- The Nationals and right fielder Bryce Harper avoided arbitration Friday when they agreed to a $13.625MM salary for 2017. That figure trumps MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz’s $9.3MM arbitration projection for Harper, leading Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com to wonder if it was a goodwill gesture on the Nationals’ part. Harper made $5MM last season, which was a bargain even during a down year for the 2015 National League MVP. By nearly tripling Harper’s salary, Zuckerman posits that the Nats may have been trying to make up for his cheap cost last year and perhaps improve their chances of extending the Scott Boras client before he hits free agency two winters from now. However, regardless of the club’s motivation, Zuckerman concedes that Harper’s 2017 salary probably won’t affect whether he’ll stay in D.C.
- The Nationals and Anthony Rendon are in agreement on a one-year, $5.8MM deal (compared to $6.4MM projection), according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. The 26-year-old third baseman is under team control through 2019.
- Derek Norris and Tanner Roark both agreed to one-year deals with the Nationals, per Heyman (Twitter links). Norris will get $4.2MM (compared to a $4MM projection), while Roark earns $4.315MM (compared to what looks to have been an overly aggressive $6.1MM projection).
The Nationals have avoided arbitration with right fielder and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper, tweets FanRag’s Jon Heyman. ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that Harper will receive a hefty $13.625MM salary — a massive raise over his $5MM salary from the 2016 season. Harper’s raise shattered the $9.3MM projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz and stands out as the largest raise ever given to a position player that is entering his third year of arbitration eligibility. Harper will be arb-eligible once more next winter and is a free agent following the 2018 season.
The Nationals have agreed to a minor league contract with left-handed reliever Neal Cotts, tweets Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports that the veteran 36-year-old (37 in March) will receive an invite to Major League Spring Training. Cotts is represented by Pro Star Management.
Cotts didn’t pitch in the Majors last season and had a three-year layoff from MLB action from 2010-12, but he pitched very well for three teams in the interim. From 2013-15, Cotts tallied 187 innings out of the bullpen for the Rangers, Brewers and Twins, posting a collective 3.03 ERA with 186 strikeouts against 57 unintentional walks. As one might expect, he was most effective against left-handed batters in that time, limiting same-handed opponents to a .212/.278/.356 batting line in 317 plate appearances. However, Cotts also held his own against righties, limiting even those with the platoon advantage to a reasonable .236/.313/.371 slash in 461 plate appearances.
The 2016 season saw Cotts sign a slew of minor league deals, but he never made it back to the Majors despite solid results at the Triple-A level. Cotts totaled 44 2/3 innings of work between the Triple-A affiliates for the Rangers, Yankees and Angels last year, registering a 3.83 ERA with 7.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 while limiting left-handed opponents to a .220/.277/.322 batting line in 66 plate appearances. With the Nationals, he’ll compete for a bullpen job in Spring Training, although left-handed relief isn’t a massive need for Washington. The Nats have both Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez as southpaws in the big league bullpen, with Matt Grace serving as another option on the 40-man roster.
Free-agent righty Greg Holland is arguably the highest-upside reliever left on the open market, and Jon Heyman of Fan Rag provides some notable updates on his situation. The 31-year-old is in a somewhat unusual spot as a free agent, in that he brings a sparkling track record but is also seeking to return from a long layoff due to Tommy John surgery.
Given his health situation and also the evident interest around the league, Holland seeks a two-year deal that would allow him to opt out after the first season, according to Heyman. That’s the same structure that Brian Wilson landed with the Dodgers before the 2014 season, though he had made it back to the hill late in the prior campaign.
In Holland’s case, there’s perhaps greater uncertainty, but also greater upside. He took a step back in his most recent action, in 2015, but that may well have been due to the elbow issues that led to his surgery. Over the prior four campaigns, Holland was one of the game’s very best relievers, as he compiled 256 1/3 innings of 1.86 ERA pitching with 12.6 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9.
There’s interest in Holland’s proposed two-year arrangement, per the report. Among the teams still pursuing him are the Dodgers, Nationals, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Rays. While the Cubs showed prior interest, it’s not clear whether they are still in. And the Royals have also indicated a desire to bring back their former closer, though it seems that the team’s payroll situation may not allow for a competitive bid.
That group of organizations would presumably offer Holland a variety of possible roles. The Nationals, Rockies, Brewers, Reds, and Royals (if they’re involved) could all promise him first dibs on closing roles, while the Dodgers and perhaps the Cubs are more likely to view the veteran as a setup man. Tampa Bay, perhaps, might be most interested in the event that it strikes a deal for incumbent closer Alex Colome. Whether and to what extent the chance to take hold of the ninth is an important factor in Holland’s decisionmaking is not immediately clear.
Kenley Jansen has spent his entire career with the Dodgers, and he won’t be leaving anytime soon. The Dodgers on Tuesday announced that they’ve re-signed Jansen to a five-year contract, which is reportedly worth $80MM and allows Jansen to opt out after the 2019 season. The 29-year-old Jansen is represented by Wasserman.
[Related: Updated Los Angeles Dodgers Depth Chart]
Jansen will reportedly receive a $4MM signing bonus and earn salaries of $10MM in 2017-18, $18MM in 2019-20, and $20MM in 2021. His contract doesn’t have a no-trade clause, but he’ll reportedly take home a $1MM assignment bonus each time he’s traded. Based on that breakdown, Jansen will need to choose between two years and $41MM from the Dodgers or again testing the open market when his opt-out date arrives. Notably, the new collective bargaining agreement stipulates that he won’t be able to receive a second qualifying offer, so he’d be able to test the market free of draft-pick compensation in advance of his age-32 season.
Jansen’s new agreement comes on the heels of what was arguably the best season of his excellent career. In 68 2/3 regular-season innings, the Curacao native notched a career-best 1.83 ERA with 13.6 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and a 30 percent ground-ball rate to go along with a career-best 47 saves. That performance earned him his first All-Star berth, though how he’d gone five full seasons without an All-Star appearance is a mystery. Jansen has, after all, compiled a 2.20 ERA with 13.9 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9 in 408 2/3 innings in the regular season over the life of his career. He’s never posted an ERA higher than 2.85 in any season, and even that mark came back in 2011. Since that time, his control has improved remarkably, and his ERA numbers have dipped accordingly. Dating back to 2010, Jansen ranks third among all qualified relievers in total strikeouts, fourth in strikeout percentage and seventh in earned run average.
Jansen entered the winter as one of the market’s premium free agents and drew significant interest from the Yankees (who instead re-signed Aroldis Chapman), Nationals and Marlins — the latter of whom reportedly made an offer to Jansen that was greater than the five-year, $80MM pact to which he has agreed with the Dodgers. (It’s not known whether the Marlins’ offer included any sort of opt-out clause or deferred money, however.)
Similarly, the Nationals offered a larger guarantee, agent Adam Katz explained to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (all links to Sherman on Twitter). Said Katz: “The Nationals’ presentation was exceptional and generous and for more money. They conducted recruitment of this player in a high caliber professional way. Kenley and I were very impressed. At the end of the day Kenley loves Los Angeles, his Dodger family, the fans here and although money was a factor, it wasn’t the most important thing.”
Of course, it must be noted that Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reported (on Twitter) that Washington’s offer included deferred money. That could very well have brought the present-day value of the deal south of $80MM, and there’s been no word that the Nats were willing to include an opt-out in the deal, either (and such clauses add significant value to the deal as well, as MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz explained when attempting to monetize opt-out clauses last winter). As such, while the Nationals’ offer may have been for more money on paper, the overall value of the proposal could’ve been lower than the Dodgers’ offer.
All of that is largely moot now, though, as Jansen join Rich Hill (three years, $48MM) and Justin Turner (four years, $64MM) back in Los Angeles. That trio comprised the Dodgers’ top three offseason targets, and though it cost the club just shy of $200MM, that expenditure will net president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the Dodgers’ front-office staff three of the winter’s top open-market talents. Adding Jansen’s contract to the long-term ledger pushes the Dodgers’ 2017 payroll up to a projected $226.67MM (via Jason Martinez of MLBTR/Roster Resource).
The Dodgers are known to be working to decrease their payroll, which may seem counter-intuitive after they’ve spent nearly $200MM on their top three free agents. However, the Dodgers will also see their commitments to Alex Guerrero and Carl Crawford (roughly $28MM combined) come off the books next winter, at which point they can also buy out the mutual option on Andre Ethier’s contract. A year later, they’ll see Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy each come off the books as well, creating further opportunity to trim down the payroll. And, with a number of young in-house options both on the roster (Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Joc Pederson) and rising through the farm (Cody Bellinger, Jose De Leon, Yadier Alvarez, Alex Verdugo, among others), they could eventually field a roster that is built more on homegrown talent than through free-agent spending, as recent iterations of their roster have been.
FOX’s Ken Rosenthal first reported that the Dodgers and Jansen were closing in on a deal. Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM reported that the agreement and the terms (Twitter link). Yahoo’s Tim Brown reported the inclusion of the opt-out clause (on Twitter). Rosenthal tweeted that the deal doesn’t include a no-trade clause but does come with an assignment bonus in the event of a trade. FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the financial breakdown of the deal (Twitter links).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Nationals righty Max Scherzer has been diagnosed with what the club is calling a “stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger.” Per the organization’s announcement, Scherzer will not participate as planned in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Though the injury will knock Scherzer out of the international tournament, he is expected “to be a full participant” in spring camp. That’s certainly a promising element to the injury, which otherwise represents a somewhat concerning development for the 32-year-old workhorse.
Scherzer himself provided further details on his injured finger via Twitter. The issue actually arose in August, but did not prevent him from pitching (and performing quite well) down the stretch and into the postseason. Though he made plans to rest and then ramp up for the WBC, an MRI showed that he had a stress fracture which would necessitate further rest.
Given the diagnosis, it’s not at all surprising that a conservative course will be pursued. Washington will obviously want to protect its ongoing investment in Scherzer, who has earned just $30MM of the $210MM promised by the team in his seven-year contract. While deferrals reduce the overall value of that deal, there’s a lot riding on his ability to continue functioning as a top-level starter over the next five campaigns.
Beyond this newly disclosed injury, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. Scherzer has been one of the game’s most productive pitchers for some time now. After several strong but not overwhelming seasons with the Tigers, he turned in a Cy Young campaign in 2013 and has not looked back since. Scherzer most recently provided the Nats with 228 1/3 frames of 2.96 ERA ball in 2016, leading to a fourth-straight All-Star berth and another Cy Young award. He has also been exceptionally durable, making at least thirty starts in every season since 2009.
The Nationals are said to be looking to add rotation depth regardless, but any uncertainty surrounding Scherzer would certainly add to that interest. Washington dealt with injuries late in 2016 to such key staff members as Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross, and dealt away two near-term rotation options earlier this winter (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) in the Adam Eaton trade.
- Recent reports have cited the Nationals as one of the teams in pursuit of Tyson Ross, and they may have a recruiter on hand in Joe Ross, Tyson’s younger brother. “I’ve been trying to get him over here,” Joe tells Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, joking that Tyson “can come here as long as he doesn’t take my job.” As Castillo notes, the younger Ross doesn’t appear to be in any danger of losing his rotation job following two solid seasons in the bigs, and Ross said he is feeling healthy after missing time last year due to shoulder soreness.
- The Nationals have signed reliever lefty Josh Outman to a minor league deal. The 32-year-old last pitched in the big leagues in 2014, when he appeared with the Indians and Yankees. He posted a 4.95 ERA, albeit with 6.8 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, in 20 innings with Indianapolis in 2016 before being released.
The Nationals announced on Friday that former Diamondbacks and Dodgers executive De Jon Watson has been added to their pro scouting staff and will serve as a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo.
Watson served as the Diamondbacks’ senior vice president of baseball operations from Sept. 2014 through Sept. 2016 before being dismissed in advance of a significant front office overhaul in Arizona. Though the 2016 struggles of the D-backs led to a considerable amount of criticism for all parties involved in that iteration of the front office, Watson has long been a respected executive and will bring a wealth of experience to the Washington front office.
With the D-backs, Watson’s duties included “[overseeing] the franchise’s professional, amateur and international scouting as well as all player development functions.” Prior to his time with the Diamondbacks, Watson spent eight seasons in the front office of the Dodgers, working in a variety of roles that included lengthy stints as an assistant GM and the team’s vice president of player development. He also served as the Indians’ director of pro scouting and the Reds’ director of scouting after first breaking into the business as an area scout with the Marlins.