Midnight Monday was the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players for the 2012 season. The Nationals had seven eligible players who decisions needed to be made on. Any players who the team declined to offer a contract to would immediately become free agents. Back in early November, MLBTR posted their first list of possible non-tender candidates, a list which contained three Nationals on it – Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny, and Doug Slaten – who were in danger of being let go.
Pete Kerzel of MASNSports.com (who’s filling in for the recently departed Ben Goessling, who is headed back to Minnesota to cover the Twins in his home town) made a similar argument this past Sunday on all three players – though not all of that argument is a sound one.
With regards to Flores, Kerzel seems to make the case that his only reasoning for letting the team’s incumbent backup catcher go is because he is likely going to make too much money through arbitration. MLBTR has been estimating arbitration salaries this offseason, with a process derived from a great deal of research into the topic, and they’re estimating Flores will likely be in the vicinity of $800,000.
$800K for a backup catcher. One’s who’s coming off some injuries, yes, but one who is only 27 years old, was once considered the organization’s “catcher of the future”, and should still be able to be a productive player in limited at bats. To think that the Nationals are going to simply let a potentially valuable player go because $800K is too high a price seems shortsighted. Kerzel wasn’t the only one who predicted such a move, as MLBTR did too, but I still disagree with his reasoning.
As for Gorzelanny, his situation was similar in that much of the pending decision seemed to be based heavily on the financial side of things. Gorzelanny earned $2.1 Million last season and will be going through the arbitration process for the final time, meaning he’ll be a free agent after the 2012 season (assuming Washington doesn’t sign him to an extension beforehand – which seems unlikely). Projections have him likely in the area of $2.8 Million for the 2012 season.
Gorzelanny has largely disappointed since being acquired by the Nationals last January for three prospects, but he still could potentially fill an important role for the Nationals in 2012, serving in a swingman type role. He has ample starting experience, giving the team options should they want to skip one of the younger starters early on to manage their innings or should the team face a doubleheader sometime during the season. He’s also left-handed, making him the second lefty out of the bullpen alongside Sean Burnett. Giving Gorzelanny one more year is a reasonable decision.
Slaten was ultimately the only one of the trio who failed to receive a contract from Washington. He is now a free agent and free to sign anywhere he chooses. Any team that does take a chance on him could potentially maintain his rights through arbitration for 2013 as well. Like Gorzelanny, Slaten is left-handed, and like Flores, he didn’t make much last season ($665,000) but Slaten was dreadful on the mound in 2011. He made only 31 appearances, totaling 16.1 innings of work because he missed three months with an elbow injury.
In 23 games before the injury he pitched to a 2.19 ERA. That number ballooned to 11.25 in 8 games after he returned. All season he struggled with baserunnes, finishing with a 2.143 WHIP, 14.3 H/9, and 5.0 BB/9. Slaten’s primary job was the get lefty batters out though, and he struggled to do that as well, allowing 12 hits in 36 at bats (a .333/.368/.639 line overall against lefties).
Since he arrived in the Majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003, Slaten has never pitched more than 40.1 innings in a single season. He’s typically been one of the last guys in the bullpen, a second or sometimes third lefty option. He has held left-handed batters to a .241 career batting average against (.295 vs. RH batters), but otherwise there isn’t a significant lefty/righty split to his tendencies.
Slaten projected to earn a raise, bringing him right around $1 Million for 2012. But, he failed to bring much to the table and ultimately the Nationals made the right choice by moving a different direction. Of course, there is no rule prohibiting the two sides from reaching a new contract but I don’t expect Slaten will want to take less money to return. There is always interest when a left-handed reliever becomes available on the free agent market.