Nationals Arm Race

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

2018 Non-Tender Decisions


Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via

Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via

Its that time of the year as noted.  Lets get right to it.

Nats have 7 arbitration-eligible players.   Four of them are no-brainers to tender and negotiate with in Arbitration.  2019 salary guesses are MLBtraderumor estimates that are now pretty well accepted as the best analysis estimates out there.  I feel like the Nats are a bit generous and usually end up paying slightly more than their estimates, but these will work for now.

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Rendon, Anthony1 yr/$12.3M (18)$17.6M
Turner, Trea1 yr/$0.5772M (18)$5.3M
Ross, Joe1 yr/$0.5679M (18)1.5M
Barraclough, Kyle1yr/$1.9M (18)$1.9M

Joe Ross at $1.5M could be an absolute steal and could be a factor in consideration for Tanner Roark‘s decision later on.  If Ross returns to his 2016 form for this salary we’ll be in great shape for next year’s playoff race.  Rendon and Turner are obvious players to continue with, and/or to consider some longer term contract negotiations with.  Lastly, the team just traded for Barraclough, he’s relatively affordable, and will be a key arm in the 2019 bullpen, so he’s not going anywhere.

Lets talk about the more iffy candidates:

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Roark, Tanner1 yr/$6.475M (18)$9.8M
Taylor, Michael1 yr/$2.525M (18)$3.2M
Solis, Sammy1 yr/$0.5603M (18)$900k

First, i’ll just say this: I feel like the team is going to tender Michael A Taylor  He’s got too much value  as a defender, his projected salary in the $3.2M range is going to be better than projections for similar outfielders on the market … but he’s 27 not 33, plays Gold Glove-calibre defense and has shown some flashes of capability at the plate.  I think he makes perfect sense as a 4th outfielder.

I also don’t think i’m going out on a limb saying that its likey that Sammy Solis has thrown his last pitch for the team.  He was patently awful in 2018, couldn’t get lefties out at all, and even though his projected salary is a pittance ($900k), his big limiting factor is his lack of options.  He burned his last minor league option in 2018, so if he can’t make the team he’s gonna get DFA’d anyway.  Might as well get it out of the way now and clear the roster spot.

So, lets get to the main discussion item.  What to do with Tanner Roark?  He’s projecting to a $9.8M salary in his last year of Arbitration.  That’s a hefty sum.  He was fantastic as a starter for this team in 2014 and 2016.  He struggled when the team jerked around his role in 2015.  And the last two seasons he’s essentially been a just-slightly-worse-than-average MLB starter.  Sounds like a classic 4th starter type.  So is a 4th starter worth $9.8M?

He’s not getting any younger; he’ll be playing in his age 32 season next year.  He’s trending the wrong way; you can easily make the argument that the odds of him being more 2018 next year than 2016 are high.

So the real question is this: can you replace him in the trade market or in Free Agency and find someone comparable?   There havn’t been many signings thus far to use as a barometer for this off-season, but one stuck out in my mind; CC Sabathia.  Sabathia is older, fatter, and better.  And he signed for $8M.  All the projections for 4th/5th starter types seem to be falling in the $6M AAV range.

Unfortunately for the team; they’ve basically shredded the top of their starting pitcher prospect ranks in trades lately so they have no real options for internal replacement here.  If you non-tender Roark, then w/o additional acquisitions your 2019 Rotation is:

  • Scherzer, Strasburg, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Jefry Rodriguez with Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin in AAA.

That’s two aces and 5 question marks.  TJ surgery recovery rates are now in the 80% I believe … but Ross won’t be throwing more than 160 innings or so in 2019.  Does anyone here Fedde is ready to be anything other than a spot-starter?  Same with the others.  The Nats are already looking at buying at least 2 starters on the open market (to replace Gio Gonzalez and to compete for 5th starter in a Jeremy Hellickson– type signing).  If you cut Roark loose … you have to buy another starter.  (or trade for one of course … but at this point does anyone have the stomach to part with any more top prospects?)

So if you non-tender Roark, you lose a guy who has never gotten hurt, answers the bell, eats innings and can be pretty dominant.  Isn’t that what you want in a solid 4th starter?   What are you going to get on the FA market for that price that’s better?

If it were me, i’d tender him.

Prediction: only Solis is non-tendered.

Actual tender results for 2018:  all arb-eligible players tendered.  Solis (the one we thought was in most jeopardy) negotiated a contract ahead of time.  1 yr, $850k so just slightly below MLBtraderumor’s estimate.  If he flails in spring training the Nats can cut him in mid March for just 1/6th of $850k or just $141k guaranteed.  Not a bad deal.


Here’s a great history of the Nats non-tender deadline decisions over the years, research I first did for last year’s post and which I’ll keep carrying forward.

  • 2018: no-one non-tendered (Roark, Taylor, Solis all candidates in one form or another).  Solis negotiated a contract pre-deadline leading to his tender.
  • 2017: No non-tender candidates; all arb-eligible players tendered contracts at the deadline.
  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there 🙂
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.


33 Responses to '2018 Non-Tender Decisions'

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  1. I agree that keeping Taylor as a 4th OF makes sense in theory, but he showed late last season just how bad he is at the plate without regular ABs. It would probably be better for him if he were an everyday CF for a bad team. Maybe a tender-then-trade is the way to go.

    Karl Kolchak

    27 Nov 18 at 3:08 pm

  2. I think Wally has convinced me that they should tender Solis, if only because the 1/6th payout at the end of the spring would be so small if they have to buy him out. If he bounces back, great, but I doubt they count on it and will sign another lefty.

    I’ve flip-flopped on Taylor, who everyone knows isn’t one of my favorite players. With the Eaton and Robles injury histories, they’re going to need a starting-capable, CF-capable reserve. But as Karl notes, Taylor wasn’t good when he wasn’t starting, and he’s always been a terrible pinch hitter. Maybe they non-tender him and look at someone like Jon Jay in about the same salary range?

    Then there’s Roark. I noted the other day that some commentors on NatsTalk are wanting to offer him a two-year deal worth less annually than he made in 2018 ($6.475M). I saw that again today. It would be nuts for Roark to take 2/$10M or 12M. Even if he gets non-tendered, he’ll get better offers. The Nats would have to start at 2/$15-16M. And in that range, it gets interesting. There are a number of FA options who would talk to you in that range (or slightly less), including Cahill, Anderson, Miley, D. Holland, Hellickson, Buchholz, and possibly even Harvey and Lynn.

    (I’ll pause here to say that it’s a false premise to say they either have to tender Roark or else Fedde and J-Rod are going to be in the rotation. They aren’t. I’ll be very surprised if they don’t sign another starter even if they don’t keep Roark, and I think they’ll sign two if they let him walk.)

    Roark has REALLY struggled for the last two seasons, with the exception of later July and August (but then back to struggling in Sept.). There are better starters available in this market for $9.8M than Roark. Wally says they could keep him and then buy him out at the end of the spring, but A) that’s still nearly $2M, and B) they really need a solid contingency option before then (aside from hoping Henderson Alvarez has a fabulous spring).

    If this was a bad FA pitching market, I’d be thinking that they sorta have to keep him. It’s a good market, though, so they don’t really. They had better be darn sure they believe in what they saw in July and August. They can’t afford another starter meltdown like what Tanner and Gio gave them for much of 2018.

    So . . . I don’t know. I would be surprised if the Nats just turn Roark out on the street, but that might be the savviest roster-construction move they could make. My guess would be that they’ll try to cut a deal with him. We’ll see. A trade (for very limited return) isn’t out of the realm of possibility.


    27 Nov 18 at 8:37 pm

  3. Well, in both cases, that’s what I’d do but I think there is a decent chance the Nats let both go. But let’s think about that two year extension for a second: I think Roark has been a little better than his numbers implied (slightly over 4 FIP the last two years) which is slightly below average. So $7m per year for a league average pitcher is a pretty good deal, even if you just assume a slight bounce back. And would he take it? He’s 32, and has made $12m so far. A 2/$14m deal sets him up for life, and would be something that he’d have to think real hard about passing up.

    MAT is a different story. I think they will keep him, but i’ve Switched and if they could get Jay or Maybin for $3m, i’d Do that instead.


    27 Nov 18 at 10:34 pm

  4. Since the Giants have actually indicated a willingness to part with Bumgarner, I’ll resurrect my fantasy of a trade that includes Taylor and perhaps Solis as well. SF will want at least a couple of prospects, but they’re also going to need guys who can play right away. It will remain to be seen whether the Giants are realistic about their expectations for a guy with only one year left on his contract who is coming off two injury-riddled seasons. I think a package of Taylor, Solis, Crowe, and Daniel Johnson would be reasonable.


    28 Nov 18 at 12:42 pm

  5. Tendering Solis just to only drop him later for 1/6th of guaranteed pay: absolutely an option, and his low projected salary makes it even easier. If he was on the hook for millions, different story. I’d buy this logic.

    Roark: KW as he “really struggled?” over the course of the two hole seasons his 2017 and 2018 numbers seem really similar: . His ERA+ is 97-98 range. That’s MLB average. That’s not “really struggling.” So no he’s not an Ace but he’s certainly not a replacement player. I mean, he had a 3.0 bWAR last year. That’s why for me he still has value.

    Todd Boss

    28 Nov 18 at 2:01 pm

  6. As if on cue: “Madison Bumgarner won’t fetch the Giants that much”


    28 Nov 18 at 2:35 pm

  7. Roark went 1-10 last season during the stretch when the Nats fell apart. He and Gio just destroyed the rotation and the bullpen. In mid-July, his record stood at 3-12 with a 4.87 ERA. He managed to get his ERA down to 3.95 at one point, but then he gave up 17 runs in his last four starts.

    I’ve been a fan of what Roark has done for the Nats over the years after coming literally out of nowhere, but I’m not giving him ten million dollars based on that body of work. I’m not fond of giving him 2/$14-16, but that’s more in line with what he’s worth, particularly in comparison with all the other pretty decent starters on the market. My hope, however, would be that the Nats add that $9.8M to the pot and go fishing for a couple of significantly better starters in the $15M+ range.

    Would you agree to non-tendering Roark if it means they have a shot at getting both Morton and Happ? That’s really the ONLY way they would have the money to go after multiple higher-level starters.


    28 Nov 18 at 2:53 pm

  8. For the record, I would be somewhat surprised if they non-tender Roark, even if it might be prudent.


    28 Nov 18 at 2:56 pm

  9. Understood Roark was bad for a stretch. But he was also then correspondingly good for a stretch to get back. I guess my point is: looking at the end of the year, he looked fine. In 2015 Scherzer was god-awful down the stretch in August, ERA north of 6.00, still finished the year with a 2.79 ERA. Don’t you have to look at the whole body of work?

    Unless you kind of exactly know why he was 1-10 for a stretch versus why he had a 2.78 ERA for the month of August when it counted and they were trying to get back in the race.

    Todd Boss

    28 Nov 18 at 3:09 pm

  10. If you’re arguing that Roark was worth the $6.475M the Nats paid him in 2018, that’s probably true. The problem is that they can’t pay him that same amount in 2019, and I’m uncomfortable with the delta, particularly with so many other decent starters on the street. Do Lilliquist, Martinez, and Rizzo have a good handle on whether Roark truly “figured it out” in July and August? That pitcher was worth more than $9.8M. But the one in May and June wasn’t, and that guy showed up again in September.

    It’s a big bet if they make it, in large part because $10M one way or the other would have a lot to do with their offseason flexibility to do other things. I have them with around $35M that they’re actually willing to spend if they tender everyone.

    (FWIW, I have a hard time seeing them fitting in a Harper contract if they tender everyone, even if they trade Eaton. That ship has probably sailed, though.)


    28 Nov 18 at 3:34 pm

  11. For 2019, I like Morton and Happ’s odds for better production than Roark. $6m better($15m v $9)? I dunno but maybe. For 2020, not so sure. Roark is several years younger, and doesn’t rely on velocity to be effective, so I’d bet they slip below his production level In the next year or two.

    I also want some change, so if you are asking would I DFA Roark if I knew I could get Morton and Happ at a net + $20m increase, the answer is yes. When you get to Miley, Cahill, Anderson, etc, I swing back to Roark, although I wouldn’t pay a ton for that difference.

    Short answer, I think Roark is a good deal at 2/$15m.


    28 Nov 18 at 4:01 pm

  12. Corbin in town. That’s a different tax bracket . . . but directly related to whether they can afford to tender Roark.


    28 Nov 18 at 7:29 pm

  13. Well, he’s expensive and they lose picks, but he sure would fit well on the team, and I believe in his breakout


    28 Nov 18 at 10:50 pm

  14. I’ll admit to skepticism on Corbin because he didn’t get good until this season, but he was really good. When I looked at the secondary stats of starters on the FA market a few days ago, Corbin was head and shoulders above everyone else. His xFIP of 2.61 was only 0.01 behind deGrom for best in the majors. He’s also a bit younger than most of the other guys on the market, although he won’t be by the time his six-year contract ends.

    With so many teams interested in him, he’s going to get that sixth year, plus an AAV closer to $25M than $20M, so something close to the Lester contract (6/150).

    I dunno. If he had three or four seasons like 2018, it would be a no-brainer, but then he’d also be looking for Scherzer-level money.


    29 Nov 18 at 9:33 am

  15. there is risk there, certainly. It’s not my money either, but I’d say he is likely to generate the most WAR over the next three years of all the FA SPs. Projecting pitchers beyond 3 years is crazy due to injury risk.

    In terms of 3 yr WAR for all pitchers rumored to be on the market, my ranking is:


    29 Nov 18 at 12:41 pm

  16. All those Cleveland starters are really good . . . which makes me scratch my head about why the Indians are even floating them. I guess they’re just saying “blow us away with a deal.” The Nats don’t have that kind of prospect ammo. I guess there’s a little possibility the Indians could have some interest in Eaton if Olney’s right and Bryce comes crawling back, but I would think it would take at least Eaton + Garcia to even start the conversation.


    29 Nov 18 at 7:33 pm

  17. About what Olney said . . .

    I’m messing with the math. The thinking is that the Nats have around $35M left to give them the breathing room they want to stay under the tax line. One would think Bryce would end up with an AAV of at least around $32M since he turned down 10/$300M. So . . .

    Only $3M left over, plus trade Eaton and his $8.4M so you’re at $11.4M. They still need a starter plus maybe a loogy. That takes them out of the Corbin conversation and probably the Morton/Happ one as well. But for $10M or less, there’s still a pretty good list: Cahill, Anderson, Miley, D. Holland, Hellickson, and Buchholz. They’re obviously not getting a higher-level lefty reliever out of what’s left, though, so they may end sticking with Solis.

    Of course the picture could look different if they non-tender Roark and Solis tomorrow. That’s an extra 10.7, added to the 11.4 gives you 22.1. They would need two starting pitchers out of that, though. However, you might be able to split it unevenly with Morton/Happ + Hellickson. (There’s also a possibility that they could get some pitching in return for the Eaton trade, although a decent player would have a decent salary attached that would have to be accounted for.)

    So it could be done, although it would be tight. It might not be quite as tight if Roark gets non-tendered or signs for a couple of mil under projected. Friday will be interesting.


    29 Nov 18 at 7:48 pm

  18. Flurry of Nats stuff. Everyone tendered and they signed a deal with Solis. If I have this right, that’s odd because it guarantees the whole thing instead of a tender. Unless it’s a minor league deal.

    And rumors of Yan Gomes trade. Not sure who’s going to CLE. MAT? I’d be ok with that. Can get a 4th OF pretty cheaply I think


    30 Nov 18 at 6:24 pm

  19. Looks like Daniel Johnson going to CLE. I can live with that


    30 Nov 18 at 6:56 pm

  20. If it truly is just Daniel Johnson straight up for Gomes, that’s an incredible deal. I do think Johnson has the potential to be better than Andrew Stevenson, but probably not much better, somewhere between AAAA and 5th OF on an MLB roster.

    Gomes strikes out too much but posted 2.2 fWAR and 16 HRs. He and Suzuki combined for 38 homers!


    30 Nov 18 at 7:10 pm

  21. Updating the math, with everyone tendered and Gomes to make $7M. Starting at $35M, that’s now down to $28M. From that, they’re probably only wanting one major starting pitcher instead of two, though. That number pretty much still leaves everyone in play, including Corbin. There’s a fair amount of buzz out there about the Nats still being in play with him, . . . but also some buzz that he’s wanting a SEVENTH year on the contract.

    Seeing scuttlebutt that the Nats have no interest in Murphy. (Sigh.) I’d be fine with a Matt Adams reunion at $4 or 5M. Adams really seemed to thrive with Kevin Long.

    Really, the minimum shopping list would be one starting pitcher, the LH 1B bench bat, and maybe another bullpen arm. Haven’t heard much about them looking at 2B. I guess the rest of the spending will depend on Corbin. If they were to end up with someone like Happ or Morton instead, they’d have more cash to consider guys like Sipp . . . and maybe Murphy.


    30 Nov 18 at 7:20 pm

  22. Looks like JRod, DJ and a PTBNL for Gomes. Eh, not as good but still ok by me. I think JRod will have some major league value before his career is done. Bigger loss than D.J., I think. Hoping the PTBNL is a nobody.


    30 Nov 18 at 8:30 pm

  23. Yeah, that deal makes more sense. I still like it. I never quite saw the excitement about J-Rod. His 5.97 FIP and 1.54 WHIP weren’t promising. Gomes is controlled for three seasons but has $1M buyouts for the last two if he craters.

    PTBNL usually isn’t anyone notable. Sometimes teams agree to a list of around 10 names to consider in order to go on and get the deal done. Or it could be a 2018 draft pick, who can’t officially be traded for another week or so (Trea Turner rule).


    30 Nov 18 at 8:51 pm

  24. Suzuki as PH (career): .333/.424/.627 (wow)
    Gomes as PH (career): .250/.318/.450

    (Gomes as AL guy is SSS — only 22 PAs as PH)


    30 Nov 18 at 8:57 pm

  25. There are some crazy non tenders going on. Too many to list, but even Torreyes by the Cubs after just trading for him. fiers, Graveman from OAK, hunter strickand from SFG, etc


    30 Nov 18 at 9:06 pm

  26. Bigger one by the A’s was Fiers. Add him to the list of good affordable starters out there.

    We know Strickland can be a bit of an a-hole, but if the Nats feel like they need to add a little attitude . . .


    30 Nov 18 at 9:22 pm

  27. Splits, 2018


    vs. RHP: .257/.293/.438/.731
    vs. LHP: .288/.363/.477/.840


    vs. RHP: .270/.334/.429/.763
    vs. LHP: .273/.326/.489/.815

    Looks like Suzuki is better against RHP, but not by too much. Gomes slightly better against LHP. It will be interesting to see if they sort of platoon them, or have them lined up to work with certain pitchers, or what.


    1 Dec 18 at 2:08 pm

  28. I’ll bet there is a platoon slighty favoring Gomes – like 90-70 ish.

    Let’s get some pitching.

    Still shaking my head about all the non tenders. Makes the Roark tender look questionable in hindsight


    1 Dec 18 at 2:37 pm

  29. @KW–I’d like to see them sign Strickland just as confirmation that Harper will NOT be back.

    Karl Kolchak

    1 Dec 18 at 9:25 pm

  30. Weird comment by Rizzo that any possible reunion with Harper would be “independent” of all the other things they’re doing for the offseason. Don’t know whether that was a shot across the Lerners’ bow to say “we’re not waiting on him, and if Boras convinces you to take him back, we’re going over the luxury tax to do it because I’m already going to have a full team in place.”

    FWIW, the Nats still have three open spots on the 40-man, plus Severino is a goner sooner or later, so he’s not standing in anyone’s way. (It’s possible that he could be DFA’d, pass through waivers, and be outrighted, as Spencer Kieboom was a couple of years ago.)

    Wally, I’m with you on the Roark tender looking suspect considering all the similar pitchers who didn’t get the offers. But then I didn’t think Roark should have been tendered in the first place.

    Can someone please tell me why I, or anyone else, should care about the stupid deal the Mets are about to make? So much ado about not very much. But then it is a “New York story.”


    1 Dec 18 at 10:22 pm

  31. On the one hand, the Lerners are more than wealthy enough to absorb any luxury tax penalties. On the other hand, so are the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers and basically every other highly wealthy team in the league outside of Boston has used the luxury tax and its penalties as a de-facto cap and have gone out of their way to avoid it. The situation is perhaps the biggest mis-calculation in the history of the MLBPA union … and yet they just re-upped Tony Clark’s contract, the one who negotiated it and didn’t see any of the consequences the players are currently seeing.

    Anyway. I would find it completely impossible to believe that Rizzo is “forcing the owners” hands by putting together a team without their input. I’d laugh out loud though if the Lerners were that incompetent and weren’t talking with their GM as he furiously makes moves.

    But its all moot; call me when the team signs a $20M/year guy and there’s no longer a neat pay slot for a $35M/year contract to fit into. Then we’ll know.

    Todd Boss

    2 Dec 18 at 1:36 pm

  32. […] of posts, this is an annual tradition.  Here’s versions of this post from previous years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.  Must have been busy in Dec of […]

  33. […] lot of our posts, they’re recurring features. Here’s links to prior years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.  I’m not sure why i didn’t do it last […]

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