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Nats non-tender deadline decisions

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Is Gorzelanny going to be tendered? Find out today. Photo via Nats.

The next big date on the MLB offseason calendar happens today, Monday December 12th.  This is the “Non-Tender Deadline,” or the last day for teams to tender 2012 contracts to players under reserve.  In english, this means that all the Nats arbitration eligible players must be “tendered” a 2012 contract by this date or else they become immediate free agents.

Here’s a list of the Nationals that are arbitration eligible this off-season, their 2011 salary and an estimate of what they would cost for 2012 if offered arbitration.

Player Current or 2011 Contract 2011 2012 2012 guess
Clippard, Tyler 1 yr/$0.443M (11) $443,000 Arb 1 $1,700,000
Flores, Jesus 1 yr/$0.75M (11) $750,000 Arb 3 $800,000
Gorzelanny, Tom 1 yr/$2.1M (11) $2,100,000 Arb 3 $2,800,000
Lannan, John 1yr/2.75M (11) $2,750,000 Arb 2 $4,500,000
Morse, Michael 1 yr/$1.05M (11) $1,050,000 Arb 2 $3,900,000
Slaten, Doug 1 yr/$0.695M; (11) $695,000 Arb 3 $900,000
Zimmermann, Jordan 1 yr/$0.415M (11) $415,000 Arb 1 $1,800,000

Both Tyler Clippard and Jordan Zimmermann achieved “super-2″ status, meaning they’ll get a 4th arbitration year down the road.  Contrary to other reports, Roger Bernadina did NOT qualify for this super-2 status, despite being right on the borderline of service days.  The above salary guesses are partly taken from mlbtraderumors.com analysis and partly adjusted to what I think the player would really earn.

Side note on the way to estimate/guess the salaries: For those with three years of arbitration, the salary achieved is usually a representation of an eventual percent of the FA salary would be for the player, based on the arbitration year.  These percentages are usually 40% of FA value for the first year of arbitration, 60% for second and 80% for third year.  Thus, using John Lannan as an example, his first year Arbitration salary was $2.75M, meaning that his 100% FA salary value would be $6.875M/year.  After his good 2011 season though, I’m estimating his 100% value to be $7.5M/year, or exactly what we paid Jason Marquis per year, which puts his 2012 arbitration figure at the $4.5M estimate.

So, what should the Nats do with these arbitration cases?

To me, five of these seven cases are straight-forward; you absolutely tender Clippard, Flores, Lannan, Morse and Zimmerman.  MASN’s Pete Kerzel posted his thoughts on this same topic over the weekend and seemed to indicate there would be a question as to whether we would tender Flores; that’s crazy talk.  In a league where quality catchers are a scarcity and with Flores tearing up the Venezeulan Winter League right now, there’s no reason to think the team would possibly lose him.  After all, we just put a journeyman AAA catcher Jhonatan Solano on the 40-man specifically to keep HIM from being poached.  Also, I hear rumblings that Lannan may be non-tendered under the theory that he’s not providing value worth what he’s going to be paid (roughly $4.8-$4.9M); again I think that’s misguided.  He’s a solid pitcher who gives good innings from the left hand side, and he’s only been improving since he earned a spot in the rotation.  He’s never missed a start due to injury, and if not for the first half of 2010 (when he lost his way and was demoted) he’d have a sub 4.00 career ERA, a rarity in this league.  Replacing him on the open market would absolutely cost more than he’s set to earn next year.  Plus, with any decent run support (the Nats averaged only 3.6 runs/game in games when he started in 2011) he’d probably have a much better W/L record.

That leaves Gorzelanny and Slaten.  Case by case.

1. Doug Slaten.  Here’s a list of pertinent stats for Slaten’s 2011 season as the primary LOOGY out of our pen:

  • 4.41 era.
  • 2.143 whip.  That’s so ridiculously bad as to be almost laughable.  He gave up 26 hits and 9 walks in 16 1/3 innings.
  • He had a -0.1 WAR.
  • He had a .356 batting average against.
  • Opposing batters had a 1.036 OPS with him on the hill.
  • He allowed 47% of inherited runners to SCORE.  Not advance, but score.  15 of 32 runners.
  • Lastly, in lefty-lefty matchups, the whole reasons he is put into games?  Lefties hit him for this slash line: .333/.368/.639 for nifty 1.007 OPS.

He struggled with injury last year, and yes its difficult to determine how much of the above performance was due to the lingering effects of the injury.  So be it; this isn’t personal; he was awful in the role and he’s replaceable either from within (Severino, VanAllen or Smoker) or on the FA market (where there’s always an older lefty in the Ron Villone mold looking for work).  Verdict: Basically, not only should Slaten not be tendered a contract, he should have been flat out released months ago.

2. Tom Gorzelanny.  A tougher call.  The Nats traded three prospects just a year ago to acquire him (though, in fairness, none of the three guys we traded have done much to improve their prospect status; AJ Morris didn’t play any 2011 games, Graham Hicks had a 4.01 era in 14 starts while repeating low A-ball for the 3rd time, and Michael Burgess batted .225 after being demoted to high-A.  So it seems we basically got Gorzelanny for nearly nothing).  He lost his spot in our starting rotation after 15 starts in 2011, but was excellent in 15 relief appearances.  His starter/reliever splits show a 4.46 era in his 15 starts but a 2.42 era in 15 relief appearances.

I think Gorzelanny would make an excellent long-man/spot starter out of the bullpen, a role that Davey Johnson values heavily.  His flexibility to be anything from a one-out guy to a 6 inning spot starter is indeed invaluable, and his 8.2 k/9 rate from the left hand side shows that he can be a shut down pitcher,when he needs it.

So what is the problem?  His salary.  Is he set to make more than a mediocre middle reliever is worth?  He made $2.1M this year in his first arbitration year, when his salary and value was being measured as a starter.  One would have to think that he’d easily get an increase if the team tendered him (I estimated $2.8M for his 2012 salary if tendered), and it would be difficult to argue against an increase despite his failure as a starter.  So the question becomes: is $2.8M too much money for a middle reliever?   A quick glance at some of the reliever FA signings thus far gives some comparables : Jeremy Affeldt signed a 1yr/$5M contract and Javier Lopez signed a 2yr/$8.5M.   Both these guys are mostly loogies (especially Lopez) but also both had far better numbers than Gorzelanny, even just looking at his reliever splits.  Meanwhile a couple of non-closer right-handed middle relievers (Dotel, Frasor) signed deals for between $3.5 and $3.75M/year but aren’t nearly the long-man capable guys that Gorzelanny is. So perhaps a salary in the $2.8M range for Gorzelanny isn’t too bad.

Verdict: Tender him.

5 Responses to 'Nats non-tender deadline decisions'

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  1. The 1 decision that will tell us a lot about the Nationals is Gorzelanny. He was terrific in middle relief (granted, he doesn’t like middle relief), and is an emergency starter for a team looking to be compettitive in 2012.
    With their paltry payroll numbers, they can afford him easily.

    Mark L

    12 Dec 11 at 11:11 am

  2. He’s been quoted as saying something along the lines of (paraphrased) “yes I’d prefer to be a starter, but if I’m a reliever I just want to know what my role is so that I can prepare from the beginning of spring training.” I mean clearly if you can’t cut it as a starter, then you’d choose to be a reliever versus quitting the game right?

    I can’t imagine why the team would non-tender him. He’s exactly the kind of guy that Davey wants in the bullpen. Ironically so was Balester … but perhaps that means that someone like Craig Stammen is a better bet for the 7th guy out of the pen in 2012.

    Todd Boss

    12 Dec 11 at 11:56 am

  3. You know, what never gets talked about is there are only 6 or 7 players on the Nats last year who were better hitters than Stammen.

    Mark L

    12 Dec 11 at 8:04 pm

  4. [...] Non-tender deadline came and went, and the team acted as I predicted here.  They protected all their arbitration-eligible guys outside of Doug Slaten.  Here’s a link [...]

  5. [...] from my “Arbitration Tender Deadline” post from December 12th, here was my salary guesses for our seven Arbitration eligible [...]

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