The baseball offseason will start to crank up this weekend, when teams are allowed to contact free agents without any restrictions. As the Nationals wade into the hot stove season with an eye on turning a contender into a champion, they will almost certainly reach new boundaries with their payroll.
Between their players already under contract for 2013 and estimated salaries for arbitration-eligible players they are likely to keep, the Nationals already have roughly $87 million committed to their 2013 payroll. That’s without a clear No. 5 starter or first baseman currently on the 2013 roster. Some way or another, the Nationals seem likely to push past a $100 million payroll this winter for the first time.
The Nationals’ 2012 payroll stood at about $92.5 million, by far their highest since baseball returned. The Nationals will almost match that simply with the players they have under team control already. The Nationals have several players under contract who are due more in 2013 than 2012, either in back-loaded contracts (like Jayson Werth) or through arbitration. Re-signing either Adam LaRoche or Edwin Jackson alone would be enough to push the Nationals’ close to a $100 million payroll.
That should not necessarily be constricting. The Nationals will receive increased revenue from MASN whenever their protracted, bitter standoff with Peter Angelos is finally settled. Their attendance rose by about 400,000 fans from 2011 to 2012, and they can expect another large jump next season. The Lerner family is one of the wealthiest ownership groups in baseball, anyway. The Nationals could have one of the 10 highest payrolls in baseball this year, but that would be in line with the state of the franchise and the market in which it exists.
The Nationals could create more financial room by trading pieces like Michael Morse (set to make $6.75 million) or Tyler Clippard (who will probably make between $4.5 million and $5 million in arbitration) during the winter. But, again, they are not really in a position where they need to prioritize frugality in regard to their 2013 payroll.
They need to be careful long-term, because core players like Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and others will become eligible for free agency in the coming years. The already have Werth and Ryan Zimmerman signed to long-term, $100 million deals, and no team has bottomless pockets. But in the short-term, the Nationals have some wiggle room to splurge. That should guide them when shopping for a fifth starter (if they don’t sign Jackson), back-of-the-bullpen help and bench upgrades.
But then, even with the money necessary to lock up their young, star players into the future, the Nationals should be in strong financial shape. They may not need to prioritize frugality, period, thanks to the growth of the sport and their place in it.
MLB recently received a huge financial infusion with a monster new television deal. Teams’ values appear to be skyrocketing – the Los Angeles Dodgers sold for $2 billion this year, and the San Diego Padres, one of the smallest markets in baseball, sold this summer for $800 million. Money could fly around this offseason at a crazy rate. (It will be interesting to see if and how much the perception of Werth’s seven-year, $126 million deal changes over time if revenues continue to grow.)
The Lerners bought the Nationals in 2006 for $450 million. Given the rising revenues in baseball, the additional money set to come in from MASN, the growth of the Nationals’ brand in Washington and the pipeline of marketable talent in their system, the team may now be worth north of $1 billion.
“It is a monster,” said one industry official. “They should be in the top five in payroll in a matter of five years.”
All of that is some highly fascinating stuff, but it’s also highly speculative. As for this offseason, here’s how we arrived at that $87 million figure for 2013 commitments. Information from Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball Prospectus’s Cot’s Baseball Contracts and MLBTradeRumors.com was used:
Players under contract
Jayson Werth $16 million
Ryan Zimmerman $14 million
Michael Morse $6.75 million
Kurt Suzuki $6.45 million
Gio Gonzalez $6.25 million
Stephen Strasburg $3.9 million*
Bryce Harper $2 million (signing bonus included)
Yunesky Maya $2 million
Chad Tracy $1 million
*Explanation on that coming up later in a different post
Danny Espinosa* $513,000
Wilson Ramos $490,000
Henry Rodriguez $490,000
Steve Lombardozzi $490,000
Ryan Mattheus $490,000
Tyler Moore $490,000
*Teams often give players with a year or two of service a small, good faith raise. In 2012 Ian Desmond made $513,000, which is why that’s the salary listed for Espinosa instead of the league-minimum $490,000. It’s a minimal difference, either way.
Minor leaguers with big league draft deals
Matt Purke $1.04 million
Anthony Rendon $1.8 million
Arbitration-eligible players (estimated salaries)*
Jordan Zimmermann $5.1 million
Tyler Clippard $4.8 million
Ian Desmond $3.3 million
Tom Gorzelanny $3 million
Ross Detwiler $2.5 million
Drew Storen $2 million
Roger Bernadina $1.1 million
Craig Stammen $900,000
Total: $86.853 million
*The Nationals also have arbitration-eligible players Jesus Flores and John Lannan under team control for 2013. The Nationals appear certain to non-tender Flores, who would make about $1 million in arbitration, so he’s not included. It’s not definite, but it seems likely enough that the Nationals will non-tender or trade Lannan to not include him here. Lannan would figure to make roughly $5 million in arbitration.