Arbitration friday has been long since forgotten in the media frenzy of NFL Championship Sunday, but let's recap shall we?
The Nats went into arbitration hoping to seal Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond to long term deals. How long were these deals? How fair? No idea. But whatever they were it wasn't good enough and both sides agreed to deals that only covered arbitration years. Three other guys were signed avoiding arbitration as well, Ramos, Storen, and Blevins. Doug Fister and Tyler Clippard did not reach agreements. First, let's compare the signed to the expected awards (via MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projections)
Jordan Zimmermann - Expected - 10.5 million. Signed - 7.5 this year 16.5 next.
Ian Desmond - Expected - 6.9 million. Signed - 6.5 this year 11 next.
Wilson Ramos - Expected - 2.1 million. Signed - 2.1 million.
Drew Storen - Expected - 3.6 million. Signed - 3.45 million.
Jerry Blevins - Expected - 1.5 million. Signed - 1.675 million.
All in all you have pretty fair deals here. Both ZNN and Desmond undersigned for 2014 but likely oversigned for 2015 making their 2 year totals probably very close to what they would have gotten anyway. If you had any belief the Nats were going to make a big FA move, it would seem like they were clearing up space this year but no one believes that. We'll talk about what it could mean later. Ramos, Storen, and Blevins all hit around the expected numbers. Now the unsigned:
Tyler Clippard - Expected - 6.2 million. Asked - 6.35 million. Offered - 4.45 million
Doug Fister - Expected - 6.9 million. Asked - 8.5 million. Offered - 5.75 million
Ok you have two kind of non-agreements going on here. With Fister you have the team under-offer, person over-ask thing going on. I'm kind of surprised that the Nats are that far off as 7 mill for a starter is more than reasonable. I kind of wonder if that 5.75 number wasn't the first year offered in a 2-year deal similar to what Ian and Jordan signed that they kind of transferred over to arbitration when Fister didn't bite? Just shooting in the dark here. On Fister's side with pitcher's salaries what they are you can't blame him for reaching for a figure more comparable to what he'd get on the open market. Given they both have room to move I wouldn't be surprised if they meet somewhere in the middle before an actual arbitration takes place.
The Clippard one is the person fair-ask, team tries to screw him situation. I can't see this not going to a hearing. It simply looks like the Nats do not want to pay a reliever anywhere near the amount he's worth on the open market. The Nats are likely to try to play "but no saves!" to the arbiter. You may think "oh no, this sours them for Clippard" but I don't think it's likely Clippard is here once FA hits so trying to get him cheap isn't a terrible business idea.
OK back to ZNN and Desmond. Their signings do not mean they can't reach a deal and stay here with the Nats. However these 2-year deals do offer up some interesting possibilities. As Boz posits, these deals offer financial certainty to any team the Nats may deal these guys to. As I posit, (I'm totally positing!) if you plan to trade these guys in 2015, these deals would save you a few million in comparison to going through arbitration in both off-seasons. I also think that if the Nats do end up signing one or both of these guys, this ends up being a reasonable gambit. Undersign them for a year, see if they underperform and perhaps save you money on a long term deal when it is signed. Some believe the deals simply are attempts to keep the payroll as level as possible, as Soriano and LaRoche could both be off the books after next year. While others think this was done not to free up space for a big free agent (seriously - who is left?) but free up space for a trade or a big in-season deal, if necessary. You can really spin this anyway you want to look at it.
What I think is that ZNN is gone The reasons can be stated simply. He wants a boatload of money, the Nats don't pay that and think they have other options. I went over this last post but some were confused so let me clarify. The Nats have an extreme anitpathy to signing pitchers for years they do not have to. Yes, they signed Gio to a 5 year deal. However for all intents and purposes it is a 1 year deal. Every team will keep good players through their complete arbitration years if possible. That is because you are generally paid far less than you would make on the open market. The three guaranteed years that Gio got only keeps him here one more year than he would have been anyway. As for the option years, they are just that. Option years. The team can exercise them or not. So in reality that 5 year commitment is only really extending their already certain commitment by a single season.
In Rizzo's five offseasons the Nats have committed themselves to a pitcher for more than 1 year than they would have anyway only three times. Jason Marquis got a 2 year deal. Rafael Soriano got a conditional 3, with the last year only kicking in if he's the healthy closer for the team for two entire seasons (odds are against him hitting the necessary number for the option to kick in, in case you are wondering). Yunesky Maya signed for 4 years, but was a gamble deal, likely to pay off big if Maya could give the Nats anything more than 2 decent rotation years (gamble lost!). There is no history here of paying a known commodity what he is worth for more than 2 years. Do you honestly think the best ZNN could do is a 2 year deal? Even if the Nats stretch themselves and go 3-4 FA years, given that he'll still be 29 at the start of his first FA year he's almost certain to get a five year deal from someone I think. The Nats will content themselves right now on getting Cole/Giolito/etc in the rotation or maybe signing Fister who hasn't been as adamant as ZNN has about getting a fair deal.
I do think Desmond stays though. The Nats MI situation in the minors is not promising, the position is hard to fill in the FA ranks with talent as good as Ian's, and the Nats will give batters big FA contracts. But it's a big question mark here. What is Ian looking for? If he puts up two more years like the last two a 6-7 year 110-130 million dollar contract is certainly not out of the question when he hits the market. Is he looking for an 8 year deal now for that kind of money? Are the Nats prepared to pay for something like that with the specter of Bryce Harper and 20 million a year looming? (He will hit FA at age 26. 20 million might be underselling if he can turn it on).
These signings are almost non-news, because really it's the next thing that matters. Do these guys get signed long term? Do they get dealt? Or are they allowed to walk for the Rizzo coveted draft picks? That's what really matters and honestly we can't really answer these questions based on what happened Friday.