The Washington Nationals reached deals with all three of their arbitration-eligible players, pushing beyond Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline to exchange salary figures before coming to agreements with Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark and Michael A. Taylor.
Rendon, coming off an MVP-caliber season, agreed to a $12.3 million deal in the hours after that deadline, which was not a deadline to come to terms, but simply for a player’s agent to submit a suggested salary and the team to do the same. Roark settled at $6.475 million, according to people familiar with the situation who confirmed a report by USA Today. Taylor settled at $2.525 million, according to a person familiar with his situation.
Often, the Nationals settle with their players before the deadline, choosing to find middle ground outside of league-sanctioned arbitration hearings that can often produce ill-will. If the team and the player do not settle by that deadline, they may still negotiate until a hearing, though some teams — referred to as “file-and-trial” clubs — set that filing deadline as a drop-dead moment. The Nationals have not held to that rule without exception, but do tend to go to hearings if they have not settled by the deadline. Those hearings usually take place in February, and given that the team argues a player’s value down, those hearings can often foster awkwardness because of the more unflattering arguments teams make against their own.
Rendon made $5.8 million in arbitration last season, and earned a raise of more than $6 million after hitting .300 with 100 RBI in his most consistent and productive season yet. The 27-year-old is now two seasons away from free agency — a moment at which teams often make a big push to extend their homegrown talent. Both Rendon’s agent, Scott Boras, and Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo expressed a willingness to discuss an extension. In December, Rendon said he would be open to that possibility, too. That the two sides agreed on a one-year deal does not preclude them from negotiating an extension at this time next year, or any time in between. But as of Friday, Rendon was under contract only through 2018, and whether or not the two sides seriously discussed an extension remains unclear.
Roark made $4.3 million last season for what qualified as a down year given his previous consistency. After accumulating 15 wins in his first full season as a starter in 2014 and 16 wins in 2016, Roark’s ERA jumped nearly two full runs from those seasons as he won 13 games in 2017. Most around the Nationals speculated that Roark’s extended stint with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic left him scrambling through an unorthodox spring, which in turn disrupted his season.
That the Nationals avoided a hearing with Roark might be more important long-term than with another player, as while the two sides have never voiced anything but respect, they have plenty of room for animosity. Roark was the man pushed from the Nationals’ rotation when they unexpectedly signed Max Scherzer in the winter of 2015. He was also the man scheduled to start Game 4 of this year’s National League Division Series before Stephen Strasburg was suddenly named a late re-addition to the plans. Roark was clear about his disappointment in that decision, and the fact that he did not appear in the NLDS at all, though he said he understood the choice, given the talent around him.
Taylor is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, meaning he has no precedent on which to build, and no established salary he must exceed. MLB Trade Rumors projected the Nationals’ presumptive starting center fielder to make $2.3 million next season.
So as usual, the Nationals have avoided hearings with their arbitration-eligibles, something that should clarify their payroll and allow them to focus on filling out their roster. They still need bench help, bullpen reinforcements, and potentially an established fifth starter. But they’ve checked another offseason box, and done so with just the usual dose of deadline-day drama.
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