Nationals Arm Race

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

State of the Nats 40-man roster and Payroll post Arb-settlements


Turner last arb case to settle. photo via

Turner last arb case to settle. photo via

The Arbitration deadline has come and gone, and for 2020 there’s no Club vs Player disputes.

Here’s how the payroll looks now. is the 2020 Payroll worksheet on the Big Board.  You can see the details there but quickly:

  • 14 players under FA or established contracts: $154,772,709 in 2020 luxury tax salary
  • 6 players arb eligible: $16,850,000 in negotiated salary
  • 6 additional pre-arb players at an estimated $575k each: $3,450,000
  • 14 non-active 40-man roster players at an estimated $150k each: $2,100,000
  • Estimated player benefits figure for 2020; $15,000,000

Total right now: $192,172,709

Room under the $208M cap: $15,827,291

This figure is slightly off of Cot’s figure, which I think has an error when calculating the non-active roster guys (if 26 are active, then 14 are non-active 40/man guys; they currently are calculating for 15).   This salary guess is going to be slightly off of reality; we don’t know what our 6 pre-arb guys will get assigned as salaries but we can probably guess that Juan Soto and Victor Robles in particular will not just get assigned the minimum.  And, technically we’re only at 38 on the 40 man right now, so  you could theoretically subtract 2 * $150k from the salary figure to be exact.

The Arbitration salaries came in under what Cots, Mlbtraderumors and I all predicted as a whole.  MLBTraderumors is usually the closest and was spot on with several of their guesses.  I was way off on most of my guesses.

So, $15M left to play with.  You have to think $4M or so of that will go to Ryan Zimmerman.   Or maybe not?   If you look at the make-up of the roster right now … i’m not sure where Zimmerman fits in.  Position players now under contract:

  • Catchers: Suzuki starter, Gomes backup
  • Starting Infield: Kendrick 1B, Castro 2B, Turner SS, Cabrera 3B
  • Backup infielders: Difo, Thames
  • Starting OF: Eaton, Robles, Soto
  • Backup OF: Taylor
  • Minor Leaguers: Read, Barrera, Sanchez (if he makes it through waivers), Kieboom, Noll, Stevenson.

Ok so that’s 12 position players on the active roster plus another 6 in the minors.  So I guess there’s a Zimmerman-sized hold on the bench for the 13th position player, since with the new expansion you can’t carry more than 13 pitchers.  Who are those pitchers by the way?

  • Rotation: Strasburg, Scherzer, Corbin, Sanchez, Ross
  • 8th/9th inning guys: Doolittle, Hudson, Harris
  • 6th/7th inning guys: Rainey, Strickland, Suero, Elias
  • Long man/spot starter; Voth
  • Minor leaguers: Fedde, McGowin, Braymer*, Finnegan, Barrett, Bourque, AWilliams

So that’s 13 major league arms plus another 7 in the minors.

18 position players, 20 pitchers = 38 on the current active roster.

Still room for Zimmerman, and coincidentally still room for Sterling Sharp (oh whoops, he’s gone).

how we feeling about the roster?


Written by Todd Boss

January 14th, 2020 at 9:34 am

29 Responses to 'State of the Nats 40-man roster and Payroll post Arb-settlements'

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  1. I covered some of this in a recent comment. I don’t know what to think about Zim. The heart wants him back; the head isn’t so sure. IF HEALTHY, he could be an effective RH bat in a limited role. But Zim is very position-limited on an otherwise flexible team. Even Thames can stand in the OF every now and then. Kendrick is at a point in his career where 1B is his best defensive option, but signing Zim would push Howie to 2B or 3B the majority of the time. If they bring Zim back, presumably it would be for at least 300-350 plate appearances, but if he’s getting those, Kendrick is weakening the defense at another position.

    Also, he’s not “worth” $4M to the Nats. The going rate for a position-limited 1B who won’t play full time is $1-2M at best (plus he’s already received a $2M buyout and has the extra money from the personal services contract.)

    What’s left to do? Improve the OF reserves. By all accounts, Taylor is a great teammate, but his time is up. I’d keep Stevenson over MAT, and I think Stevo is pretty limited as well. There are a number of OFs still looking for jobs, including Pillar, Maybin, Jay, Puig, Souza, Dyson, and Hamilton. I also keep mentioning multi-function guys like Miller and Holt.

    Another reliever in the mix would always be welcome, and they’ve yet to add a rehabbing starter or two on minor-league contracts (Clay Buchholz?).

    Also, I’ll keep noting until it happens that Rizzo almost always makes at least one significant trade each offseason. It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think it’s going to be for someone as significant as Bryant. I’ve been lobbying that it be another top-tier reliever like Giles or Yates. We’ll see.


    14 Jan 20 at 10:16 am

  2. YES! Donaldson to the Twinkies! Out of the division, and the NL. Braves suddenly seem a little more vulnerable than before. Twins suddenly seem more of a threat to the Yankees. (And wow, have the Braves done very little this offseason, other than adding relievers and an over-the-hill Hamels.)


    14 Jan 20 at 7:59 pm

  3. To the Twins — Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
    No more stupid talk.

    Mark L

    14 Jan 20 at 8:11 pm

  4. So all three of the top hitters (Rendon, Donaldson, and Grandal) and two of the top three starters (Cole and Ryu) ended up in the AL, with Stras the lone top FA remaining in the NL.

    I don’t blame the Braves for not going the four years (plus option) to retain Donaldson. They’ve got a top prospect for 3B in Austin Riley (as the Nats do with Kieboom). Where the Braves screwed themselves was by not signing some quality starting pitching (Hamels is clearly on the decline) or shoring up their bench with some solid vets like, oh, Kendrick, Cabrera, and Thames. They did spend on relievers and probably got the best one on the board in Will Smith (unless Harris proves to be better).

    And our other big concern in the NL, the Dodgers? They’ve, um, added Treinen and Alex Wood, two guys who completely fell off cliffs last season, while losing one of the best starters in the NL in Ryu. It’s amazing how little they’ve done with their bullpen . . . because using Kershaw in relief in the playoffs has worked out so well for them! (Has Soto’s HR actually landed yet?)

    Look, the Nats very likely aren’t going to repeat. No team has in two decades, and the Nats aren’t exactly a juggernaut except perhaps in the starting pitching category. But they’ve done enough to stay relevant and have a good shot at making the playoffs. Once there, you don’t have to be the “best” team to win it all, as they proved last year. And they’re certainly deeper in starting pitching than potential playoff foes LAD, ATL, and STL.


    15 Jan 20 at 9:03 am

  5. Looking back, it’s obvious there was so much lying about the offers for Donaldson. “The Nats have already offered $100,000,000” It turns out that was total b.s.

    I like the team we have now.

    Mark L

    15 Jan 20 at 11:12 am

  6. Roster at 38.





    15 Jan 20 at 12:17 pm

  7. I think Stevenson makes it and Difo does not.


    15 Jan 20 at 12:19 pm

  8. It’s interesting that they’re still only at 38. Difo and Ad. Sanchez very likely won’t make the final roster, either, so they’re basically at 36. (There’s a good chance that Difo and Sanchez will be DFA’d, pass through waivers, and decide to say in the system.) If Taylor goes, they’re at 35. Anyway, still quite a bit of room to add guys who are still looking for work and might sign with the WORLD CHAMPS for a discount.


    15 Jan 20 at 1:10 pm

  9. I agree with Mark that the 4yr/$100M offer the Nats supposedly had made for JD must have been BS. (Either that or JD needs to fire his agent for letting him pass it up!) If it was indeed BS, I can only imagine it was smoke to try to goad ATL into an overpay, but that bluff only works if the Braves are seriously bidding for him, too. That fourth year must have spooked everybody except the Twins.


    15 Jan 20 at 2:04 pm

  10. As an aside, can I take a moment to recommend you all buy the collector’s edition blu-ray set of the world series? Best purchase I’ve ever made. I’ve already watched it so many times that my wife (the Rays fan) wants to take the kids and leave me.

    Best part: It has the TV audio, plus the respective audio for the Nats and Astros radio teams (hearing Asterisks radio call the Kendrick homer is worth more than money). And it also includes Game 4 of the NLCS. If you ever want to be entertained, listen to the Cardinals’ radio team coverage of the 1st inning of NLCS Game 4, when the Nats go up 7-0. It’s like listening to a broadcast team calling play-by-play at a funeral! Priceless!


    15 Jan 20 at 2:09 pm

  11. Glad to see JD to the twins. I still think the Braves are stronger on paper than the Nats, tho. I think we are being lulled by how good some of the older guys played last year, and assuming something similar for 2020. But that kind of player can become sub-replacement level in the blink of an eye, rather than just fall off to 90% of the prior year. Hope not, but I think the potential variance is enormous.

    Zim? Lotta love for the guy and what he means to the team, but they clearly don’t need what he profiles to offer for 2020. But to be a part time 1B/PH/DH at a modest salary? That wouldn’t get in the way of anything and he’d be fine in that role


    15 Jan 20 at 2:50 pm

  12. Wally, I agree with you that some of the older guys could crater at any time, which is why I’d really like to see the Nats bring in even more of them as reinforcements for the bench instead of depending on guys like Difo and Taylor (both of whom played a lot as the team tanked in early ’19 before disappearing to the minors). There are a ton of good, reasonably priced older players still available: Flores (not that old), Pillar, Holt, Miller, Hunter Pence, Gennett, Neil Walker, Maybin, Alex Gordon, Moreland, Matt Joyce, Puig, Alex Gordon, Brian Dozier, Big Panda, and several more. With the possible exception of Puig, if any of these fellas think they’re getting more than $2-3M at this point, they’re deluding themselves.

    Not a lot still left among the relievers, though. Sam Dyson has domestic violence issues, and Kintzler has Mike Rizzo issues. Would Tyson Ross take a minor-league contract to come to camp with lil’ bro?


    15 Jan 20 at 3:23 pm

  13. KW, agree with you about the numbers to sign these guys, I just don’t know any of them enough to figure which ones are a good fit.

    Clark, had to really laugh about watching the Blu-Rays so much you’re risking your marriage. My problem with the set is there is nothing on the Dodgers series or the Wild Card game so there still more to come.

    Mark L

    15 Jan 20 at 5:01 pm

  14. Mark, even if one knows more about those guys, it’s still sort of a crap shoot with who will click and who won’t. Between the players and the coaches, the Nats collectively do have a lot of guys who may have been with the same teams with many of these guys, or at least with former teammates of them. The Nats have set great store recently in good chemistry, plus it’s good to have good intel on which guys work hard to stay in shape, might be more open to a little Kevin Long refinement, etc.

    I don’t know how many more the Nats will bring in, but the right two or three could make a lot of difference. You could have won a lot of money at this time last year if you bet that Parra and Rodney would be keys to turning the Nats around, that Cabrera would play an important role in the stretch drive, that Kendrick would have the game-winning homers in two playoff series, and that Hudson would be on the mound for the final outs of the World Series. (For the record, I almost thought it was a bad joke bringing in both Parra and Rodney. I had more hope that Cabrera still had something in him, but of course no one expected him to average more than one RBI per game.)


    15 Jan 20 at 8:06 pm

  15. I don’t think they need a 3b. They can try Kieboom and go to the vets if he doesn’t work out.

    Their biggest need – to me- is who plays SS if Turner goes out for any length. Difo shouldn’t be that guy. Castro? I think that ship has sailed. I’d like to find a better fallback plan than what they have.

    I know people want a better 4th OF than MAT. I’m ok with that too, like Pillar. But SS back up is more valuable, I think.


    15 Jan 20 at 8:24 pm

  16. Not sad to see Donaldson off the board, by any means. But the Nats still need a third baseman. The “quantity over quality” approach is great for building a strong veteran bench, but Cabrera got seriously exposed playing third every day for Texas last year, and Kieboom has practically no third base experience and I’m not sure either the bat or glove are ready.

    Might be time to get creative. Starlin supposedly told interested teams he didn’t want to sign as a third baseman, but maybe getting a two-year deal from the Nats softened his opposition. There are more second basemen and shortstops out there, especially on the trade market, than there are third basemen. If the Nats moved Castro to third and traded for someone like Adam Frazier, that would be a huge bump for infield defense and strengthen the bench by effectively subtracting Difo. There’s also Tommy La Stella, who is in something of a roster crunch with the Angels, although I’m not sure they have much incentive to move him since he’s cheap and can play multiple positions.


    16 Jan 20 at 1:57 am

  17. Early good morning to all.

    From my vantage point:

    On Opening Day
    1B Kendrick, 2B Castro, SS Turner, 3B Cabrera
    Suzuki, *Zimmerman, Difo, Thames, Taylor

    **Holt, Miller or even Joyce could make excellent sense here; Flores too. Initially in lieu of Difo for the opening day roster.

    1B Kendrick, 2B Castro, SS Turner, 3B Kieboom
    Suzuki, Zimmerman, Cabrera, Thames, **_______

    As you may see, the Mid-June bench is a very strong and versatile bench; plus the infield starters would be a very solid group if Castro maintains the power he showed in the 2nd Half and Kieboom produces as (I believe) Fangraphs projects.


    16 Jan 20 at 2:02 am

  18. I think Castro walked back his 2B comment and later said that he is willing to help anywhere. Since he’s younger, came up as a SS, and has some time at 3B, he might be the best person for that slot.

    However, if they’re wanting Kieboom to be the 3B of the (near) future, it would probably make more sense to start Castro at 2B and “get by” with Cabrera and Kendrick at 3B until they think Carter is ready.

    Sao, I actually had La Stella on a list I jotted a few weeks ago of 3B/INF types who might be available. He was unbelievably good in 2019 (16 HRs in 80 games, wRC+ of 122) and has a long history with Davey with the Cubs. I hear that the Angels signed some stiff to play 3B, so La Stella might be available for a couple of middling minor-league arms.

    Meanwhile, I was just reading on MLBTR how the Jays are looking for help in CF and the back end of their rotation. Um, Taylor and Fedde for Giles? (Might also have to include a minor-league arm.)


    16 Jan 20 at 8:27 am

  19. Castro position: read comments during his signing that he was adamant about playing 2B, so You’d have to think the Nats promised him to do so. Maybe not. I think Cabrera makes more sense at 2B and Castro seems better prepared to play 3B. I agree with all comers though that the longer term plan has to get Kieboom involved and starting at one of those two positions. Nobody thinks Kieboom is a SS; so the question is; is he nimble enough to play 2B? The dude is 6’2″ 190 … that’s taller than Jeff Kent, who most beleive was a “huge” 2nd baseman. I dunno. But if he doesn’t have a cannon, he makes little sense at 3B. BA scouting reports seem to indicate an “above average arm” so maybe we’re talking 3B. Which means Castro stays as starter at 2B and Cabrera/Kendrick become utility guys slotting in wherever they’re needed.

    works for me.

    Todd Boss

    16 Jan 20 at 8:41 am

  20. FWIW, I saw some reports from WinterFest that Kieboom has been working out hard and is up to around 210 lbs. Garcia had a big growth spurt during the last year, so both of them may be outgrowing the middle infield.

    In general, a 3B who can hit with moderate power has great value right now — witness the Arenado, Rendon, and Donaldson contracts — so if they think Kieboom can eventually have 30-HR power (despite his power outage in the second half of 2019), it would probably make sense to keep trying to groom him as a 3B unless he just can’t cut it there defensively.


    16 Jan 20 at 9:21 am

  21. OK, just breaking it down — on the hitter side of things, I see 10 locks for the 26-man (barring injury, of course): Gomes, Suzuki, Thames, Kendrick, Castro, Turner, Cabrera, Eaton, Robles, and Soto.

    That leaves three slots open. Two would figure to go to OFs, as there are no true OF reserves on that list (Thames and Kendrick have spent some recent time in the OF). Those two could be Taylor and Stevenson, but that’s a pretty weak combo, as we’ve discussed. The only other potential internal option is Yadiel Hernandez. There are quite a number of decent OFs still on the market who could be had for the $1-3M range (Pillar, Souza, Pence, Joyce, Maybin, Jay, plus INF/OF guys like Holt and Miller). I hope the Nats will add one or two.

    Then there’s one more INF slot. Zim? (Not my choice, but maybe.) Difo? (Heck no.) Kieboom? (Very likely staying in the minors for at least six weeks, unless he destroys it in the spring.)

    Lots of FA possibilities here, too: Flores (younger and good bat), Neil Walker, Holt, Miller, Duffy, etc. My guess is that they would prefer another multidimensional guy over more position-limited fellas like Dozier, Gennett, and Kipnis. That said, they don’t necessarily have to have someone who is SS-capable with Castro and Cabrera already on the roster.

    If it were me, I would add one OF with CF capability (Maybin?), a corner OF with some pop (Joyce or Souza), and a multi-function INF (Flores, Holt, or Miller). However, I wouldn’t be shocked if two of the three are Zim and Stevenson. They need to upgrade on Taylor, though.


    16 Jan 20 at 12:58 pm

  22. Zim is sure talking like he thinks he’s coming back. Love what he’s meant to this franchise, but I’m just not sure how this works.

    Presumably, Zim would split time with Thames at 1B. That pushes Howie off 1B and puts him more or less into a platoon with Cabrera at either 2B or 3B. Castro would then man the bag not taken full time. Kendrick was one of the best hitters in baseball last season, and Castro and Cabrera all had strong second halves . . . so if they all continue to hit well (and stay healthy), there’s no place for the top prospect in 2020 (actually the top two prospects).

    So . . . bringing back Zim pushes Howie to a weaker defensive position and more effectively blocks Kieboom. Don’t get me wrong, if Zim is healthy, his bat could still make an impact, as it did in the playoffs, but it’s also become a weird fit for him right now, particularly if he’s promised at least 300-350 ABs.


    17 Jan 20 at 7:49 am

  23. Random thought: the Nats have no OF prospects whatsoever, at least beyond a couple of Latino teenagers (and a 32-year-old who is older than Eaton). Eaton will be owed a $10.5M option for 2021, which may or may not get picked up. The Nats do need at least one infielder going forward, so maybe Kieboom stays at 2B or 3B, but maybe they think about giving Garcia some looks in RF? Admittedly, he’s shown almost no power yet, but perhaps he’s growing into some.


    17 Jan 20 at 8:31 am

  24. KW, the word is Garcia is Gold Glove caliber defense. He’s still a pup so let’s see what happens his 2nd go-round in AA.
    People expected him to be just like Soto but that happens once every 50 years.

    Mark L

    17 Jan 20 at 9:31 am

  25. I’m not too worried about the knock-on effects of bringing back Zimmerman, although he’s far from my first choice. He’ll get hurt sooner rather than later anyway.


    17 Jan 20 at 11:03 am

  26. Sao — was just reading on NatsTalk your concern about Cabrera cratering and/or not being adequate defensively at 3B. That’s exactly why I’m jumping up and down for another multi-dimensional infielder like Flores, Miller, or Holt. The latter two could also stand in the OF from time to time.

    This scenario is the root of my concern about Zim — that he would be the last INF piece and that they wouldn’t add another needed layer of reinforcement. We’ll see.

    Mark — not sure where you’re seeing the GG assessment on Garcia. FG has his fielding grade as 45 and says he’s not quick enough to stay at SS. (Of course these are also the same folks who think Kieboom would be better at SS than Turner, so bring your own grains of salt.)


    17 Jan 20 at 1:23 pm

  27. And now Davey is talking up Kieboom’s chances of starting the year at 3B?!?!

    Here’s the deal: if he’s defensively sound and ready to contribute offensively, don’t mess around with the service time and put him out there. The division and the wild card race are going to be too competitive to wait several weeks for some arbitrary date to pass. At the same time, we all need to be prepared for Kieboom to have an up-and-down offensive year, similar to what happened with Robles in 2019.

    However, if he’s not ready, don’t try to pretend like he is. And if his defensive work at 3B isn’t up to par, don’t put him on the MLB stage with a championship-caliber team trying to pretend like it is.

    Also, if the Nats are indeed committed to Kieboom being the guy at 3B at some point in the season, by my calculus, that’s all the more reason not to bring back Zim. Keep Howie as the 1B platoon with Thames and Cabrera as the reserve all around the INF, which are probably the best respective roles for them anyway.


    18 Jan 20 at 9:11 am

  28. I realize some may disagree, but what we need now is not another right-batting first baseman, what we need is a lefty second/third baseman for platooning. Yes, even if we’re expecting Kieboom to suddenly go from being a below-average hitter in the PCL during the second half last year to being a major league-ready player at a brand-new position. Check out Kieboom’s platoon splits last year:

    vs. LHP: .363/.441/.534
    vs. RHP: .252/.371/.446

    Zimmerman gives us just a lesser version of Howie Kendrick at this point. I get that the guy is beloved and iconic and the players want him back. But all good things must come to an end, and the Nats’ needs are not for a mono-positional, average-ish, right-handed hitter at this point in the offseason. We need someone who is going to push Cabrera to the bench so we can safely drop Difo.


    18 Jan 20 at 12:39 pm

  29. Sao — we’re thinking alike here: add a LH-hitting INF who can play 3B — Miller or Holt — let Cabrera be the reserve all around the infield, and say goodbye to Difo. It might work out the other way around, though, with Cabs as basically the platoon/relief guy for Kieboom and the other signee as the reserve.

    I’m not convinced that they’ll break camp with Kieboom at 3B, though. I wouldn’t be against it if he earns it, but we’ll see. If I had to predict right now who will be the Opening Day 3B at Citi Field facing deGrom, I would say . . . Kendrick.


    18 Jan 20 at 2:48 pm

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