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01/27/10 3:00 PM EST

Nats owner Lerner chats with fans

Mark Lerner:: Welcome chatters, I've been looking forward to chatting with you ... so let's get things under way.

bills187: Hi Mr. Lerner ... if you had to guess, and I know you don't know for sure, but just for fun: At what level do you think Stephen Strasburg will begin this season? Thanks!

Lerner:: That's up to Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman, and ultimately, Stephen and his performance. We don't want to rush him, but we are eager to see him move through the system as quickly as he can. We want him to take his time -- fast.

zimfan11: What's up with the Nats? When are they going to get competitive? You guys keep telling us the be patient, but we've been waiting patiently now for 30 years.

Lerner:: Believe me, nobody's more impatient than me. I waited 33 years and then would love to have gotten a team that would win immediately and perennially. That's not how it works, unfortunately.

Lerner:: I do think you will find a vastly improved team this year at Nationals Park. We picked up an experienced starter in Jason Marquis, a couple of relievers in Matt Capps and Brian Bruney, and a future Hall of Fame catcher in Ivan Rodriguez. We think that if you add those guys to our roster of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Nyjer Morgan, John Lannan and the rest of our young players, then you are going to see some immediate results.

Lerner:: Obviously, when our Draft picks, including Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, start developing, then we all believe we could have the pieces to a club that could compete in the National League East for many years to come.

bflojack: Season ticket holder here. Just wanted to say thanks for staying the course for this team. As we've seen with the Caps, a long-term strategy bears much better fruit for the sustainability of the franchise.

Lerner:: Ted Leonsis is a dear friend and mentor and is an innovative, effective owner. I have said many times that Ted has been a great influence on me ever since we first met. He laid out a plan for building a winner and it is paying off. I think the model he used with the Capitals is pretty much what we're doing with the Nats now. He also advised me that patience would be required for a long-term plan, but that the wait is worth it.

itsmeMark: Mr. Lerner, I'm not sure how much I-Rod is going to help -- his OPS hasn't been at the league average since 2004. What am I missing here?

Lerner:: We think Ivan Rodriguez has improved every team he's been a part of. He is an experienced catcher, who we believe will have an enormous influence on our young pitchers and on Jesus Flores, a young catcher who we expect will be an important player for us for a long time.

Lerner:: Pudge is also an experienced clutch hitter, and will be a valuable voice in our clubhouse. I think getting Ivan Rodriguez was a very smart move for us.

wilnieves: What are the chances of signing the Orlando Hudson this offseason? How do you think he would affect the team?

Lerner:: Coming into this offseason a focal point was improving our infield defense, Orlando and several other fine players would fulfill that need. Orlando would bring high energy, great character and above average defensive abilities to the ballclub. But we are looking at a number of other ways to fulfill that need and at this time there's no way to know how it will end up.

natsfantx: Long term, do you see the Nationals having a top 10 payroll in MLB?

Lerner:: As we said from the start, building this franchise from the ground up is not a one year or even a three year process. We knew we couldn't have success until we first built up our scouting and player development systems. We think we are now quite far down that road and are able to take the next step by both adding players from the outside and by increasing Major League payroll.

Lerner:: I think you've seen some of those efforts in the last two offseasons. I would anticipate that our payroll will continue to grow as our team grows and becomes more successful. I certainly do envision the day that our payroll is in the top ten.

zimfan11: From your perspective, how are Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo working together?

Lerner:: It might just be me, but I think that the symmetry that these two have shown in a short time is important to convey to the fan base. I think Nationals history will show that our offseason management decisions will prove to be an important turning point for our franchise.

Lerner:: Stan is a smart, funny and innovative leader. Mike is a third generation baseball guy. No frills, just baseball. Together, they make a very strong team. Watching them negotiate has been fun as well as productive. Also, the offseason support team Mike has put together is without peer in Major League Baseball.

Lerner:: Can you imagine having a bullpen of baseball knowledge any better than Kasten, Rizzo, Davey Johnson, Ron Schueler, Roy Clark and Bob Boone, among many others on our staff? Boy, you ought to hear their conversations. They know baseball. They know talent. Pretty amazing for a baseball fan when I get a chance to sit in and listen.

riz4mayor: What are you proudest of during your tenure as owner, and what is your biggest regret?

Lerner:: Good question. I think our proudest accomplishment gets measured every home game during the season, when we see fans enjoying themselves at Nationals Park. I love our ballpark and think the innovations we keep adding make it not only one of the best ballparks in all of baseball, but also one that provides the best game experience in baseball. I love going to the Park today as much as I did the first day.

Lerner:: My biggest disappointment, not so much a regret, was that there had been so little team player development when we bought the franchise and had to, literally, build from scratch. Obviously, that left us with less talent at the Major and Minor League levels for grooming, trading or competing.

Lerner:: We were balancing improvements at RFK, planning more touches for the new Nationals Park, rebuilding a farm system, acquiring new players and trying to put a big league team on the field. Any one of those tasks could have been full time jobs, but we had to pay attention to each of them at the same time. We would have loved to open our new ballpark with the players we'll have on the field this season.

Lerner:: It would have been young, talented and as full of promise as our new ballpark. I'm disappointed we didn't have the opportunity to introduce ourselves, a team representing our dream, and a new ballpark. But, on the flip side, I am thrilled we have had the opportunity to build our own way. I am extraordinarily excited about where we find ourselves today.

riz4mayor: I know you say you're a couple of pieces away from becoming a winner. Why don't you just open up your pocket book and make it happen now? I'm tired of shelling out Major League money to watch Minor League baseball.

Lerner:: With the help of Stan Kasten, who built the great Braves teams of the 90s, and with the example of a number of the clubs that have been the most successful in the era of the new collective bargaining agreement, we established a strategy to build our team from the ground up.

Lerner:: We believe the best way to build a consistent winner is to build a strong Minor League and development base, draft strong, trade intelligently and fill in with free agents as icing on the cake. If we had invested too much money in free agents without first building a strong foundation, then we would have no talent to trade, no talent to train and no talent we could afford to buy.

Lerner:: We would have invested too much for too little at the wrong time. We don't just want to win once then have to disassemble and start over every couple of years. We don't think that's good business or good baseball.

natsfantx: What kind of progress is the team making in re-establishing an international presence?

Lerner:: You know, last season Stan called upon Mike to clean up our player development program in the Dominican Republic. It was a sensitive and important task. Mike handled that challenge the same way he's handled his duties as GM, with professionalism, sensitivity and, generally, below the radar.

Lerner:: Our guys are real pros. Mike also hired Johnny DiPuglia to be the head of our Latin Operations. Johnny has an amazing track record including his most recent time with the Red Sox. We are lucky to have him here with the Nats now.

zimfan11: When is Teddy gonna win a race? If it's true that "As Teddy goes, so go the Nats" -- then Teddy won't win until the Nationals do?

Lerner:: Teddy is headstrong and committed. He still has some work to do, but I certainly want him to become a consistent winner. I can't address whether your theory about Teddy is right or not, but I promise you when we go to a World Series that Teddy will win one of the series races if I have to run down the competition myself.

Lerner:: Funny, I always ask Stan Kasten the same question. He gives me the same answer each time: "Who am I, Nostradamus?"

Lerner:: I know we're getting close to an hour ... so I'm going to take a couple more questions.

harnack: Could the policy regarding bringing food or beverage into the stadium be clarified, and reasonable, so that food be allowed in, such as homemade sandwiches and candy bars, and beverages in plastic containers?

Lerner:: Our policy since Nationals Park opened in 2008 has remained the same and those items are allowed into the ballpark. Detailed information can be found on nationals.com, under the Nationals Park A-Z Guide.

ladielover12: What's up with the youth academy you guys are building for DC children? Any progress?

Lerner:: Glad we got that question. My sister, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, who is chairperson of the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, is heading up efforts to get the program up and running. She tells me she is close to signing an agreement with an architectural firm who will be charged with the academy design, and we?re all looking forward to the official groundbreaking.

Lerner:: Thank you for all the fantastic questions submitted today. I'd like to invite everyone to join us on our annual Winter Caravan, which is already underway. More details are available on nationals.com.

Lerner:: We especially hope to see you on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park for NatsFest. It's also just 23 days until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, Fla., for Spring Training.

Lerner:: I look forward to doing another one of these chats soon. I really enjoyed this ... thanks for all your questions. GO NATS!

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.