As the Nationals examine their own roster with an eye toward improving off a disappointing season and competing again for the playoffs, we took an early look at the 2014 payroll.
Between their players already under contract for 2014 and estimated salaries for arbitration-eligible players they could likely keep as the roster is constructed now, the Nationals already have roughly $114 million committed to next season’s payroll. That’s without a clear No. 5 starter (and simply assuming Tanner Roark keeps the job as he finished strong last season) and any likely upgrades to the bench or bullpen. That number could jump or drop if players are traded, signed through free agency or not tendered contracts.
The Nationals’ 2013 payroll stood at about $118 million, by far the highest since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. As the Nationals began improving, winning and attracting bigger free agents, the team’s opening day payroll increased from $68 million in 2011 to nearly $93 million in 2012.
The 2014 Nationals surely will lose the salaries of Dan Haren ($13 million) and Chad Tracy ($1 million), the only two free agents on the roster. Even without adding new players, the payroll will rise because of arbitration or because several players under contract are due more next season than in 2013. Jayson Werth’s salary, for example, jumps from $16 million to $20 million or Adam LaRoche’s pay rises from $10 million to $12 million and Gio Gonzalez’s salary increase from $6.25 million to $8.5 million. In 2013, the Nationals committed nearly $20 million to the salaries of arbitration-eligible players, many of them first-timers. In 2014, those numbers naturally rise, and the Nationals could be spend close to $34 million on the salaries of arbitration-eligible players.
The Nationals could create more financial room by trading pieces, such as LaRoche or Tyler Clippard (who will probably make close to $5.5 million in arbitration and would be a setup man), during the winter. But if the Nationals are serious about taking advantage of their window for competing for a World Series title, prioritizing frugality may not make sense. And as they have shown in recent seasons, the Nationals are open to a growing payroll and willingness to spend on high-prize free agents.
They certainly can handle it. Even despite a still on-going standoff over television rights fees with MASN and the Baltimore Orioles, the Nationals are supposed to receive larger revenue each year. Their attendance rose by 400,000 from 2011 to 2012, and by 300,000 in 2013 to a Nationals Park-record 2.65 million. The Lerner family is one of the wealthiest ownership groups in baseball. The Nationals could have one of the 10 highest payrolls in baseball in 2014, and that would certainly fit the state of the franchise, size of the market and growing popularity. According to Forbes valuations after the 2012 season, the Nationals are worth $631 million; the Lerners bought the team for $450 million in 2006.
The Nationals will also have to be wise with their financial commitments because core players such as Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and others will be eligible for free agency in coming years — at the same time that the salaries of players already under contract increase. Werth and Ryan Zimmerman already have $100-million deals each. Zimmermann and Desmond are strong candidates for long-term extensions this winter, deals which, if done right, could turn out to be bargains based on the players’ continued development.
Below is how we arrived at that $114 million figure for 2014 commitments. Information from Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Baseball Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors was used. And again, the projected arbitration figures are estimates. The team constructed below is a best guess of what the roster may look like at the end of spring training. For these purposes, the fourth outfielder spot, the No. 5 starter spot, bench and bullpen are assumed to stay as is or be filled from within the organization.
PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT
Jayson Werth: $20 million (entering fourth season of seven-year, $126-million contract)
Ryan Zimmerman: $14 million (entering first season of six-year, $100-million extension)^
Adam LaRoche: $12 million (entering second season of two-year, $24-million contract)
Gio Gonzalez: $8.5 million (entering third season of his five-year, $42-million extension)^
Rafael Soriano: $7 million (entering final season of his two-year, $28-million contract; $14 million from the first two years is deferred)^
Denard Span: $6.5 million (entering final season of his five-year, $16.5-million extension)^
Scott Hairston: $2.5 million (entering final season of two-year, $5-million contract)
Bryce Harper: $2.15 million (entering fourth season of a five-year, $9.9-million contract; $1.25 million payment from singing bonus included in 2014 salary)^^#
Anthony Rendon: $1.8 million (entering final season of a four-year, $7.2-million contract; including a $1.5 million payment from signing bonus in 2014 salary)^#
Craig Stammen: $1.375 million (entering the final season of his two-year, $2.25-million that bought of his first two years of arbitration)*
Subtotal: $75.825 million
ZERO-TO-THREE PLAYERS (pre-arbitration seasons)
Fernando Abad: $500,000
Xavier Cedeno: $500,000*
Corey Brown: $500,000
Steve Lombardozzi: $500,000*
Ryan Mattheus: $500,000*
Tyler Moore: $500,000*
Tanner Roark: $500,000 (could easily be Taylor Jordan here instead for the same salary)
Teams often give players with a year or two of service a small, good faith raise. In 2013, Danny Espinosa was slated to make $526,000, for example, instead of the then-league-minimum of $490,000. Mattheus made $504,500 instead of $490,000.
Subtotal: $3.5 million
MINOR LEAGUERS WITH BIG LEAGUE DRAFT DEALS
Matt Purke: $1.04 million (entering final year of a four-year, $4.15-million deal)
Subtotal: $1.04 million
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE PLAYERS (estimated salaries)
Ross Detwiler: $2.55 million (entering second year of arbitration; under team control through 2015 season)
Ian Desmond: $5.9 million (entering second year of arbitration; under team control through 2015 season)
Tyler Clippard: $5.5 million (Super Two player entering third year of arbitration; under team control through 2015 season)
Jordan Zimmermann: $7 million (Super Two player entering second year of arbitration; under team control through 2015 season)
Ross Ohlendorf: $1.8 million (entering perhaps final year of arbitration; under team control through 2014 season) [note: this one was hard to estimate because of his service time and time in the minor leagues.]
Wilson Ramos: $2.75 million (entering first year of arbitration; under team control through 2016 season)
Stephen Strasburg: $5.1 million (entering first year of arbitration; under team control through 2016 season)
Drew Storen: $3.1 million (Super Two player entering second year of arbitration; under team control through 2016 season)
Subtotal: $33.7 million
GRAND TOTAL: $114.065 million
^ = A contract that also contact (an) option year(s)
^^ = Harper will receive a roster bonus of $125,000 for each 30, 60, 90 and 120 days he is on the active roster in 2014 (and 2015). So his 2014 salary could more than likely reach as much as $2.65 million.
* = Likely to receive a small, good faith raise above league-minimum of $500,000 for 2014. Perhaps they’ll receive another one because in 2013 these players had small raises.
# = Still haven’t reached arbitration yet.