just any bridge, a bridge that blows up the current market like Boras wants and resets what an elite player can expect to earn per season. One of the ironies of modern baseball contracts is that players who sign as free agents are actually underpaid in their primes (like Stanton). Players usually make up for this by locking in long term deals which are essentially back-loaded when you consider most of the player’s production comes on the front end.

Bryce Harper put up a 9.8 WAR season according to Baseball Reference and a 9.5 WAR season according to Fangraphs. The Nationals have their own proprietary WAR formula that we can assume is in the neighborhood. But to be safe, let’s round down to 9 WAR. Bryce Harper might regress next season because his 2015 was absolutely amazing. But what if he doesn’t? Why would he? He’s only 23. That’s the scary thing about Bryce. He’s only getting better. The Nats have to assume he’s worth at 9 WAR for the foreseeable future.

The market rate for free agents according to Fangraphs is $8 million per WAR, making Harper was worth $79.5 million last year to the Nationals.

So here’s my “radical” proposal: pay Bryce Harper what he’s worth. Offer him $70 million per year for three years. Blow up the market. Dare him to say no. Worst case scenario for Harper, he’s back on the market at the perfect time to be a free agent, with over $200 million already in the bank.

Paying that much money to one player per year seems like lunacy. It would be a tough pill for the Nats to swallow. But I’m guessing it would be tougher to see Bryce Harper walk away and win MVP awards for someone else.

 

What does the pursuit of Jason Heyward say about the direction of the Nats franchise?

Once upon a time, back when we were all young and idealistic, people talked about the Nationals having a “window of contention” that would close after the 2015 season. At the time, it sounded like a somewhat reasonable thing to say. The Nats had a star pitcher (Jordan Zimmermann), solid pitcher (Doug Fister), star shortshop (Ian Desmond), and ace reliever (Tyler Clippard) all scheduled for free agency after that season. Then, a few funny things happened. Clippard was flipped for a player with team control beyond 2015. Ian Desmond regressed so badly he suddenly looks replaceable. Fister regressed so much he won’t even be missed. Zimmermann regressed a little, but his “replacement” named Max Scherzer is already on board.

The 2015 season wasn’t the closing of a window at all. It was just another season the Nats had a chance to make the playoffs, just like the 2016 season will be. Mike Rizzo has never appeared to believe in windows of contention. He has a one year plan, a three year plan, and a five year plan. Tyler Clippard may have fit into the one year plan last offseason, but he didn’t fit into the three year plan. So Rizzo flipped him for a guy that did, Yunel Escobar. It’s only appropriate Escobar himself was just flipped for a guy that fit into this year’s five year plan, Trevor Gott, a young reliever under team control until 2021.

Rizzo has always been willing to sacrifice a little bit this year to make himself a little more competitive a couple of years down the road. Some people despise this approach and there’s merit to the criticism. Flags fly forever, and it’s a shame to see a team miss out on a championship when they’re a few attainable pieces short. But Rizzo wants this team to be in the race every season. His fear is a Phillies situation, where a team has an extended run that suddenly turns into a long, miserable rebuild. As someone who lived through a long miserable rebuild in DC from 2006-2011, I see merit in this approach as well.

So, Jason Heyward. Where does he fit? It’s somewhat surprising to see the Nationals so heavily in the bidding. I won’t try to pinpoint the value of Heyward and whether he’s worth the $200 million figure being thrown around. Any discussion of Heyward’s value inevitably devolves into a wormhole of WAR and the reliability of defensive metrics. I’m more interested in what the signing of Heyward would mean for the direction of the Nats franchise.

Heyward seems like an odd choice for the 2016 season. Sure, he makes the Nats a better team, but there are less expensive options to fill whatever hole Heyward is filling. A Werth-Taylor-Harper outfield seems like a solid outfield. If you fear further injury/regression from Werth, there are cheaper insurance plans. If you don’t believe Taylor is ready for a full time job, there are more affordable outfielders available until the Nats organization produces a full time CF. The Nats don’t need Heyward next year; there are other more noticeable holes on this roster (catcher, middle infield, 5th starter, and of course bullpen).

But if there’s one pattern we’ve noticed with Rizzo and free agent signings, it’s his willingness to use the free agent market to fill long term needs over short term ones. The Nats didn’t need Werth when they signed him in 2011, but signing him then made sure he was on board when the Nats expected to contend in 2012-14. The Nats didn’t need Max Scherzer last season, but signing him last year ensured he’d be in the rotation in 2016, when the team would otherwise be lacking an ace. Heyward would fit this pattern. The Nats may be able to scrape by this year with their current outfield, but 2017 (Werth’s last season) and definitely 2018 will need him.

Here’s another completely different way to look at it. Rizzo may not believe in windows. I do. Bryce Harper will only be here three more years. It’ll be the same three years Scherzer is still at his peak, Rendon will be entering his prime and Ryan Zimmerman will be finishing his (whatever that looks like). Some Nats fans have expressed misgivings over devoting so much money to a guy like Heyward when they believe the Nats limited resources would be “better spent” on a Harper contract extension. Folks, there’s no guarantee Harper wants to stay here. There’s not even a guarantee he’s willing to take seriously the prospect of avoiding the free agent process by signing an extension. Instead of worrying about keeping Harper past 2018, wouldn’t you rather maximize the Nats chances while he’s actually here?

Mike Rizzo’s actions in the past indicate he doesn’t believe in windows of contention. Loading up on free agents now while this roster appears to be somewhat close to a championship might be the first sign Rizzo is changing his mind.

Sports’ Cable TV Bubble is still inflated, and the Nationals still can’t cash in

The sports business is a weird little business. Zack Greinke, a 32 year-old pitcher, signed a six-year, $206.5 million contract with the ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS and it hardly anyone was surprised. And why would they be? Greinke’s contract wasn’t even the largest contract signed by a pitcher that week. Even the entry of Diamondbacks into the $200 million marketplace wasn’t that surprising considering Arizona recently signed a $1.5 billion TV contract.

Instead of the usual hand-wringing about rising salaries in sports, a significant amount of the commentary centered around this counterintuitive point: baseball players, even with all their guaranteed nine-figure contracts, are actually underpaid considering how much revenue baseball teams create in the new Cable TV marketplace. Indeed, the players’ shares of revenues has actually decreased since 2002 from 56% to less than 40%.

In the short term, we can expect to see more Zack Greinke-like deals. The lucrative local TV deals being signed by MLB teams means many owners are sitting on mountains of cash, and many of them can spend it on players like Greinke while keeping significant profits for themselves. It’s really hard to imagine this trend reversing itself in the immediate future. Baseball free agency structure keeps young players out of the free agency marketplace for at least six seasons, most of which are in the players’ prime years. Players like Greinke who are fortunate enough to remain productive long enough to see free agency, can continue to expect to see huge contracts as long the Cable TV bubble doesn’t pop. A few months ago, considering his age and productivity, I projected Bryce Harper would be worth over $500 million on the free agent market, and I didn’t even feel silly doing it.

In the long-term, however, the Cable TV bubble will pop, or at least suffer from a slow leak. It has to. The current model is completely unsustainable. Cable TV companies bankroll their billion dollar baseball deals by charging all their customers, not just the baseball fans, monthly subscriber fees to carry regional sports networks like MASN. Cable customers don’t have the option of opting out. They do have the option, though, of cancelling cable altogether, which is exactly what’s happening. ESPN, the King of Sports Networks, has lost seven million subscribers in the past two years, and the network’s highly-publicized layoffs indicate they expect to lose a lot more in the near future. The biggest threat to baseball owners isn’t a labor strike or the threat of a recession. It’s Netflix. And Amazon. And Hulu, or any other entertainment alternative to traditional cable. We forget, with all the publicity sports receive, most of the general public simply doesn’t care and when these folks opt out of cable and stop paying for sports networks they don’t watch, they’re not coming back.

So, where do the Nats fit in? A few months ago, I speculated whether the shifting marketplace would cause the Nats to miss out on cashing in while the cable TV bubble was at its most inflated. With the recent MASN court ruling, a resolution to the Nats uncertain TV situation is even further in the future. Meanwhile, more teams like the Diamondbacks will lock in billion dollar deals, and many of those teams will give out Greinke-like free agent contracts.

The time bomb in this scenario, of course, is Bryce Harper. The Nats can survive on the field letting players like Jordan Zimmermann leave via free agency as long as they’re drafting and scouting well. Harper, though, is the only player irreplaceable both on and off the field. Losing Harper would be a demoralizing blow to the fanbase and would also rip a once-in-a-generation talent out of the lineup just as he’s entering his prime.

So as we speculate about the Nats future, it’s only fair to consider sports’ Cable TV bubble. If the Diamondbacks can afford to give 32 year-old Zack Greinke $200 million, the Dodgers can surely afford to give 25 year-old Bryce Harper $500 or $600 million. While rooting for the Nats on the field, perhaps we should be rooting for the Cable TV bubble to leak a little bit faster. If the Nats can’t cash in while the bubble is still inflated, their best hope is that it goes away altogether. Tell your friends who don’t watch sports to cancel their cable. Get an Apple TV. Tell them to stop paying for sports networks they don’t watch. The people who continue to pay $200 a month for cable are the ones who allow the D-Backs to pay Greinke far more than he’d otherwise be worth, and they’ll be the ones who allow the Dodgers to give Harper an offer he can’t refuse when he finally hits free agency.

What would a deal between Comcast and Leonsis mean for the Nationals, Orioles, and MASN?

The five-year old MASN dispute between the Nationals and Peter Angelos made news last week when the Orioles won a victory in the New York Supreme Court vacating the previous MLB arbitration decision awarding the Nats $60 million a year in TV rights fees. The victory was a temporary one for the O’s with only one major implication: this dispute is guaranteed to linger even longer than we originally thought. Fans hoping for a resolution to this mess will only have to wait.

In the aftermath of this decision came news this morning in the Washington Post Ted Leonsis’ Monumental Sports is negotiating a deal with ComcastSportsNet to own a piece of the Regional Sports Network (RSN). This development, if it comes to fruition, is notable to Nats fans for many reasons, and it raises some obvious questions.

First, Leonsis is now making a deal the Lerner family can only dream of making. Leonsis is following the industry trend in sports, where teams gain an equity share in a local RSN, a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties. For the RSN, an equity partnership guarantees long-term rights to televise the team’s games, locking in live, local, and daily content, which is especially valuable in the DVR and “cord-cutting” era. For the team, an equity partnership ensures lucrative annual equity payments from the RSN and a protection against “carriage battles” (like MASN faced in 2005) since the RSN is owned by the cable provider.

By locking in Capitals and Wizards games long-term, CSN would make itself a valuable property in the foreseeable future. Were Leonsis to take his Capitals and Wizards broadcasts elsewhere, the network would likely shrivel up and die. It’s hard to imagine CSN surviving on DC United and Washington Kastles broadcast alone; they would need a flagship property among the four major sports to justify it’s carriage fee to cable subscribers. In return, Leonsis will see what promises to be high equity payments equal to a third of CSN’s revenue. This is huge for not only Leonsis’ personal wealth, it largely secures the financial security of his two teams.

Meanwhile, the Lerners are stuck in neutral in the middle of a nightmare scenario. The owners of the Nats lack to autonomy to strike a deal like the one Leonsis is making. Instead of getting equity in a large RSN like CSN, they have to settle for a smaller equity stake in MASN, plus a rights-fee which is currently the subject of litigation between the O’s and Nats. The biggest problem here, and one of the biggest complaints about MASN in general (besides Bob Carpenter), is that MASN leaves far too much money on the table with the way it is structured. The monthly per-subscriber carriage fee is generally believed to be much lower than what you would expect for a network carrying two valuable properties like the Orioles and Nationals. Put simply, baseball is the most valuable local television property simply because it’s live and it’s every day. Comparatively speaking, local baseball games rate very well in the right demographic advertisers are trying to reach. This isn’t my opinion, it’s fact reflected in the huge deals being struck around the country by baseball teams with local television providers.

The Orioles are fine with the fact MASN brings in less money than it otherwise could because they’re keeping the largest piece of the pie. They’d rather have the majority of smaller pot than risk a new financial arrangement where they would most assuredly be given a smaller piece considering how much smaller a market Baltimore is than Washington D.C. So the Orioles will fight and defend an outdated cable TV deal struck in 2004 before the Expos even moved to DC. The Nats can only sit and watch Leonsis take advantage of a new lucrative industry trend while Peter Angelos litigates in state court the right continue the trend of 10 years ago.

Prior to Leonsis striking a deal with Comcast, CSN likely represented the best compromise between the O’s and the Nats. CSN is carried in both Baltimore and Washington and they likely would have jumped at the chance to carry the Orioles and Nats, a move that would have instantly doubled the network’s value and made it a giant in the mid-Atlantic region. Now it’s fair to wonder if Leonsis has crowded the O’s and Nats out of the market place. It’s really hard to imagine CSN forming an equity partnership with Monumental, the O’s AND the Nats. Leonis got the table first, and now there’s no other RSN with the clout of Comcast to take its place. The O’s and Nats missed their opportunity back in 2014 when MLB tried to negotiate a sale of MASN to Comcast.

So Ted Leonsis is the winner. He not only secured his own financial future, he stuck it to a local competitor. For the Nats, it’s likely MASN today, MASN tomorrow, and MASN forever. Even if the Nats Houdini themselves out of the MASN deal, or Peter Angelos has an out-of-body experience and decides to compromise, there is one less option on the table. Comcast two years ago provided the Nats the easiest and most profitable way out of this MASN thicket. Now, as they watch the slow wheels of justice turn in the New York state court, the Lerners get to see the Comcast option taken by Ted Leonsis, a fellow sports owner lucky enough to never be forced to do business with Peter Angelos.

Explaining the MASN court decision in non-legal terms 

You’re probably confused about the MASN court decision, which is totally fine. If I wasn’t a lawyer, and I hadn’t read the decision myself, I’d be confused too. The reporting on the MASN issue has been particularly sparse. Reporters who cover baseball are not business reporters, nor are they lawyers (most of the reporting I’ve seen looks more like spin, leaked from one of the parties). To save you time, here’s my very brief analysis of today’s decision in non-legal terms so anyone can understand it. 

Background

The MASN contract requires the network (majority owned by the Orioles) to pay the Nationals the right to broadcast their games. Every five years, the parties renegotiate these fees and go to arbitration if they don’t agree, which is exactly what happened here. The arbitration panel ruledin 2014, attempting to forge a compromise between the Nats and the O’s. The O’s didn’t want a compromise, they wanted to win, so they appealed the arbitration decision in court. 

The Court Case

To win, the Orioles had to prove there was something wrong with the arbitration. Like most lawyers do, the attorneys representing the O’s threw as much as they could against the wall, hoping something would stick. Among other things, they argued: fraud on the part of MLB when drafting the MASN contract, collusion between MLB and the Nats during the arbitration process, a conflict of interest for the arbitration panel members, and a conflict of interest for the attorneys representing the Nationals. In short, the O’s were hoping to get the arbitration award thrown out, so they could get another hearing and an award that required MASN to pay the Nats less money. 

The Decision

The Orioles won. The arbitration award was thrown out. However, the court rejected most of their arguments. The only argument they agreed with: there was a conflict of interest for the attorneys representing the Nationals. 

Analysis

It’s a hollow victory for the Orioles. The arbitration award is thrown out, but on relatively narrow grounds. If there’s no appeal, or if this decision is upheld on appeal, there will still be another arbitration hearing, this time without the conflict of interest. The Nationals might get an even bigger award next time. TV rights fees have only risen since the last hearing. The biggest impact for the Nats, however, is in the short term. The have more uncertainty about their TV rights, and they’ll continue to wait for more TV money. This isn’t good news for Nats fans, but today’s “win” isn’t exactly a windfall for the Orioles either. The main battle is still to be fought. Either side could win.