The surprise NL team of the season had to be the Nationals. At least, when it comes to the regular season. Yes, we knew Gonzalez was a good move, and yes we knew Harper was going to be good. But, did anyone see them running away with their division, and winning more games than anyone else in baseball? I know I didn’t. In my preseason predictions, I picked them to possibly make a run at the playoffs, and placed them 3rd in the NL East. Oops. So, let’s look ahead to their 2013 campaign. They reside in the 9th largest television market in America. And, on opening day in 2012, they possessed the 20th largest payroll at $81.3 million. That might come as a surprise to some, considering how they have spent money so freely the last couple off-seasons. But, they’ve been smart about it for now (though, Jayson Werth at $20 million starting in 2014 might come back to bite them). If they really wanted to, they could potentially go up as high as $90-100 million without it causing too much strain considering the market they’re in. But, that doesn’t mean they have to. Let’s see what’s in store for them.
Who’s Under Contract?
- The Nationals have 7 men signed at least through the 2013 season, accounting for $52.2 million. Those seven are Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Kurt Suzuki, Mike Morse, Bryce Harper, and Yunesky Maya (who spent 2012 at AAA).
- Pre-arbitration players that look to be a part of the 2013 team include Stephen Strasburg, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen, Ryan Mattheus, Wilson Ramos, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore. That accounts for around $6 million in payroll. This leaves 11 roster spots to be accounted for, with no less than $23 million available to spend.
- Jesus Flores is essentially the 3rd option at catcher, and is definitely not worth the $1 million+ he would earn in arbitration.
- John Lannan is also eligible for arbitration, and would likely earn $5 million or more. Not sure I’d be willing to pay that for a back-of-the-rotation guy that’s going to win at most 10 games with an ERA over 4, and WHIP around 1.50.
- Edwin Jackson – it was nice while they needed him, but the Nationals have options now. And, while he might come cheaper than the $11 million he made last year, he won’t be that much cheaper.
- Chien-Ming Wang – again, the Nationals have better options than a guy whose ERA was over 6 this past season.
- Rick Ankiel – he’s a free agent, and the Nationals have some depth in the outfield.
- Brad Lidge – also a free agent, and the Nationals have even more depth in the bullpen.
Tom Gorzelanny, Jordan Zimmerman, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina, Ross Detwiler, and Craig Stammen are all arbitration eligible, and are definitely worth the combined $19 million or so they will likely receive.
Who Do They Go After?
- Part of this answer also has to do with who stays. There are two guys that have turned down contract options/offers, but the Nationals haven’t ruled out the possibility of bringing them back. Those two are Adam LaRoche and Sean Burnett.
- Burnett turned down a $3.5 million option, and looks to probably make something closer to $5 million as a free agent. I would say the Nationals would do well to either bring Burnett back for that price, or a suitable replacement, such as Jeremy Affeldt. They might could save some money by going after a guy like Randy Choate, who is reliable as a left-handed specialist, and would cost only around $1.5 million.
- Going after Choate might be the smarter move in the bullpen since it looks like the Nationals are going to need to spend money at either 1B or in the OF. LaRoche turned down a $13.3 million 1-year deal with Washington, claiming he wants more years. My problem with LaRoche is a) he’s already 33; b) he just had the best season of his career; and c) prior to his 32-year-old season, his average year was 120 games, 20 HR, 73 RBI, and an .815 OPS. That doesn’t exactly scream 3-years, $45 million to me. The Nats have said that if they can’t resign LaRoche, then they would likely move Morse back to 1B, and go after left-handed power in the outfield. Hmmm . . . any names come to mind? Morse played primarily in LF – are there any left-handed power-hitting left-fielders that are free agents this year??? Can you imagine if the Nationals signed Josh Hamilton? Yes, he would be moving from the uber-friendly confines of Arlington Stadium to a ballpark that doesn’t appear to be quite as hitter-friendly, but don’t poo-poo Nationals Park just yet. Remember they had one of the toughest starting rotations in baseball this year, which kept opponents from hitting a lot of home runs. And, the Nationals had the 2nd most home runs of any NL team. I say, let the 33-year-old LaRoche go, move Morse to 1B, and sign 31-year-old Hamilton to a 4-year/$90 million deal. I know Hamilton has reportedly wanted a 7-year deal, but is anyone really going to give him that, considering his health questions? Give him four years, with maybe a couple vesting options at the end that could tack on a year or two. And, even though it’s a big risk, the draw of Hamilton, Harper & Strasburg on the same team is likely going to pay for itself. Plus, long-term, the Nationals are one of the few teams to have several nice-looking prospects that could step up to the major leagues in the coming years to keep them from having to spend big money at other positions.
Filling out the rest of the roster at this point is fairly easy, since it’s primarily bench players and a 5th starter. Either Maya or perhaps Daniel Rosenbaum (a LHP prospect) could take the final spot in the rotation, depending on how well they do in the Spring. Eury Perez (Washington’s #7 prospect) looks ready to help out in the outfield at the major league level. Then, you fill in the last bench spot with an Alex Gonzalez or Mark DeRosa type, and you haven’t broken the bank. In fact, even if they were to sign Hamilton, this roster would open the 2013 season with a payroll around $100 million – right around 10th in MLB. A very reasonable payroll for a team in the nation’s capitol.