Looking at the Nationals' Impending Arbitration Cases

The Washington Nationals and Mike Rizzo will face seven potential arbitration cases this offseason. Of course, that figure can change between now and January, when the arbitration process usually is completed, so it’s safe to say this is a fluid situation until the fates of all seven players have been decided.

Four of the seven arbitration eligible players are easy decisions. Based on MLBTR’s projections, the four players will account for a total of $12 Million towards next year’s payroll. Tyler Clippard  ($1.7 M) and Jordan Zimmermann ($1.8 M) are reaching arbitration for the first time. Michael Morse ($3.7 M) and John Lannan ($4.8 M) are going through it for their second time.

Typically players will be arbitration eligible three times before reaching free agency. In rare cases, such as Clippard’s, a player will amass enough service time early on in their careers to earn a fourth arbitration year. This is called “Super Two” status. Clippard will go through arbitration four times in his career, instead of three.

There is zero reason to expect that any of the above four players will not be a part of this Nationals team heading into the 2012 season. If anything we could see Lannan traded as part of a deal for another starting pitcher but right now there aren’t any rumblings of a deal being discussed by the team. It is entirely possible that before the end of next season the team is looking to discuss extensions with Zimmermann and Morse to prevent them from reaching free agency.

The arbitration cases for the remaining trio of players are not quite so simple. In fact, all three could be considered non-tender candidates in the coming weeks. Teams usually have until the beginning of December to make decisions whether or not to tender contracts to any players who are not formally under a multi-year contract. If the team chooses not to tender a contract, that player is a free agent and free to sign with any team.

Jesus Flores is likely the most interesting case of the three. His status with the organization remains a question heading into the offseason. Once considered the team’s “catcher of the future” he’s lost time to injury and the emergence of Wilson Ramos. Flores could be kept as a backup – if they allow Ivan Rodriguez to walk in free agency – or he could be traded to a team in need of catching (and there are few teams who aren’t at least listening).

Flores projects to earn about $800K next season, a figure that shouldn’t scare the Nationals into simply releasing the catcher. Even if they bring him back as a third catcher there still exists the possibility of dealing him in Spring Training due to his affordable salary. I’d expect he’ll be tendered a contract, presuming his fate isn’t determined before the early December deadline.

Tom Gorzelanny is a more tricky situation. The left-hander has been moved back and forth between the starting rotation and bullpen throughout much of his career. His splits on the 2011 season were noticeable. He was 2-6 with a 4.46 ERA in 15 starts (82.2 IP). Meanwhile, he was 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA in 15 relief appearances (22.1 IP). His strikeout and walk rates were relatively consistent.

Gorzelanny projects to earn about $2.8 Million in 2012 which is why tendering a contract to him has become a question. His role with the 2012 team is uncertain. It’s possible he could be viewed as a swingman type long reliever role. He can compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training but would likely end up in the bullpen. It’s an option the team can afford to take, but is it worth seeing if a more affordable option presents itself first?

Finally, the last case facing the team will be that of reliever Doug Slaten. He pitched only 16.2 innings for Washington on the year but that was across 31 highly ineffective appearances. He also experienced some elbow trouble which could be why his peripheral statistics this past season were so poor. The left-hander allowed 14.3 H/9, 5.0 BB/9, and a 2.143 WHIP on the season. He projects at only $900K for the 2012 season, but one has to wonder if it’s a risk worth taking on the going-to-be 32 year old next season.

Tags: Doug Slaten Jesus Flores John Lannan Jordan Zimmermann Michael Morse Tom Gorzelanny Tyler Clippard Washington Nationals

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