Nationals Arm Race

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Non-Tender deadline 2011 decisions


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 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.

Rizzo’s off-season todo list: where do we stand?

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Mike Rizzo answering the latest question about where the money is coming from for the Werth contract. Photo:

Each year heading into the off-season, I make up a transactional “to-do” list for the team (as if I were the GM).  Essentially you look at the roster and kind of work backwards.  Based on the way things looked at the end of 2010, the Nationals seemed set on:

  • C (Pudge, Ramos)
  • most of the infield: 2b (Espinosa), SS (Desmond), 3B (Zimmerman)
  • LF (Willingham)
  • 3-4 starters (Lannan, Marquis, LHernandez, Zimmermann), and
  • several relievers (Clippard, Burnett, Storen)

So, given this, here’s what I listed as off season priorities and where we stand post the Winter Meetings (and counting all the rumors and scuttlebutt we’ve been hearing):


  • Power hitting reliable RF
  • Top-of-the-rotation Starting Pitcher
  • Better Centerfielder/Leadoff Hitter

1. In what was easily the most surprising move this team has done since relocating from Montreal, we acquired a front-line marquee FA in Jayson Werth, satisfying the “power hitting RF” fantasy requirement.  Yes there are concerns about the contract’s length and value, but hey, we’re a better team for getting him.

2. Rizzo has definitely made mention of wanting to acquire a “top of the rotation” starter but they are hard to come by this off season.  Cliff Lee is the target, and from there the list dwindled quickly to include guys who were middle of the road veterans with question marks (Vazquez, Pavano), FA starters that weren’t exactly planning on going anywhere (Lilly, Kuroda, de La Rosa, Arroyo, Garland, Padilla) and incredibly risky alternatives (Webb, Darvish, Francis).

3. Lastly, despite my desire to upgrade from Nyjer Morgan in center and leadoff (for reasons that include discipline, chemistry and performance), Rizzo seems set on the guy for the time being.  I would not be surprised to see no more movement in this area.  I advocated trading Willingham to Boston for possible spare-part outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in a previous post, but despite Willingham’s offensive capabilities Boston may also value defense and may not really be interested in acquiring more bats this off season.


  • First Baseman
  • 1-2 Veteran FA pitchers
  • Utility Middle Infielder

1. Acquiring a first baseman included the possibility of re-signing Adam Dunn, despite all indications that it was never to happen.  Rizzo clearly will take less power for more defense at first, and we seem destined to sign Adam LaRoche (after missing out on Carlos Pena, the player I was absolutely sure we’d get).  Frankly, for my money I’d rather have LaRoche.  He’ll sign a 2 year deal for less than any of Dunn, Pena, Konerko or Huff would have signed for, he hits for power and he is a plus defender.  I think he’s perfect until we figure out if Chris Marrero or someone even more remote (like high-A stud hitter and Nats minor leaguer of the year in 2010 Tyler Moore) becomes a possibility.  A final thought; I do NOT want to be left with Derrek Lee as the solution.  He’s a right handed hitter on a team that is now full of them.  Zimmerman, Willingham, Werth all righties; we need a lefty slugger to break up the middle of our batting order.

2. I still see the acquisition of one or two veteran FA pitchers on the horizon.  I can see us (unless someone foolishly offers him $10M) signing Brandon Webb on a one year flier.  I can see us re-signing Wang to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

3. The backup middle infielder is a lower priority but still important.  If Desmond/Espinosa are holding down the starting spots and Alberto Gonzalez is begrudingly serving as the primary glove-man backup, we still need a second player that can do middle infield.  Willie Harris has been that player but he really tailed off last season.  Adam Kennedy served as the backup for the right side of the infield but he clearly wants to start.  I was lobbying for Pete Orr as a nice cheap candidate; he had always produced for us when called up, could play 2nd, 3rd or even outfield.  But he signed elsewhere as a minor league FA.  Perhaps the answer is a prospect to be named (Lombardozzi?) or a FA signing.  I like David Eckstein to team him up with his hitting-coach brother but he probably wants a starting job too.  And Eckstein wouldn’t make sense unless we traded one of Desmond/Espinosa (still a possibility; see later).

Less Likely

  • FA Closer
  • Trade for a Veteran pitcher
  • 1 veteran bullpen presence

1. There are a couple closer-types on the FA market and I can now see the Nats picking one up ala their deal with Matt Capps to cover for Storen as he grows into the spot.  Jenks, Dotel,Gregg, Hoffman, Soriano, Wood all available (Soriano a type-A though, so we wont’ get him).  I think this would make for a good piece of business and could serve as a useful trade chip mid season.

2. I can see us working out a trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Matt Garza.  Tampa wants to get rid of payroll, not add it, but perhaps we can pre-arrange a one-year deal with Willingham and flip him to Tampa.  Washington could eat some of the salary and Willingham would slot nicely into the left field spot recently vacated by Carl Crawford.  Tampa may like this deal since Willingham projects to be a type-A free agent and would net them 2 picks when he leaves (you have to think Willingham wants to get at least a 3-year deal when he hits the FA market based on his age and his proclivities for injuries).  Of course, getting rid of Willingham also puts a hole into OUR lineup, one that looks pretty promising when we get a power hitting lefty first baseman.  And we certainly would like to get some compensation picks to continue to rebuild the farm system.  More likely Tampa would ask for someone like Desmond, which would be a tough trade to swallow for a team that hasn’t really developed that many marquee players in the last 5 years.  We could trade Desmond, acquire Garza, move Espinosa to short (where he’s a better fielder anyway) then sign a short term 2nd baseman like David Eckstein or Orlando Hudson until one of our high-end 2nd base prospects (Lobardozzi, Rick Hague or Jeff Kobernus) is ready to go.

3. Lastly, with not one but TWO arms picked up in the rule5 draft, the likelihood of us acquiring any veteran bullpen arms seems nil.  Perhaps we re-sign Peralta as a long man, but we have plenty of cover there in Balester and Stammen.  We have all the arms we could want coming up (Kimball, Carr, Wilkie all project as mid-bullpen arms, and the AA team is filled with good arms with no place to move up to with so many AAA starters on the 40-man) and we have three great live arms in Storen, Clippard and Burnett already in place.

It has been a pretty fun offseason to track thus far for Nats fans.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.