Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Arbitration Results: guesses versus actual


I was way off on my salary prediction for taylor. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via

I was way off on my salary prediction for taylor. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via

Each year various pundits put out projections on Arbitration salary figures.  I put my own simple guesses in early in the off-season to do payroll projections.

Lets see how everyone did this year guessing the Nats cases?

You can see these guesses on the Nats 2020 Payroll page on the Big Board here: .  I’ll take them one by one and talk through my guess versus the pros versus the actual settled number (they’re in the order they are on that page, not alphabetical or by salary amount).

Note: I tend to use the 40%/60%/80% guess for salaries, meaning in a player’s 1st arbitration year their salary should be 40% of their fair market value, in the 2nd year 60%, in the 3rd year 80%.  For those Super-2 players I guess what really happens is something like a 40/60/80/90 range.  I also figure players can’t get a salary cut, so even a poor player once tendered gets a salary increase … or so I thought.  Read on.

1. Trea Turner.  I guessed $8M even.  Cots guessed $8M as well, while MLBtraderumors guessed $7.5M.  Actual 2020 salary: $7,450,000.

I was off by more than $500k, as was Cots, while MLBTR was right there, just $50k off.  Great guess.  In his 2nd arbitration year I figured he’d get to about $8M, meaning he’s projecting to be about a $14M/year player.  He definitely improved his overall stock year over year after earning $3.725M last season.  Its hard to imagine what he dealt with in 2019, basically playing the entire season with a busted finger.  Can he explode in 2020?  I bet he can; he had as many homers in 2019 (19) as he did in 40 more games in 2018.  Can he return to his crazy stats from his rookie season?

2. Michael Taylor: I guessed $4.5M, Cots guessed $3M, and MLBTR guessed $3.25M.  Actual 2020 salary: $3,325,000.

This was my worst guess; I’m not sure why I thought he’d improve so highly on his 2019 salary of $3.25M.  I’m guessing that the team probably made him a deal and offered to tender him (and guarantee his 2020 salary to some extent) but that he had to agree to just a nominal raise.  Interesting how MLBTR predicted he’d get zero raise from 2019; how did they project that?  Nonetheless, MLBTR was just $100k off here, while I ended up more than a million dollars off.  What was I thinking?  I”m not sure; perhaps I was thinking that Taylor’s improved 2019 numbers and his now-recognized defensive prowess would be worth a decent amount on the open market.  I dunno; if he was a FA right now, i think he’d be looking at a MLFA contract and one last “show me” season starting in AAA.  Will he make the 2020 team?  I still sense there’s some detractors out there who think he’ll get cut.  I don’t: I think he was improving in AA, he shone in the post-season and is an excellent guy to have on the bench who can play the OF at gold-glove levels as a late inning replacement.

3. Hunter Strickland: I guessed $2.5M, Cots guessed $2M, MLBTR guessed $1.9M.  Actual 2020 salary: $1,600,000.

So, three for three, MLBTR is closest in their guesses.  I think i’m over valuing Strickland for past performance, not what he did in 2019.  I know that there are those who think Strickland should have been non-tendered; i think those people forget he was hurt in 2019 and may not have really recovered.  If he’s anywhere close to his 2017 self, then $1.6M is an absolute steal.  We’re talking about a back of the bullpen guy who can take over games.   I also figured he’d get a decent increase over his 2019 $1.3M salary, especially given that he’s worth $8M/year if he’s in his past form on the open market.  If if if.  2020 will be an important year for Strickland.  Plus he gets to pitch against Bryce Harper all the time!  🙂

4. Roenis Elias: I guessed $1.3M, Cots guessed $2M, MLBTR guessed $1.9M.  Actual 2020 salary: $1,975.000

This one kind of confused me; i didn’t think Elias’ 2019 season merited more than a doubling of his 2019 salary of $910k.   So I predicted an incremental increase … but both Cots and MLBTR were spot on here, with both being within $100k of the eventual figure.  These guys are good.

5. Wilmer Difo: I guessed $800k, Cots guessed $900k, MLBTR guessed $1.2M.  Actual 2020 salary $1,000,000

I guessed that a completely replacement-level middle infielder would get basically the “MLB veteran FA minimum” of around $800k.  MLBTR went $200k to the other side.  A flat million for a guy who a lot of readers here don’t think makes the team over an even lesser hitting replacement middle infielder we have on our roster in Adrian Sanchez.  If he’s released mid-spring training they’re only on the hook for 1/6th of the figure … so there’s that.

6. Joe Ross.  I guessed $1.4M, Cots guessed $1.25M and MLBTR also guessed $1.4M.  Actual 2020 salary: $1,500,000

My closest guess, and I still couldn’t beat MLBTR, which guessed the same.  I like this as a salary for Ross, still a 50% raise over last year where he barely contributed though.  In his sole healthy, solid season he was perhaps the best 5th starter in the game; here’s hoping he can return to that form in 2020.


All told, I was more than $3.6M off on salaries one way or the other for these six players, an average of $600k wrong.  I’m not good at this.

Cots was a cumulative $1.625M off one way or the other, an average of $275k wrong per player.  MLBTR was off by a cumulative $1.1M, or an average of just $183k per player.  Their system continues to be the best and predicting these kinds of things.

Written by Todd Boss

January 22nd, 2020 at 10:47 am

17 Responses to 'Nats Arbitration Results: guesses versus actual'

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  1. Strickland and Elias are real wild cards for the bullpen. The fact that the Nats spent to get Harris and Hudson suggests that they don’t have great faith in Strickland and Elias as 7th/8th inning guys (or in Rainey or Suero), but if one or both of those guys regain form, that development would really strengthen the ‘pen, and also perhaps reduce the starter workload if Davey is more confident about what he’d get in the 6th and 7th. I agree that Strickland was working his way back from injury for 2019, and he may have already been hurting in 2018 when his numbers went downhill. He was outstanding 2015-17. I have less faith in an Elias resurgence, but you never know. If neither finds rhythm early in the spring, they could be traded, or released for only 1/6th of their salaries. Both are worth that much of a monetary gamble, particularly with ample room on the 40-man.

    I have no idea why they tendered Difo, and even less idea why they still need him after signing SS-capable guys in Cabrera and Castro. The only reason I can think of that they tendered Taylor was in case Robles hurts himself in the spring. Yes, they do need a CF-capable reserve, but there are cheaper/better options still available as free agents.

    Ross has his last great opportunity. It’s now or never. The Nats didn’t go out and sign a fifth starter, so it looks like it will be Ross, Voth, or Fedde. The magical appearance of Fedde’s fourth option really helps Ross’s cause to stay in the majors. Of course Ross also has some trade value since he would be an upgrade for most teams as back-end starter. Personally, I’d rather trade Fedde, although he likely has less value.


    22 Jan 20 at 11:54 am

  2. Okay Todd. This article reminds me it’s time for your annual options writeup. Reading about Strickland & Elias makes me wonder if they can be sent down if they prove not good enough in spring training.

    Mark L

    22 Jan 20 at 4:21 pm

  3. From last thread, re going after Arenado. If it took CK, Garcia + a couple of non Rutledge pitchers, I’d do it even if they just get 2 years. I believe CK will be a decent major leaguer, not as convinced on Garcia, and some of the other pitchers are lottery tickets.

    But Rutledge looks like a keeper, and I’d pass if they insisted on him. Gonna need starters sooner rather than later.


    22 Jan 20 at 8:19 pm

  4. Mark L, Nationals who have options this year (40-man roster) are:

    Pitchers: Erick Fedde, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Austen Williams, Ben Braymer, Aaron Barrett, James Bourque, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero
    Position players: Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Jake Noll, Carter Kieboom, Raudy Read, Tres Barrera

    So, no, if Strickland and/or Elías don’t make the team, the Nats will have to either trade them or designate them for assignment. Also likely to get cut sometime between now and, say, the end of April are Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez, who are basically the same (not very good) player.


    22 Jan 20 at 10:33 pm

  5. Thanks Sao. No one knows what they have in Elias and Strickland this year. Elias is a lefthanded who couldn’t get lefthanders out last year.
    Strickland hardly pitched at all last year and when he did he was lousy.

    Mark L

    23 Jan 20 at 7:40 am

  6. And now Eli Manning becomes the Jack Morris of Pro Football HOF debates . . .


    23 Jan 20 at 8:15 am

  7. There’s a real bullpen battle shaping up for the front end. Doolittle, Harris, and Hudson are more or less guaranteed spots, and Suero and Rainey seem likely (although both have options). That’s five of eight slots. The leaders for the other three to start the spring would seem to be Strickland, Elias, and the “loser” of the Ross/Voth starter battle. I don’t think anything is guaranteed, though, particularly for Strickland and Elias. If they suck early, the Nats likely would cut them and only pay 1/6th of their salary.

    Elias is the only lefty other than Doo seriously in the bullpen mix (Braymer is also on the 40-man), but as Mark notes, he wasn’t good against LH hitters last year. His career splits are better but still tilt in a reverse way. We’ll see.


    23 Jan 20 at 8:34 am

  8. As Sao notes, Difo and Ad. Sanchez very likely aren’t going to make the 26-man and will be DFA’d at some point (with a good chance of passing through waivers and probably remaining with the organization). The Nat 40-man stands at 38 right now, but it’s really only 36 if you discount Difo and Sanchez.

    I find it interesting that they have so much roster space still open this close to the spring. Are they saving that space for some pending deals, big or small? Are they going to have a flurry of FA signings? We’ve gotten to the time where most of the FAs who are left are getting minor-league deals, though, such as Neil Walker and Josh Harrison to the Phils (I had some interest in Walker for the Nats).


    23 Jan 20 at 8:41 am

  9. Speaking of big deals, Wally, I think I’m with you in really trying to hold onto Rutledge. That said, would Kieboom, Garcia, and other stuff be enough to land a bigger fish?

    Also, who do you want? If you’re backing up the truck, would you prefer Arenado or Bryant? Considering Arenado’s opt-out and the likely ruling in the Bryant arb case, you’d probably be getting only two years of control in return. They’re probably similar as hitters, Arenado is better defensively, while Bryant’s AAV hit would be significantly less (although either one would put the Nats over the CBT tax threshold for at least 2020).

    I’d offer Kieboom, Garcia, Taylor, and Fedde (or Ross if pushed), and maybe Crowe if it took another piece to get the deal done. I’m no MAT fan (obviously), but he’d be an upgrade over Almora in CHI, and possibly over Desi in COL as well (certainly defensively).

    I’m not sold on Garcia at all, although it’s really hard to tell because he was playing so far above his level for age. He’s shown very little power thus far, though. I’m higher on Kieboom, but he’s also still yet to show the power level you’d want from a corner position. Bregman only hit 19 homers his first full MLB season, though, even with the trash cans (2017), so we need to keep initial expectations reasonable.


    23 Jan 20 at 8:54 am

  10. I’d prefer Arenado, all things being equal, but i’d do a similar deal for bryant. Might drop us to the bottom of the prospect rankings 🙂

    I also wondered what it would take to get nick Senzel from CIN. He seems out of favor, doesn’t have an obvious position there and has some injury issues, but if he can stay healthy, he could be a star. Would Fedde, Crowe and Garcia get that done?


    23 Jan 20 at 2:11 pm

  11. Wow, Padres may get Betts just by taking on the Price contract, without giving up any of their top five contracts, plus dumping Myers to boot (although paying at least some of his freight). I know a local squad without a lot of prospect capital that might be willing to go over the tax line for a year or two . . .

    Let’s see, Price has lost a couple of MPH off his fastball, but he still struck out 10.7 per 9 last season. His FIP was a healthy 3.62, and he had pretty bad luck, with his BABIP jumping from the .270s the previous two seasons to .336 in 2019. His WHIP took a hit because of the extra balls in play that found green, but his walk rate remained the same.

    Eaton would need to go in return to clear at least a little salary, and Ross and/or Fedde would be expendable with a fifth starter incoming. The Nats would need to hang onto Kieboom as 3B wouldn’t be covered, and probably could keep Rutledge and certainly Robles as well. Maybe Garcia and Crowe would be in the deal.

    Now, if the Nats did the deal, it’s hard to see how they could come up with the cash to keep Betts after 2020. Price by himself would eat up much of what’s coming off the books next offseason, with still two more years to go. Still, I’d be tempted, and I think the Bosox might be interested if they’re not having to eat a big contract like Myers’ in return. Eaton’s probably better than Myers anyway, and certainly would be better in RF.

    Just trying to figure out how Rizzo could insert himself into yet another deal involving Myers as a third partner. Hmm, maybe we could take on that Machado contract to have someone to play 3B! (He’s younger than Arenado or Rendon and being paid less per year.)

    Yes, this is all probably crazy talk. Just trying to figure out how it might work. You know folks in the Nats’ front office have at least kicked it around.


    23 Jan 20 at 9:17 pm

  12. Wally — I look at Senzel’s stats and see a Kieboom comp. He may have less HR power, but Senzel is a doubles machine. Looks like he strikes out right about the same as Carter but doesn’t walk as much. I would probably give up Fedde/Crowe/Garcia to get him, although I wouldn’t assume he would be the 3B over Kieboom. In fact, he might be a multi-dimensional guy who would play all over and possibly could be the heir in RF (as well as Taylor’s replacement on the roster since he can play CF).

    Brad Miller might give them a similar skills set, though, although he’s not CF-capable.


    23 Jan 20 at 9:23 pm

  13. Of course the Padre I really want is Kirby Yates.


    24 Jan 20 at 6:31 am

  14. I wouldn’t touch the Price/Betts deal. I’ve never been a big Price fan, even at this peak. With all the injuries and decline, I put a low value on is performance, so it is really just about contracts, and I don’t see a similar bad contract for the Nats. If they really like Betts, who is terrific, just join the bidding war in a year, since he’s been pretty clear he’s going to test the market.

    As for Senzel, I agree that he profiles a bit like CK with a better glove, but if you could get him without giving up CK, your IF is basically set indefinitely, especially if they extend Turner. You’d then have 5 quality core position players locked up for 4-5 years, with the remaining positions ones that are easily (and cheaply) filled by the market (ok, C not so much, but there are so few good ones that most teams are in the same position anyway). Rizzo could then primarily focus on rotation pieces for the next few years as Max and Sanchez depart.


    24 Jan 20 at 7:26 am

  15. Yeah, but I couldn’t resist the fantasy of at least one year of a Betts/Robles/Soto OF, and Price as the fifth starter (albeit at a STEEP price).

    It’s probably more useful to speculate how Rizzo might insert himself into another Padre deal (if Preller doesn’t have Rizzo’s cell permanently blocked). The Padres only have three large contracts: Machado, Myers, and Hosmer, the last two of which are already way under water. The Padres do need pitching, and Ross could instantly be one of their top starters. I don’t know. I’d really like to have Yates.

    I wouldn’t dislike a deal for Senzel like the one proposed. And I would like to try to get something for guys like Fedde and Taylor, if they still have any value. Really, Fedde is starting to feel a lot like A. J. Cole, where they held on way past the time he could have been traded and brought something in return. Maybe Fedde can reinvent himself in the bullpen, although his low K rate at the MLB level is a yellow flag on that front.


    24 Jan 20 at 9:37 am

  16. Catching up here. Options are on teh Big Board: …. i disagree with those who think both Difo and Sanchez are getting DFA’d; who’s your backup SS if that happens? Cabreara? hah. Castro? no way. You need to have someone who can adequately play SS if Turner gets hit in the damn hand again in early April. I think Difo makes it and Sanchez gets cut loose barring some MLFA/veteran FA signing (of which there are more than a few SS capable guys). Still have a few weeks before ST.

    Todd Boss

    24 Jan 20 at 9:55 am

  17. I’d have Castro play SS every day of the week, and twice on Sunday, before I’d keep Difo, but YMMV. Difo’s wRC+ last season at the MLB level was 60; Sanchez’s was 23. Those aren’t the numbers of competent major-leaguers. The Nats tried Difo as a starter last season in Turner’s absence and “liked” what they saw so much that they exiled him to Fresno for the rest of the year.

    All of this said, no, I wouldn’t bet the farm that the Nats cut Difo, at least not right away. In fact, there’s a reasonable case that could be made that they’ll keep him until Kieboom is ready to be brought up in later April. If the choices for the last INF spot are Difo, Sanchez, or Noll, then Difo is probably the “best” of a bad lot.


    24 Jan 20 at 10:44 am

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