Washington Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner cautioned fans that while re-signing one of right-hander Stephen Strasburg or third baseman Anthony Rendon is still in play this winter, bringing both All-Stars back to D.C. is off the table.
"We really can only afford to have one of those two guys," Lerner told Donald Dell, according to Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington. "They're huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with."
Washington won the 2019 World Series while sporting a total payroll slightly above $172 million, the seventh highest in baseball. The Nationals avoided paying into the luxury tax last year but were one of two teams to cross the threshold in 2018.
Lerner didn't rule out bringing back either Strasburg or Rendon - both are represented by Scott Boras - and he maintained the Nationals are still in the running for both players.
"We're pursuing them, we're pursuing other free agents in case they decided to go elsewhere," Lerner said. "Again, it's not up to us. We can give them a great offer - which we've done to both of those players. They're great people. We'd be delighted if they stay. But it's not up to us, it's up to them. That's why they call it free agency."
Strasburg, a former first overall pick, has spent his entire major-league career with the Nationals and is the franchise's D.C.-era leader in multiple categories. He opted out of the remainder of his $175-million contract with the Nats following his World Series MVP-winning performance in order to test free agency.
Rendon, who finished third in NL MVP voting this year, rejected an offer from the Nationals in the $210-million range in September.
Suitors for Strasburg and Rendon are also said to include the Los Angeles Dodgers, who apparently met with both players recently.