Nationals Arm Race

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

Post-2018 Season Payroll Analysis; how much will we have to spend?


Hope that Wieters contract was worth it; its the reason we're over the cap 2x years running. Photo via District On Deck

Hope that Wieters contract was worth it; its the reason we’re over the cap 2x years running. Photo via District On Deck

Note! thanks to Wally for pointing out I had Strasburg and Scherzer Luxury tax figures wrong.  I’ve updated the tables and the calculations… it made a significant difference.

Inspired by this series from John Sickels at, here’s a first pass related to what this team may do this coming off-season.

In order to know what we need to do, we kinda need to know how much money we have to play with.

In 2018, despite a sell-off of salaries at the trade deadline and into August (which resulted in roughly $8M in payroll saved for this year), the team wasn’t able to stay under the luxury tax for the season.  2018’s luxury tax payroll figure was $197M, and at the end of all the machinations … we were still several million over.

Cots tries to do the ridiculous payroll accounting to figure out how much over or under a team is on payroll; their Nats 2018 calcs are here.   The key point of looking this up is this: the annual payroll figure is not just about player salaries; it has to include Player Benefits too.  So 2018’s Benefit figure was roughly $14M and 2019’s will be $14.5M.  So we have to remember to take this figure back later on when figuring out how much money the team has to spend…

Here’s the list of FAs coming off the 40-man from this year (if they havn’t already done so) and their 2018 salary:

  • Bryce Harper, $21M
  • Daniel Murphy, $17.5M (waived, traded)
  • Gio Gonzalez: $12M (traded)
  • Matt Wieters, $10.5M
  • Ryan Madsen: $7.6M (traded)
  • Shawn Kelley, $5.5M (DFA’d, traded)
  • Matt Adams: $4M (waived, traded)
  • Joaquin Benoit: $1M
  • Kelvin Herrera: $4.4M remaining
  • Jeremy Hellickson: $2-$6M depending on incentives (use $4M in total)
  • Mark Reynolds: $? but probably $1.5M or so
  • Brandon Knitzler $5M (traded)
  • Tim Collins: (nominal)
  • Tommy Milone: (nominal)
  • Miguel Montero: $1.3M (released in April)

total payroll savings: roughly $95M …. but we’re not going to have *nearly* that much in free cash for 2019.  Read on.

There’s three factors involved.  Using the invaluable Cots payroll tracker, but accounting for “real” dollars versus what Cots lists for players (which is their luxury tax figure that has annualized shares of bonuses paid), here’s how I think things are rolling for this team’s payroll in 2019:

#1. Payroll Commitments for those signed for 2019 (i.e. non-arb eligibles): $81.4M in “real” dollars, $90M in luxury tax/cap dollars:

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2018 Luxury tax2018 Real2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollars
Scherzer, Max7yr/$210M (15-21), half deferred22142857150000002868937615000000
Strasburg, Stephen7yr/$175M (17-23), half deferred18333333150000002500000030000000
Zimmerman, Ryan6 yr/$100M (14-19)+20 opt 14000000140000001800000018000000
Eaton, Adam5 years/$23.5M (2015-19), options6000000600000084000008400000
Doolittle, Sean5ry/$10.5M plus options4350000435000060000006000000
Kendrick, Howie2yr/$7M (2018-19)3500000350000040000004000000

There’s a delta between what Scherzer and Strasburg are scheduled to be paid in actual 2019 dollars versus luxury tax calculated dollars, but thanks to ridiculously bad payroll management at the edges of the cap this team has now gone over two years in a row, and there’s just no way they’ll go over in 2019.  So we’ll use the cap numbers for calcs.

#2. Arbitration Eligibles for 2019.  I count 6 players (as does Cots right now), but I’m not sure if someone like Justin Miller got enough service time to qualify.   For now we’ll use these 6.  I estimate $35M in total payroll.

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2018 Luxury tax2018 Real2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollars  
Rendon, Anthony1 yr/$12.3M (18)12300000123000001500000015000000
Roark, Tanner1 yr/$6.475M (18)6475000647500085000008500000
Taylor, Michael1 yr/$2.525M (18)2525000252500045000004500000
Turner, Trea1 yr/$0.5772M (18)57720057720030000003000000
Ross, Joe1 yr/$0.5679M (18)56790056790025000002500000
Solis, Sammy1 yr/$0.5603M (18)56030056030015000001500000

This might go up or down slightly, especially if i’m wrong about Miller, or if the team non-tenders Sammy Solis (a distinct possibility).  I don’t see the other 5 arb-eligible players as non-tender candidates.  You may quibble with my arb salary estimates; Rendon might be a bit low.  Roark may be a bit low too but he had a middling 2019 honestly.  Ross‘ figure may be generous given his lost season to injury.  Do I have Turner’s first year figure too low based on what he’s done?  He was so much flashier in 2017 than 2018; is he worth more?  Maybe this figure at the end of the day is closer to $40M.

#3. Pre-Arb players.  Thanks to the massive shedding of veterans, right now 21 of our 33 40-man players are pre-arb players.  And they’re on or near MLB-min salaries.

PlayerCurrent or 2019 Contract2018 Luxury tax2018 Real2019 Lux Tax2019 Real dollars 
Fedde, Erick1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Miller, Justin1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Grace, Matt1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Suero, Wander1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Glover, Koda1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Cordero, Jimmy1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Williams, Austen1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Kieboom, Spencer1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Severino, Pedro1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Difo, Wilmer1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Sanchez, Adrian1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Soto, Juan1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Robles, Victor1yr Minor League deal (18)555000555000
Rodriguez, Jefry1yr Minor League deal (18)
Voth, Austin1yr Minor League deal (18)
McGowin, Dustin1yr Minor League deal (18)
Adams, Austin1yr Minor League deal (18)
Gott, Trevor1yr Minor League deal (18)
Read, Raudy1yr Minor League deal (18)
Reynolds, Matt1yr Minor League deal (18)
Stevenson, Andrew1yr Minor League deal (18)

If 2019 started tomorrow, 13 of these guys would make the opening day roster, costing the team roughly $7.2M in payroll.

So if you add up these figures;

  • 2019 Veterans under contract: $90M
  • 2019 Arb players: $35M
  • 2019 pre-arb players: $7.2M
  • 2019 Player Benefit estimate: $14.5M
  • Total: $146.7M or there abouts.

The 2019 luxury cap for payroll is $206M.  $206M less $146.7 = $59.3M.  wow, that’s not a bad amount to work with.  Even if I’m wildly conservative with arb figures and they cost $10M more, that’s still $50M of FA dollars to spend.

Does this look about right to you guys?

In the next post we’ll talk about what this $59.3M can buy us … but one things seems rather certain.  If the team allocates $30M of it or so to Bryce Harper …. there’s not going to be a lotta room to buy what this team needs to buy (pitching, a catcher, a couple relievers and a couple of bench bats).  But we’ll expand on this later….

Written by Todd Boss

September 26th, 2018 at 10:53 am

Posted in Nats in General

22 Responses to 'Post-2018 Season Payroll Analysis; how much will we have to spend?'

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  1. Whoever manages the cap (luxury tax) line for the Nats should be fired. Rizzo was swearing that they got under it for 2017, but they didn’t. At the press conference for the Murphy/Adams trades, he basically said that they didn’t know where they stood in relation to getting under the tax line. I know it’s complicated, but good grief, find someone who can get a handle on it.

    Your numbers for 2019 look very much in the ballpark. You omitted a few guys who are on the 40-man, though: Robles, McGowin, Rodriguez, Voth, Sanchez, Mark Reynolds, and Stevenson, on quick glance. They would all be at the minimum, but that would still add $3.85M to the red numbers.

    That number would be more than offset by Taylor’s departure. I just can’t see him still being here next season, even if Harper leaves and he’s the 4th OF. You shouldn’t be paying a 4th OF $4.5M. (Oops, just had a nasty flashback to Nate McOut.) I think you’re right that Solis will be leaving, one way or another.

    The Rendon arb guess may be low, but I don’t know enough about the arb system to correctly estimate.

    All of this to say that the Nats likely will have in the ballpark of $35M to $40M to spend and still stay under the tax line. That feeds very well into my comment on the last post that while Harper may be “worth” $30-35M (depending on how one wants to define “worth”), he’s very likely not worth that much to the Nats right now.

    That said, the Nats are the kings of deferred money, even though they’ve still got A LOT deferred for Max and Stras over the next decade-plus, but I think they will make an offer to Harper, built around deferrals and a couple of opt-outs, one that might count only $15-20M against their cap in 2019. I don’t know whether he would take it. (I doubt it, although I also thought that Stras was 100% gone, so you never know.) The much bigger point here is that the Nats need a resolution on this issue at the start of the offseason so they have some idea what they’ve got to spend elsewhere. They’ve got too much to do to play the usual Boras game of waiting until February.


    26 Sep 18 at 2:22 pm

  2. Err, I meant Matt Reynolds, not Mark.


    26 Sep 18 at 3:30 pm

  3. Those tables need to hit “next” to see the next 10 … i think the rest of the 40-man guys who weren’t on the first page of the pre-Arb list are all on the second. 🙂 You had me scared that I made a huge gaffe there.

    Problem with a deferred deal for Harper is this: its counted as current dollars for the Luxury tax!! So it doesn’t really matter; if the team wants to get underneath … they have to take the CBA-calculated values. They could offer Harper $1 for 2019 with $40M deferred and it wouldn’t maktter; they’re still valuing that contract at a higher value now versus the deferred payments.

    I was kind of shocked in the end, given how much payroll is coming off from 2018, at the small amount of actual payroll they’ll have to spend. Honestly … i don’t thnk they can get a good starter and a good catcher for $35M. We may be going to war with another significant hole. At least Wieters level production in 2019 won’t cost $10M.

    Todd Boss

    26 Sep 18 at 4:02 pm

  4. Either that you just say “F it” and buy Harper and Corbin and blow past the luxury line like Boston did this year in an obvious attempt to go for it. Do you see this ownership group purposely throwing caution to the wind like that?

    I don’t. I still see them trying to operate like a business in some ways, and the fact that they’ve deferred so much payroll seems to be a perfet example. Does anyone else have an example of teams deferring payroll to the extent the Nats have done?

    And, btw, yes whoever is managing the luxury tax line should be canned. What was the point of the sell-off if it didn’t get you below that line? Congrats; they managed to still go .500 with slightly less payroll; i guess the Lerners get a year end bonus!

    Todd Boss

    26 Sep 18 at 4:04 pm

  5. The only thing that I don’t think you have right is Max and Stras. My understanding is that, for lux tax purposes, a contract is assigned an average annual value when signed, and that number is used for lux tax purposes every year so teams cannot game it by widely varying the yearly salary. In Max’s case, because of the deferrals, it’s $22m/year. It sure of Stras’ annual number. If that’s true, they have substantially more lux tax room than your figures.

    I agree MAT is likely gone at $4m.


    26 Sep 18 at 9:16 pm

  6. You’re right. I thought Lux tax varied up and down. Its clearly stated in COTS.

    for luxury-tax purposes, Scherzer’s annual salary is $28,689,376 and Strasburg’s is $25M.

    damn. that changes things. I’ll update the post.

    Todd Boss

    26 Sep 18 at 9:25 pm

  7. OK, re-did the post and instead of $37M I arrived at $59.3M.

    that’s pretty significant. And actually that’s a lotta cash. that’ll make the next post a bit easier to write.

    Todd Boss

    26 Sep 18 at 9:32 pm

  8. OT – finally a Denaburg sighting. He pitched in an instructs game against the Marlins. Looked rusty but ok. Worked 91-94. There was a clip on Twitter from Adam McInturf but don’t know how to link it.


    27 Sep 18 at 7:29 am

  9. WOW. Recalibrating . . .

    Those who are trying to claim that Robles is no longer a top prospect may want to check the video from yesterday. The Marlins beg to differ. Of course he could have been theirs . . .


    27 Sep 18 at 8:52 am

  10. Here’s a list of upcoming FAs with fWAR through Sept. 3:

    Note that Wieters has passed several of the catchers since then, including Lucroy and Hundley. The catching market is a disaster. Grandal is the best of the bunch but is hitting .238 (career .239) and regularly Ks around 25%. Ramos will be doing well to squat for 80 games and can’t be considered a full-time catcher. Two things I NEVER thought I’d say: 1) I might consider taking Wieters back at a salary of >$5M, and 2) S. Kieboom is starting to look decent enough to be an MLB backup. All of that said, Grandal can probably be had for the ridiculous amount that they paid Wieters.


    27 Sep 18 at 9:19 am

  11. What would you be willing to trade to acquire an existing catcher (like a JT Realmuto). Our top young guys are: Soto, Robles, CKieboom, Crowe, Garcia, Denaburg, Romero (haha), Fedde, Daniepl Johnson, Atuna, Jefry Rodriguez …

    Really, the top guys worthy of trade to acquire a top-end Catcher would be Soto, Robles, CKieboom. Crowe may not project highly enough, Denaburg is too much of a wild card. Fedde and JRodriguez may be 5th starters at best. Garcia a wild card.

    If you’re the marlins you’re asking for an established, top prospect and a wild card. So that could be something like Robles and maybe a Tim Cate. Would you make that trade? I wouldn’t. Would you move CKieboom? Nope; this team just finished a payroll-heavy period of buying talent and needs to depend on its howm grown talent to fill in the roster for a time to kind of “reset.”

    Maybe you just roll the dice with internal catching options and hold on to your chips.

    Todd Boss

    27 Sep 18 at 11:07 am

  12. If the chatter out there is to be believed, the Fish turned down Robles straight up for three years of Realmuto before and/or during this season. Now we’re down to just two years left on Realmuto, albeit two very desirable years. So if they didn’t bite on the top chip . . . it probably ain’t gonna happen. Soto is now untouchable, and the Nats really need Kieboom (unless they become convinced between AA and AFL that he isn’t going to pan out).

    I’m coming to think that Robles is now untouchable as well, whether they re-sign Harper or not. They shouldn’t play Bryce in CF, and they’ve been playing Bryce there over Eaton, so either one likely needs to be in RF. Also, even if they do have a pot of $59.3M (or so), in doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, I think they’re going to need to move Eaton’s salary to be able to fit Bryce in and still have latitude to make another larger move or two.

    I don’t really know what to do about catching. There aren’t good FA options, and I doubt there are many decent trade options. Suzuki might be a cheaper option than Wieters. Is Grandal worth $10-12M per year to the Nats? I’m skeptical.


    27 Sep 18 at 11:24 am

  13. Beyond the Harper decision, if the Nats spend on a big-ticket item, I’d rather it be Kimbrel than Corbin. I think the bidding on Corbin is probably going to start at around 6/$150M, and that sure seems like a massive bet on a one-year wonder to me.

    Yeah, I know they’ve got Doolittle, but A) he’s somewhat fragile, and B) it’s becoming more and more of a bullpen game. I’d bet 5/$90M on Kimbrel, although who knows whether that’s enough to out-bluff the Bosox.

    My temp starter fix is to trade Taylor and/or Eaton as the headliner of a package to the Giants for one year of MadBum ($12M). The Giants just canned their GM and are going to have to start moving some of their legends. Bumgarner still has some value, but it’s diminished. If he’s good, the Nats would have the first shot at extending him; if he’s not, they’re not locked into an extended deal like they would be for Corbin or Keuchel (who I think will probably stay in Houston).


    27 Sep 18 at 11:39 am

  14. I would not make those trades for realmuto. big picture, the Nats are turning over the roster so they really are no longer in position to make significant future for present trades. Small ones, no problem because they are still on the playoff bubble, but nothing big like Robles for Realmuto. We’re turning over the roster and trying to get younger and cheaper, and I’d avoid really big ticket market options.

    I also don’t really like KW’s options – $90m for Kimbrel, nor do I think Eaton and taylor bring back MadBum (but I’d probably do it if it would).

    For catcher, I’d try to find some decent prospect blocked, like the kid in STL who’s name escapes, and see if they could get him for taylor or someone.

    Lowrie for 2/$20m, Morton for similar? Sure. Morton is particularly interesting to me. He’s pretty good, and has been undecided about whether to keep playing, cause he wants to stay close to family in Del so might work in Nats favor.


    27 Sep 18 at 1:56 pm

  15. Not saying the Nats NEED to go big for Kimbrel; just putting it out there as a possibility for a big-impact play. Heck, they could get Machado to play 2B (and be on hand if Rendon leaves). Does it make the best sense? Probably not.

    Not saying Taylor AND Eaton for Bumgarner; I was thinking one or the other as the centerpiece of a deal that would probably need to include multiple mid-level prospects for the Giants to save face. Their OF is so terrible that Stevenson could probably start for them right now, so they really need outfielders.

    I’ve never been particularly fond of a massive prospect trade for Realmuto, and I think it makes even less sense now with him having only two years left. Plus I just don’t think the Nats have the prospect firepower the Marlins want, if in fact they turned down Robles earlier (said to have wanted Robles AND Soto — hahaha).

    I like the Morton idea, although I’d like it more if he could throw left-handed. I wouldn’t mind having Hellickson back if he’d accept a role as a swingman. Tyson Ross would be an alternative for that role.

    The Lowrie play really depends on Kendrick’s recovery. If Kendrick is going to be fully back, he’s just fine; if not, they need some help. Difo shouldn’t be playing regularly (OBP now under .300).


    27 Sep 18 at 2:30 pm

  16. Discount FA LH starter if healthy: Ryu. He’s been very good down the stretch for the Dodgers. But he’s always been fragile.


    27 Sep 18 at 2:32 pm

  17. Ugh I would not want to spend money on a closer. Separate conversation, but we’ve traded away what turned out to be two absolutely dominant closers in this league in Treinen and Hearn. I mean, frigging Treinen has a 0.097 ERA this season. Why didn’t he do that for us?

    But, coming back to spending money on a closer in FA … if we can “grow” someone like Treinen and he’s every bit as good as Kimbrel statistically … why would we spend that money? I’d much rather grow the next one internally and spend that money on a starter.

    Todd Boss

    28 Sep 18 at 12:12 pm

  18. On the morning of the last game, I wanted to say thanks to Todd for maintaining the site and the rest of you contributors for putting up with me!

    Final day wishes: a homer and more for Trea to get to 20/40 and 5 fWAR; a 4 for 4 day for Soto to get up over.300 in BA. still don’t think he winsRoY but it would be symbolic. 3 HRs might actually get him the award


    30 Sep 18 at 10:31 am

  19. If I were the Dodgers, I would furious that Scherzer isn’t starting. Unstated by anyone, however, is that the Nats are seeking more data on a question that will be one of the defining ones for their offseason: do they trust Fedde in the rotation? To tag onto to Todd’s point about developing a closer, they’ve struggled even more to develop starters. There’s Strasburg, Zimmermann, and, um . . . They didn’t draft Roark or Ross, but both did reach the majors from the Nats’ system. (They didn’t draft/sign Treinen or Rivero/Vazquez, either.)

    Yes, it would be great to add a guy like Corbin, but as I’ve said, I expect him to get #1/#2 money, and the Nats already have their two highest salaries invested in their #1 and #2. The price tag for Ryu/Happ/Morton is likely to be more palatable, . . . but it would be even better for them for Fedde to turn into a reliable and controllable starter.

    As for developing relievers or starters, they’re drafting them by the truckload but having hardly any pan out. Good grief, they took arms with nine of the first ten picks in 2017, with only Crowe advancing at a good pace. Might be time to rethink what they’re looking at when they’re drafting. Might also be time to rethink whether they’re keeping some potential relievers too long as starters.


    30 Sep 18 at 1:58 pm

  20. Yeah, thought the prevailing statement out of the team earlier this weekend was that Scherzer would start sunday’sgame if it was meaning ful. On the other hand, would definitely like to see Fedde one more time versus a chance for Scherzer to pad his K total.

    Todd Boss

    30 Sep 18 at 2:04 pm

  21. LAD? Screw them, frankly. Max has had a huge workload this year, and they need to think about him, and only him. If LAD didn’t want to be in this position, they should have won more games.

    Might also be time to change up some of the scouting/dev folks. Joe Jordan left PHI, and he supposedly was pretty good. The Mets scouting guy also left (for BOS) and he also had a good rep. Maybe some new blood makes sense.


    30 Sep 18 at 2:10 pm

  22. I think the budget you suggest is a great idea. I am interested in what FAs we might acquire would cost so plugging in suggestions would be easy.
    I suggest also the following article to you or anyone else here. This is to discuss the net effect of someone who hits 35 home runs but strikes out 150 times and bats below 250. As opposed to a 300 hitter with 100 Ks and 20 more SBs and bunting skills. And I suppose the number of opposing hits per year saved defensively plays into this.


    1 Oct 18 at 12:14 pm

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