The Nationals could not reach settlements with two of their seven arbitration-eligible players, starter John Lannan and outfielder Michael Morse, by today’s deadline. The team therefore filed salary arbitration figures for the 2012 season with the players, a step that could lead to arbitration hearings, a nasty process the Nationals prefer to avoid.
To be clear, both Lannan and Morse will play for the Nationals next season barring a trade. The arbitration process merely determines their salary.
Filing the figures could help the Nationals bridge the gap with each player. The sides each declare their hoped-for salary, and the sides can negotiate further before arbitration hearings begin in February.
The Nationals’ stance could determine whether or not they go to a hearing with Morse or Lannan. In past years, the Nationals, like a handful of other teams, notably the Tampa Bay Rays, have employed a “file-and-trial” policy – if the sides could not reach a deal before exchanging figures, then they would go to a hearing. Last year, the Nationals dropped the policy and reached deals with all their arbitration-eligible players. It is unclear if they are using file-and-trial this winter.
If the Nationals do not practice file-and-trial, it should be easy for them to reach a deal with Lannan. The Nationals filed at $5 million while Lannan filed $5.7, according to a report by CBSSports.com, a relatively minor discrepancy. Morse’s situation will be more difficult to untangle without a hearing. Also according to CBSSports.com, Morse filed at $5 million while the Nationals filed at $3.5 million.
Morse’s career arc makes for a fascinating case. He first became eligible for arbitration last winter and signed a $1.05 million deal. He far exceeded expectations in 2011, hitting .303/.360/.550 with 31 home runs. A 500 percent raise would be extreme, but then so was Morse’s breakout this year.