The Nationals did not extend qualifying offers to either of their two free agents by today’s 5 p.m. deadline, an expected decision that means they will not receive a draft pick as compensation if and when Dan Haren and Chad Tracy sign with other teams.
Tracy, who played for $1 million last season, of course had no chance to receive a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Nationals after he hit .202 this season. Despite his abysmal first half, Haren’s strong finish and the two-year, $35 million dollar contract the Giants earlier this offseason gave Tim Lincecum – a pitcher of comparable recent performance – raised the possibility, however scant, that the Nationals could give Haren an offer and gamble on him turning it down.
But Haren has not heard from the Nationals since the season. Haren and General Manager Mike Rizzo “ended on good terms,” Haren said in an email.
“As for next year, I have no idea,” Haren added. “The biggest question marks last year were my health, and I think I’ve hopefully put those to rest a bit after being healthy all year. My DL stint was mental, not physical, and everyone knows that. The questions on me now are almost all just performance-based, and I finished strong so I think that a good opportunity will present itself.”
Haren would like to sign with a team on the West Coast, where he had spent all of his life until this past year with the Nationals. But he also understands that after going 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA even an excellent second half, he may not have the choice and remains open to playing elsewhere.
Last season, the Nationals gave first baseman Adam LaRoche a qualifying offer before he re-signed on a two-year, $25 million deal in January. The offer hurt LaRoche’s value on the free agent market because teams did not want to give up a first-round pick in order to sign him. The Nationals ultimately lost their own first-round pick when they signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal after the Yankees gave him a qualifying offer.
This season, MLB teams gave qualifying offers to 13 free agents. If the Nationals sign any of them, they would sacrifice their first-round pick, which is currently No. 20. Here’s the list:
OF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Carlos Beltran
OF Nelson Cruz
OF Shin-Soo Choo
OF Curtis Granderson
SS Stephen Drew
2B Robinson Cano
1B Kendrys Morales
1B Mike Napoli
C Brian McCann
SP Ubaldo Jimenez
SP Ervin Santana
SP Hiroki Kuroda
The Nationals will look to acquire a starting pitcher to replace Haren this offseason, and absent from that list are Matt Garza and Josh Johnson. The Rangers could not give Garza a qualifying offer because they acquired him in a midseason trade. The Nationals expressed at least initial interest in trading for Garza in the 2011 offseason and leading up to this year’s trade deadline.
The Blue Jays did not give Johnson a qualifying offer because of health concerns and a subpar season in which he posted a 6.20 ERA in only 81 1/3 innings. Johnson has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball when healthy, but health has been elusive during his nine-year career. Johnson has pitched than 90 innings in only three of the past seven seasons.
In the past, the Nationals have been aggressive in pursuing injury-prone pitchers with an abundance of talent. The Nationals have not contacted Johnson, but Johnson, 29, would be open to pitching for them. In an effort to re-established value, Johnson will only sign a one-year deal with a clause that forbids the team signing him to give a qualifying at the end of the season.
The offseason will present the Nationals with any number of possibilities to handle their rotation. They could stand pat and let internal candidates like Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan compete for the No. 5 spot (which is highly unlikely), or they may enter the derby to trade for Rays ace David Price. In between, if they go after Garza or Johnson, they will need to give up neither players nor draft picks, only money.