With the Washington Nationals’ unresolved ownership and stadium lease issues hanging over the franchise’s head, season ticket sales are down and attracting free agents isn’t easy. To make matters worse, writes the Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin and Barry Svrluga, the not-so-subtle threat of the club leaving DC has been leaked.

Another MLB official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the subject is so sensitive, said the league’s formal response to a failure by the city to endorse the lease likely would be to announce that baseball was forced to “explore any and all options” for the Nationals’ future. The implication: Baseball might seek to move the Nationals, or even revive the concept of contraction, eliminating the franchise as part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union.

“The fact is, there are a number of cities that had even more generous deals on the table than we did,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday during a radio interview on WTOP-AM. “[MLB] could potentially try to leave, and we could be out money for damages.”

Beyond pursuing arbitration, however, the league has revealed little about its worst-case scenario strategy. Top executives from both the league and the union declined interview requests yesterday. However, one such executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, played down the possibility the Nationals would be contracted, citing the obvious market value of the franchise and the potential windfall its sale would bring to MLB’s other 29 owners.

“Anyone who brings up contraction [in this negotiation] is just posturing,” the official said. “They’re not going to contract. We’re not talking about the Expos anymore — losing $40 million a year in Montreal. We’re talking about a team worth $450 million, that made $10 million last year.”