Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

2016 Nationals Payroll Projection


Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via

Werth is still the high-man on the payroll. Photo via

So, one big factor in any team’s off-season plan is figuring out exactly what the payroll is going to look like, to figure out what their budget is, and then go shopping from there.  This post goes through the guys we have under contract as we speak to try to do some projections of what we already have committed in terms of 2016 dollars and therefore draw some conclusions about how much FA shopping/veteran salary acquisition we’ll be doing this coming off-season.

(note: all this data is, of course, in a Google XLS for your perusal and/or available as a Link to the right).

The 2015 Nats opening day payroll (according to Cots) was $162,014,559.  This represented about a $25M bump from the previous year and included a significant amount of money heading to Free Agents in the last year of their deals.  Here’s the list of Salary immediately coming off the books from the 2015 team:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 Salary
Zimmermann, Jordan 2yr/$24M (14-15) 7.5 and 16.5 $16,500,000
Desmond, Ian 2yr/$17.5M (14-15), 6.5 and 11 $11,000,000
Span, Denard 5 years/$16.5M (10-14), $9M club opt 15 $9,000,000
McLouth, Nate 2yr/$10.75M (14-15) with opt $5,000,000
Thornton, Matt 2yr/$7M (14-15) $3,500,000
Janssen, Casey 1yr/$5M (15) 2016 optn $3,500,000
Uggla, Dan 1yr/mlb min (15) $507,500
Johnson, Reed 1yr/1M (15) $1,000,000
Fister, Doug 1yr, $7.2M (14) (arb2) $11,400,000
sum –> $61,407,500

So, that’s $61M coming off the books.  I’ve counted the option buyout dollars for the 2016 options of Janssen and McLouth in the 2016 figures, but this is still a significant sum.

So, 61M coming off the books; how much are we committed to for 2016 as things stand?

First, lets look at dollars committed to Existing Veteran Players under Contract:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Scherzer, Max 7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred $17,142,857 $15,000,000
Werth, Jayson 7 yr/$126M (11-17) $21,571,429 $21,571,429
Zimmerman, Ryan 6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt $14,000,000 $14,000,000
Gonzalez, Gio 5yr/$42M (12-16)+17,18 options $11,100,000 $12,100,000
Papelbon, Jonathan 4yr/$50M + 2016 Optn (11M, 3M deferred) $13,000,000 $8,000,000
Escobar, Yunel 2yr/$13M (15-16) 2017 optn $5,000,000 $7,000,000
Harper, Bryce 2yr/$7.5M (15-16) $2,500,000 $5,000,000
sum –> $82,671,429

I count about $82M committed to these 7 players for 2016.  I’m only counting Scherzer‘s salary at the $15M for 2016 since that’s what he’s gonna get paid exactly in 2016.  Cots has a whole complicated explanation when it estimates payroll on its site (see this link) by prorating his signing bonus over 7 years and a whole different calculation made for luxury tax purposes, but I think that’s a mistake to use anything other than the actual dollars going out the door in a given year.  The Lerner’s kicked that can well down the road by getting him to agree to defer literally half the money in the deal for the express purpose of keeping its present value down for their budget, so that’s how i’m figuring it here. If you disagree, feel free to argue about it in the comments.

If the Nats can move Papelbon and some of his $11M in salary, all the better, but I figure they’ll likely have to eat a lot of it to do so, so I can’t see this figure moving much with off-season trades.

Next, lets look at the Players Eligible for Arbitration.  I’ve put in some quick guesses/estimates for arbitration figures for these players.  I’ve historically been somewhat conservative in my guesses, so these might be off by a million here or there, but in the macro sense it won’t make that much difference.  If you think i’m wildly wrong about (say) my Strasburg estimate, lets argue in the comments:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Strasburg, Stephen 1yr/7.4M (15) (arb3) $7,400,000 $12,000,000
Storen, Drew 1yr/$5.7M (15) (arb4) $5,700,000 $7,600,000
Ramos, Wilson 1yr/$3.55M (15) (arb3) $3,550,000 $4,700,000
Rendon, Anthony 4yr/$7.2M ($6M bonus) (11-14)+15 opt (arb1) $1,800,000 $4,000,000
Stammen, Craig 1yr/$2.25M (15) (arb4) $2,250,000 $2,400,000
Espinosa, Danny 1yr/$1.8M (15) (arb2) $1,800,000 $3,200,000
Lobaton, Jose 1yr/$1.2M (15) (arb3) $1,200,000 $1,500,000
Moore, Tyler 1 yr/$0.5182M (15) (arb1) $518,200 $1,200,000
sum –> $36,600,000

So, if we keep all these guys I can see them costing in arbitration about $36.6M.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Storen traded of course, nor would it surprise me to see Moore DFA’d outright, or for the team to acquire another backup catcher and part ways with the light-hitting Lobaton.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, $36.6M is a good estimate.  Thankfully Strasburg really struggled this year, otherwise his arb-3 figure might be closer to Zimmermann’s last arb figure ($16.5M) than the $12-13 he may eventually get.

Coincidentally on Rendon: did you guys see where he made the Super-2 cutoff on the exact day in terms of service time?  2 years, 130 days.  And that’s exactly what he has.  So, depending on how he plays over the next few years that likely costs the Nats at least $8-10M in salary.  Hey, not my money.  I don’t exactly think the team was actively trying to manipulate his time like they did with Strasburg, so maybe they just don’t care.

So that’s 7 vets and 8 arbitration cases.  That leaves 10 players to fill out the rest of the 25-man roster and they’re all Pre-Arbitration Players:

Player Current or 2015 Contract 2015 2016
Roark, Tanner 1 yr/$0.5296M (15) $529,600 $550,000
Robinson, Clint 1 yr/$0.525M (15) $525,000 $550,000
Barrett, Aaron 1 yr/$0.5142M (15) $514,200 $530,000
den Dekker, Matt 1 yr/$512,972 (15) $512,972 $525,000
Treinen, Blake 1 yr/$0.5128M (15) $512,800 $530,000
Taylor, Michael 1 yr/$0.5087M (15) $508,700 $525,000
Rivero, Felipe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
Ross, Joe 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Turner, Trea 1yr Minor League deal (15) $515,000
Solis, Sammy 1yr Minor League deal (15) $510,000
sum –> $5,260,000

If the 2016 season started tomorrow, this is how i’d project the rest of the roster coincidentally.

Even factoring in nominal raises for guys like Roark and Robinson, this still doesn’t even total half of what Papelbon is due in 2016.  Pre-Arbitration players; the best deal in the game!

Here’s the rest of the 40-man roster, who under my projections would be toiling somewhere in the minors on a 40-man roster prorated basis:

Player Current or 2015 Contract
Davis, Erik 1 yr/$0.5089M (15)
Cole, A.J. 1yr Minor League deal (15)
de los Santos, Abel 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Difo, Wilmer 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Goodwin, Brian 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Grace, Matt 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Hill, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Jordan, Taylor 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Martin, Rafael 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Severino, Pedro 1yr Minor League deal (15)
Kieboom, Spencer 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Bostick, Chris 1yr Minor League deal (16)
Lee, Nick 1yr Minor League deal (16)

I don’t think Cots counts these guys against payroll because unless they’re on the 25-man roster actively, they’re not necessarily getting paid like it.  I think.  I’m open to suggestion here.

So, where does that leave us?

  • Existing Veteran Players under Contract: $82,671,429
  • Buyouts of 2016 options: $2,250,000
  • Players Eligible for Arbitration: $36,600,000 estimated
  • Pre-Arbitration Players: $5,260,000 estimated

Total 2016 Projected Payroll: $126,781,429.

That’s $35m less than 2015.  So, if you make the argument that the Lerners will keep payroll even with 2015, that’s about $35M of payroll room with which to work.  For some reason I think they’re going to rein back in payroll, so lets call the target for 2016 about $150M.  Not too bad; that should buy what this team needs.

In my “GM for a Day” post in early October 2015, here’s what I put as a shopping list:

  • Bullpen; if a $10M closer is acquired, you off-set the salary a bit with a Storen trade, and then perhaps buy a mid-level veteran RHP for $5-6M/year.
  • Lefty hitters: not much on the FA market that won’t cost you an arm and a leg; we could get creative and move some depth for another $10M outfielder type and use Taylor as a 4th.
  • Backups: Maybe some infield depth in the $5M range.
  • Maybe rotation competition; frankly there’s better things to spend money on, so I think they go to battle with what they have.

So, that’s roughly $25M in acquisitions, right around the $150M target.  That could work.

What do you think?  Sound like a good plan?



26 Responses to '2016 Nationals Payroll Projection'

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  1. Good stuff, Todd. The takeaway seems to be that Rizzo should have $25-30M to play with in signings and/or contract acquisitions. They can add about $15M to that if Pap and Storen leave, but of course they have to be replaced.

    How would I spend $25M? Zobrist, $12M; O’Day, $10M; Thornton, $3M. They might have to go a little more for the first two, but that’s in the ballpark. If they sign Zobrist, they might move Escobar, which would be $7M more in the pot.

    If $25M is the ballpark, that should make very unlikely a dip into the Heyward/Cespedes/Upton pot, or the front-line starter one. I think they’ll be looking much more at Zobrist/Span/Parra for the LH/SH bat, unless they can trade for one.


    24 Nov 15 at 12:34 pm

  2. Interestingly, in the MLBTR offseason outlook post (, they have varying figures (some larger, some smaller) for the arbitration estimates for individual players. But the collective total for the Nationals players is essentially where you come out (MLBTR estimates $36.2M to your $36.6M).

    Your offseason plan isn’t a bad one, although it’s slightly different from mine. Mine involves signing three free agents, none of which involve draft pick compensation (with expected 2016 outlays): Ben Zobrist (~$12-14M), Darren O’Day ($7-8M) and Matt Thornton ($3.5M). Erik Davis (or Brian Goodwin) gets punted from the 40 man roster.

    I’m not in the “Papelbon/Storen MUST go” camp, although I think the team should absolutely listen to offers for either/both of them. For Escobar as well. But it’s not a “must” do, so the team can hold onto them for now if the offers aren’t respectable (don’t have to be reasonable, just respectable).

    Zobrist slots in at second with Espinosa and Escobar dueling over SS until Turner is ready/his service clock is re-set (sometime in early June). The beauty of this is that Zobrist also is the de facto 4th OF if the starting lineup of Werth/Taylor/Harper struggles or someone gets hurt. MdD at a minimum functions as the defensive replacement for Werth. The infield is set: Rendon; Esconosa; Zobrist; and Zimmerman. Difo gets to play every day in AAA with Turner until there’s a need. As for catcher I’d be open to improving behind the plate, but I don’t think there’s an option out there that’s both affordable and particularly likely to be better than Ramos. Ramos and Lobaton get one more year together while Severino and Kieboom move up with Read/Reetz hopefully in the longer term picture.

    Bench: Robinson; MdD; Lobaton; Espinobar; and one utility guy who hits from the right side. He could even be picked up late – remember that there will be a 40 man spot opening up on Opening Day when Barrett is put on the 60 day DL.

    Rotation is the expected group: Scherzer; Strasburg; Gonzalez; Roark; and Ross. Bullpen has three good/excellent RH pitchers (O’Day/Storen/Papelbon) and two LH pitchers (Rivero/Thornton). Stammen eases back in as the long relief guy and the last spot is a duel between many, many possibilities. Rotation also has solid depth in AAA with Cole, Voth, Jordan, Hill, and at some point Giolito (although he may skip AAA if he’s ready).

    John C.

    24 Nov 15 at 12:59 pm

  3. Hah! KW ninja’d me while I was walking through the roster. Great minds think alike!

    Several good things about the O’Day/Zobrist/Thornton plan. It leaves the Nationals a few million dollars to be flexible at the trade deadline if they need to make a move. It also leaves the Nationals a lot of value to trade at the deadline if they fall out of contention. And it saves all of their draft picks to keep the farm system going, presumably with one first round pick and three comp picks.

    John C.

    24 Nov 15 at 1:03 pm

  4. Sorry, two comp picks. I keep forgetting that they didn’t extend an offer to Span. Probably because I think that was a mistake 🙂

    John C.

    24 Nov 15 at 1:06 pm

  5. If we can figure it out, let’s hope Rizzo can, too!

    It seems clear that the Nats are pushing hard for O’Day. There was a lot of buzz about Zobrist from several teams a few weeks ago, but it seems to have cooled. I haven’t seen Thornton mentioned at all, which is fine by me if others can’t figure out that he’s the best loogy on the market, no matter how old he is. (I was hoping that Howell would be available, but he stayed with the Dodgers.)


    24 Nov 15 at 1:20 pm

  6. Uh oh, Dave Cameron is trying to drive up the price for Zobrist:

    The highest non-Cameron estimate seems to be $15M per.


    24 Nov 15 at 3:26 pm

  7. Catching up with the comments (I was on travel all day yesterday).
    – KW: I like your action plan. If you buy Zobrist, you could move somebody to offset pay a little bit as you say. I’m not personally in a hurry to get rid of Escobar after the year he had at the plate, but if you buy Zobrist you have to make that move. Would love to re-sign Thornton; i think he’s worth another one-year deal.
    – JohnC: Arb estimates for these guys: I did a very quick estimate just going by percentage increases instead of doing real analysis; i’m amazed i’m that close to mlbtraderumors or some other site that did better analysis. 🙂

    Great point about 40-man roster space come 4/1/16 re: Barrett.

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 15 at 10:41 am

  8. Comp picks; It would not surprise me IN THE LEAST to see Rizzo give up the Nats 1st rounder in a FA signing since he has two comp picks. Because he’s done in it several times before.

    So, that means one of these guys is getting signed by the nats: Greinke, Heyward, Upton, Gordon, Davis, Iwakuma, Gallardo, Samardzija, Lackey, Chen, Kendrick, Fowler, Murphy, Kennedy.

    Can’t see the team buying another expensive SP so that seems to rule out the starters (Greinke, Iwakuma, Gallardo, Samardzija, Lackey, Chen, and Kennedy thankfully).

    that leaves: Heyward, Upton, Gordon, DAvis, Kendrick, Fowler, Murphy.
    – Heyward: maybe.
    – Upton: can’t see it since he doesn’t bat lefty
    – Gordon: would really like it
    – Davis: seems like he’s a Baltimore re-sign, but he causes too much movement in the Nats field
    – Kendrick, Murphy; can’t see a middle infielder with compensation attached when tehy could just buy Zobrist, who they seem to rate a ton better
    – Fowler: if they sign fowler and give up a 1st rounder instead of just re-signing Span, I’ll spit.

    So maybe we’re buying Alex Gordon? I’d take that. Improve defense, put a lefty bat in the middle of hte order.

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 15 at 10:55 am

  9. Great stuff, Todd.

    Will need to revisit this January 1 to see where we are.

    Mark L

    25 Nov 15 at 11:00 am

  10. Btw, Cameron’s estimates in that article are ridiculous and do not reflect the realities of the FA market for players. If Zobrist was 30 he’d closer to 4yr/75M but he’ll be 35, not 30, and there’s just no way that he commands that kind of money at his age. Furthermore, a player who has so much of his value dependent on his defense is not going to rate as similarly as an offense-first player. Even in this day and age, even in this climate with more sabr-aware GMs, i just don’t see people paying that much for defense. Cameron’s article postulates that war*8m/year is what drives his value and that’s fine … except that $/war isn’t exactly an exact science. Harper posts a 9.9 WAR season this year … but would he really command 9.9*$8M/year = $79.2M per year in a FA contract?? Of course not.

    I can see 3yrs $45, valuing him at $15M/year easily enough. Maybe a bit more if there’s a bidding war. Thanksfully for Zobrist he has no QO or we’d be having a significantly different conversation (see Murphy and/or Kendrick).

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 15 at 12:21 pm

  11. I saw something that said Rosenthal is reporting that Verducci said that he believes Zobrist will end up with the Nats or the Mets. It was unclear if the statement was based on inside knowledge or speculation. That’s the first time I’ve seen Zobrist and the Nats linked without about eight other teams mentioned. I thought that was encouraging.

    The sticking point for Zobrist (and for O’Day) seems to be the fourth year. If the Nats get those two deals done, they will have significantly improved themselves this offseason, regardless of what else they do.

    I think the Nats would only go after Gordon if they fail to get Zobrist. They can’t afford both. The general thought seems to have been that Gordon would like to stay with the Royals, though. He’d cost more than Zobrist and would want more years. I would be pleased if the Nats were to get him, but that’s not really on my radar right now.

    As noted above, I also don’t think the Nats have the cash to get into the Heyward/Upton/Cespedes pool, or the Price/Greinke/JZim/Cueto one. Like Todd, I have no use for Fowler. I could see the Nats thinking about Murphy if they don’t get Zobrist, but Kendrick makes no sense as he’s an Escobar comp. I’m not a Parra fan and would much rather have Span if it’s between those two. But Zobrist would solve the issue of having a fallback if Taylor flails or if/when Werth gets hurt.

    I can’t see why the Nats would think they need to get into the second-tier starters (really, are any of these guys demonstrably better than Roark or Ross?), but if they do, I’d think about Lackey (short commitment) or maybe Chen (LH). Maddux would have a relationship with Gallardo from Texas. More likely than a signing, though, I could see them trying to trade for someone like Tyson Ross. Or give Billy something like Robles, Lopez, and Voth for Sonny Gray. (I’d trade guys like that for a controllable asset like Gray, but NOT for a rental like Chapman.)


    25 Nov 15 at 1:18 pm

  12. Maybe the Nats can offer Zobrist a 4th year … but it turns into some ridiculous deferred over 15 years starting in the year 2027. 🙂

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 15 at 1:45 pm

  13. Ted doesn’t care who he’s paying after he’s dead!

    The Rizzo MO has generally been to slightly overpay for shorter years, plus an option/buyout. So I could see something like 3/48 for Zobrist plus a lower-priced fourth year/$2M buyout. He would be guaranteed $50M. We’ll see. Don’t get outbid by the Mets!


    25 Nov 15 at 2:19 pm

  14. I am not as enamored with Zobrist as you guys. He’d help, certainly, and I like that he only costs money. But I worry about the age and coming decline, so wouldn’t want to win a bidding war on him.

    I am in on O’Day. Would like another pen arm. And I like the fit that Gardner offers to the team. Storen plus a prospect get that done?

    I’ve resigned myself that Pap returns. I don’t see any takers unless we give him away, which Riz won’t do because he is still effective.


    25 Nov 15 at 2:53 pm

  15. What about picking up John Axford off waivers?


    25 Nov 15 at 2:53 pm

  16. Sarris had a good piece yesterday on bargain relievers, including Axford:

    Honestly, as I read it, I kept thinking about all the good young arms the Nats already have. They just need a change of culture/approach/whatever. I always thought that McCatty was much more in tune with the starters than he was the relievers. The Nats also have yet to name a bullpen coach. Perhaps they need a former pitcher out there instead of a former catcher.


    25 Nov 15 at 3:08 pm

  17. *IF* (big “if,” I admit) Zobrist ages well, he checks a lot of boxes: option at both 2B and OF, LH bat (as a switch hitter), and very high-contact/low-K rate, which we can pray rubs off on others.


    25 Nov 15 at 3:12 pm

  18. Axford off waivers? Why not? If you cut him prior to 3/15 you barely pay him any money. The rule5 analysis at BA and other places make it seem like there’s a whole slew of people to consider. If we want hard throwers for the 6th inning that’s worth a shot.

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 15 at 4:28 pm

  19. Here is a recent article on Taylor. Written from a fantasy perspective, nothing new in here. Huge upside but says contact problems are the key, although maybe the new fact (for me) is that they highlighted his contact problems with fastballs. I had the image of him flailing away at soft offspeed stuff away so much that I hadn’t noticed the FB problem.

    what does it take to get Gardner? Give us some grit 🙂


    25 Nov 15 at 4:51 pm

  20. I can’t get excited about Gardner. For what he’s signed for, the Nats could re-sign Span, possibly for less, and give up nothing in trade in the process.

    If the Nats trade for a LH OF bat, the cheapest would probably be Reddick, who only has a year left before FA. My ideal would be Kole Calhoun from the Angels, but with a Gold Glove, 26 HRs, and four years of team control, he’d cost a lot.


    25 Nov 15 at 8:46 pm

  21. Reddick trade; why not? We havn’t traded with Billy Beane in like a week so we’re due.

    Maybe we acquire both Vogt and Reddick in one fell swoop and spend heavily to do so. Vogt is 30 but still has 4 years of control so he’ll cost a bit if you like his bat. Reddick with just one year won’t cost as much even though he’s a premier hitter. How about Vogt+Reddick for Taylor, Storen (Oakland needs a closer), Jordan and Hill (hey, they turned Tommy Milone into an asset), and Severino. Would you do that trade if you were Oakland? That gives you a like-for-like replacement in OF for Reddick, a bonafide closer, two guys to compete for the 5th starter spot, and a decent prospect catcher who may be ready in a year or two.

    Todd Boss

    25 Nov 15 at 11:35 pm

  22. Happy Thanksgiving to all! I’m very thankful not to be traveling today.

    A trade for Vogt and Reddick would check a lot of boxes for the Nats. What would Billy want in return? Would he really want a K machine like Taylor? I would think he would want to dig into our prospects, likely Voth for one. I could see OAK using Storen very much like they did Clippard last year, as a closer, and then if the A’s aren’t in contention, flipping him at the deadline.

    Speaking of K machines, the Rays have released J. P. Arencibia. He would certainly be an upgrade on Lobaton offensively and could also be a power RH bat off the bench. Then the Nats could include Lobaton in the trade for Vogt and Reddick . . .


    26 Nov 15 at 8:39 am

  23. So, maybe not Taylor but instead maybe a bat? You know, he may like someone like Skole as a throw-in. Unfortunately we just dont have the bats to make a deal work. Voth could be tempting.

    Todd Boss

    26 Nov 15 at 1:13 pm

  24. This would be a year that I would stay away from Free Agents like Heyward, Greinke, etc where the Nats would have to forfeit their 1st round pick on a QO player.

    Ghost of Steve M. (

    27 Nov 15 at 8:18 am

  25. Yes, the Nats don’t have much in the way of bat prospects to trade, other than very young Dominicans. Here’s a thought, however – the team that originally drafted Chris Bostick was . . . the A’s, in the 44th round. OAK seems to be trying to unload middle infielders right now, though.

    Here’s a Black Friday crazy deal to ponder. I said above that I didn’t think the Nats would be in the top-tier starter market because of the amount of cash they have available. But here’s a thought: if the Nats trade Strasburg and Storen, they clear an additional ~$20M. Added to what they have already cleared, that would give them the cash to think about Price or Greinke, if they want to commit to the longer-term investment. I don’t want Cueto or (sadly) JZim, both of whom seem to be starting their regression. I’d want the Price/Greinke level.

    I’ve been reluctant to trade Stras and diminish the starting staff, but if this is the strategy, then the starters actually get stronger, plus they would get a decent return for Stras and Storen. It would be a bold move, and it would tie the Nats to the fate of another nine-digit starter contract. But there is only one top-tier starter in next year’s FA class – Stras – so unless they think Giolito and Ross are going to instant be #2 level starters, it’s something to consider.


    27 Nov 15 at 8:41 am

  26. I agree with GOSM, I’d like to keep the pick this year. The way the QO’s worked out, that could give them three of the top 35 or so picks this year. Great chance to recharge the system.

    If they do trade Stras and Storen, they could keep going and add a big starter through another trade. I’ve thrown out Carrasco, but there are several others to look at too.

    Here is another, different kind of trade: what about Escobar + a prospect (maybe Voth?) for Norris? Gives the Pods a cost effective SS bridge to their young kids. His range is declining but their other options are so bad that it might look ok, and they avoid a big deal for Desi? Also gives us some catching depth to trade for pen help.


    27 Nov 15 at 9:29 am

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