Arbitration Eligibles: Washington Nationals

Matt Swartz has developed a very accurate model that MLBTR uses to project arbitration salaries, as explained in this series of posts. We've heard from many MLB teams and agencies that reference the projections in their work.  The Nationals are next in our series.  Estimated service time is in parentheses, and estimated 2014 salary follows.

Zimmermann posted the best season of his career in 2013, with 213 1/3 innings of 3.25 ball.  He also tied for the NL lead with 19 wins, a number that looks great in arbitration especially with a previous career high of 12.  He had Tommy John surgery in August of 2009, and beginning in 2011 posted full season ERAs of 3.18, 2.94, and 3.25.  Zimmermann picked up his first All-Star nod this year as well.  It's difficult to find a hole in his arbitration case, and a hefty raise is in order for his third time through.  Four years ago, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez signed five-year deals in the $80MM range.  Having been a Super Two player, Zimmermann would probably require at least $85MM over five years.  The price has gone up since last year, with negotiations expected with the Nationals this winter.  The righty told MLB.com's Bill Ladson in August, "I like it here. Obviously, it's the only place that I know. It would be nice to stay long term, but it has to be something fair. I'm just not going to do a team-friendly deal just to stay here long term. If it's a fair deal, then obviously, we'll definitely think about it. But I'm not going to give a huge team discount. Just something fair is all I ask."

Desmond is another extension candidate, after proving 2012 was no fluke by putting up another 20 home run season and duplicating that year's 5.0 wins above replacement.  Like Zimmermann, Desmond hasn't jumped at a team-friendly offer yet, and his price tag continues to rise.  Elvis Andrus doesn't have much on Desmond aside from age, and he inked an eight-year, $120MM extension with the same amount of service time as Desmond.  That contract covered all free agent years, since the Rangers had already locked up Andrus' arbitration seasons, and also includes opt-outs after the fourth and fifth years.  Andrus doesn't have Desmond's power, so it's hard to consider them a match.  On the other hand, Desmond isn't in Troy Tulowitzki territory.  I think one way or another, the Nationals will have to go past $100MM to lock up their shortstop long-term, especially if Desmond insists on receiving eight guaranteed years like Andrus did.

Having compiled 110 holds and 33 saves in his career, Clippard continues to climb up the arbitration ladder.  His projected $6.2MM salary is in the range a quality free agent setup man might receive.  While he's under control for 2015 as well, his salary at that point will be no bargain.  Clippard has given the Nationals five solid seasons, and I wonder if this calls for the old mantra of trading a player a year early rather than a year late.  Clippard might still bring solid value on the trade market, especially if an older reliever like Grant Balfour gets something like $18MM over two years.

Another reason Clippard could be on the move is the comments he made in July regarding the Nationals' handling of his friend and fellow reliever Storen.  "I just think it’s been handled very poorly," Clippard told reporters of Storen's demotion to Triple-A.  Storen himself could be dealt instead after posting a 4.52 ERA in 2013.  He did, however, manage a 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 innings after his recall in mid-August.

Continuing the Nationals' list of big-name arbitration cases, Strasburg is up for the first time following 183 innings of 3.00 ball, in a season that included forearm tightness and a DL stint for a lat strain.  A mere eight wins on the season serves to limit his salary, and the budding ace will remain affordable in the near-term.  Technically, we would have projected him at $3.4MM had he not earned $3.9MM in 2012, so we expect little to no raise.  The Nats control Strasburg through 2016, at which point the Boras client might pursue a big free agent payday at age 28.

A strained oblique and a back strain limited Detwiler to 13 starts, with his last one coming on July 3rd.  His arbitration salary is justified, though the Nats could slot Tanner Roark and a free agent into the fourth and fifth slots in the 2014 rotation and move Detwiler.

Ramos is in good standing as the team's starting catcher, though a recurring hamstring injury limited him to 78 games on the season.  He still hit a career-best 16 home runs.  If the Nats can handle the injury risk, they could try to steal Ramos' arbitration years at $10MM or less, as happened with Nick Hundley, Carlos Ruiz, and Chris Iannetta.

Ohlendorf joined the organization on a minor league deal in January, having his contract purchased in June and staying on as a swingman thereafter but spending time on the DL in August for a shoulder injury.  He was pretty good overall in 60 1/3 innings, probably enough so to be tendered a contract.

Assuming Zimmermann, Desmond, Clippard, Storen, Strasburg, Detwiler, Ramos, and Ohlendorf are tendered contracts, the Nationals are looking at an estimated $37.3MM for eight arbitration eligible players.



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