The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with many needs. With most of them already taken care of, how much is left to spend to sure up the roster?
With the additions of Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki, and Matt Adams, the Washington Nationals have already accomplished much of what they set out to do this offseason.
In the process, they’ve committed about $44 million to next year’s payroll and $53.5 million for luxury tax calculations. Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates that the Nationals payroll sits at about $191.9 million for next year with a luxury tax calculation of $191.7 million, leaving them about $14 million below the $206 million luxury tax threshold.
The $191.9 million payroll doesn’t tell the entire story though because it assigns a $38.3 million salary to Stephen Strasburg and a $37.4 million salary to Max Scherzer for the 2019 season. That’s $75.7 million going to two players, but in reality, because of deferrals and the structure of each deal, they will each actually earn $15 million this season.
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This comes mostly in the form of a signing bonus, with their actual salary being deferred until after the contract is over. The $75.7 million in “payroll” is actually $30 million out of the pocket of the Lerner family, netting a savings of $45.7 million for this year’s payroll.
When you consider the deferrals that they added to Sanchez’s deal and the way Corbin’s deal is back-loaded, there are additional savings. Sanchez has $2 million of his $8 million salary deferred to 2021, a saving of $2 million towards this season’s payroll. The average annual value of Corbin’s contract is $23.33 million, but he will earn $12.9 million this season, saving the Nationals $10.4 million.
Mike Rizzo and Nationals ownership strategically structured these deals to save a tick over $58 million this season, making that $191.9 million in payroll really about $133.8 million. According to Cot’s, the Nationals 25-man opening day payroll last season was $180.8 million, so although they’re already projected to exceed last year’s payroll, the actual dollar amount coming out of ownership’s pocket is significantly less.
The club has money it can spend this offseason, the question is how much and whether or not ownership is going to be willing to spend more than the luxury tax threshold once again.
In early December, Nationals managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, told Grant and Danny of 106.7 The Fan, among other things, that the team won’t go over the luxury tax this season. That’s understandable, considering the team would be taxed 50 percent on any overage under $20 million as third-time offenders and 62 percent on the next $20 million.
That being said, couldn’t all of these deferrals and back-loaded deals be happening because ownership has decided to essentially build in any overage into the payroll? Sure, there are other penalties to go along with exceeding the luxury tax, such as limitations on the international bonus pool and draft pick compensation, but that has not deterred the Nationals in the past.
Consider this, the Nationals could re-sign Bryce Harper at say 10-years for $330 million and be taxed at under $10 million for the upcoming season. That’s actually less than the $10.5 million that the Nationals paid Jayson Werth for deferrals in his contract last season.
If you build-in the overage into the payroll, the Nationals out of pocket money is at $176.15 million next season, with $133.8 million in payroll, plus $33 million to Harper and $9.35 million in overages.
In order to create some more wiggle room under the luxury tax, the Nationals could re-structure an existing contract. Luckily for the Nationals, they have one player in particular who they could do that with, Ryan Zimmerman.
The long-term National is slated to cost $16.67 million against the tax this year in what is most likely the final year of his contract, assuming his option is not picked up. At 35 years old, he won’t quite be ready to retire and he doesn’t want to play anywhere else.
Zimmerman and the Nationals could agree to a new 3-year $30 million deal this offseason, covering his age 34-36 seasons. That would replace this year’s $16.67 million figure with a more manageable $10 million figure in exchange for two extra guaranteed years.
The question of how much the Nationals have left to spend is a tough one to answer because we don’t know what the actual budget is. We only know what the payroll and luxury tax figures look like. It’s very possible that when Lerner said the team won’t exceed the luxury tax this year, he was being 100% truthful, but that could change in the right circumstances.
If the Lerners agree to spend over the luxury tax again, it would be fair to estimate that the team has anywhere from $15-40 million still left to spend, depending on how far over they’re willing to go. This could potentially keep the Washington Nationals in the running for Harper as well as other potentially higher salary players such as Jed Lowrie and Marwin Gonzalez.