Arbitration Deadline [UPDATE]

Update: H/T to John who pointed out my misreading of the MLB calendar. The Nationals actually have until December 12 to make a tender/non-tender decision on the eight guys below. Today’s deadline is for compensation-able free agents, of which the Nationals have none.

Today is the deadline for MLB teams to tender offers to their arbitration eligible players. As of this morning, the Nationals currently have eight players on their 40-man roster who have to either be tendered an offer or arbitration or non-tendered, making them free agents. CAs Jesus Flores & Wil Nieves, OF Josh Willingham, RHRP Jason Bergmann, LHRP Sean Burnett, RHRP Mike MacDougal, LHSP Scott Olsen, and RHRP Saul Rivera will find out by the end of the day whether they are going to remain with the Nationals.

Here are their respective 2009 salaries:

Player 2009 Salary Service Time
MacDougal $3.75M^ 5.143
Willingham $2.95M 4.123
Olsen $2.8M 4.101
Rivera $475K 3.056
Nieves $445K 3.092
Bergmann $439K 3.064
Flores $412K 2.158 (Super Two)
Burnett $409K 3.085

^ salary was paid by Chicago White Sox. Nationals signed him to a minor league contract after the Sox released him

I took a look at last year’s arbitration eligible at Cot’s to attempt to establish a frame of reference for arbitration expectations. Here are my best guesses of what happens today:

  • MacDougal – This is going to be one of the two tough decisions for the Nationals. The 32-year old right-hander is coming off of a 20 save season for the Nationals and is likely to command an arbitration salary of at least the $3.75M he was paid by the ChiSox in 2009. The guys from last year that I see as the closest comps to MacDougal are LHP Mike Gonzalez, RHP Jose Valverde, and RHP Ryan Madson. Two of them signed one year deals, Gonzalez with the Braves for $3.45M and Valverde with the Astros for $8M, while Madson inked a three year $12M with the Phillies ($1M signing bonus with $2M in 2009 &  $4.5M in both 2010 and 2011). Using those as guide posts, it would seem that MacDougal could realistically request $4.5M in arbitration with a solid chance of winning. I expect the Nationals are looking to pay closer to Gonzalez’ salary (round it off to $3.5M). I believe the Nationals will offer MacDougal arbitration but work hard on getting him signed to a contract, avoiding the arbiter. Let’s split the difference and say MacDougal re-signs for $4M.
  • Willingham – Willingham is coming off of a strong year that saw him start the season as a 4th outfielder but end up as a regular, hitting 260/367/496 with 24 home runs & 61 RBI. It is a bit tougher to find a 2009 comp for Willingham, the best I could find was Jason Kubel or Jayson Werth. Kubel signed a two-year deal with the Twins paying him $7.2M ($2.75M in 2009 and $4.1M in 2010 with a $5.25M club option or $350K buyout]; this reflected a raise from $1.3M in 2008. Werth had one additional year of service time last year but there is some similarity here; Werth made $1.8M in 2008 as a #4 OF who developed into a regular, last offseason, he signed a two-year deal with the Phillies worth $10M [$1M signing bonus with salaries of $2M in 2009 and $7M in 2010]. The best guess for an arbitration request for Willingham is somewhere around $4.1M, a 40% raise on his 2009 salary, with the Nationals coming in at $3.5M or a 20% raise. As with MacDougal, I would imagine the Nationals are going to offer arbitration and look to agree to a contract prior to any arb hearings. Unlike MacDougal, I believe the Nationals will look to sign Willingham to a multi-year deal.  The Kubel & Werth contracts appear to paint the most likely case where the Nationals seek to pay slightly less in the first year (2010) with a larger amount due in year two. I would hesitate to go much longer than two years with Willingham. My guess is the Nationals and Willingham agree to a two-year $11M deal ($1M signing bonus with salaries of $3M in 2010 and $7M in 2011).
  • Olsen – Here is the other tough call for the Nationals. The 25-year old left-hander made $2.8M in his first year of arbitration, a year that ended with shoulder surgery. The best comps I can come up with for Olsen is RHP Joe Blanton and that is stretching it. Blanton signed a one-year $5.475M deal with the Phillies, a 48% raise on his 2008 salary ($3.7M). Coming off of a shoulder injury, there is much higher risk with Olsen. I do not foresee the Olsen getting anything close to a 48% raise in 2010 (a $4.14M salary). However, I still think the Nationals are strongly considering offering Olsen arbitration with plans of signing him to a team-friendly deal that bases much of his earning on performance (IPs, starts, etc). If you were to ask me, I would not risk going to arbitration with Olsen. I would hazard to guess that he won’t see a pay cut, so the best case scenario in arbitration is the Nats walk away owing Olsen $3M in 2010. And unlike last year with Shawn Hill, the price to drop Olsen in spring training if he isn’t ready is more cost prohivitive. Here I am going to give two answers, (1) if it were me, I’d either have a deal done today or non-tender him. Look to sign him to a one year $2.8M with up to $1.5M in bonuses based on him actually pitching. But I believe the Nationals will offer Olsen arbitration and take the gamble on getting him signed prior to the heairng.
  • Rivera – This is the first year of arbitration for the 31-year old RHP. He made $475K in his final year under team control. One of the first 2008 comps that jumped out at me was Logan Kensing. Kensing earned $660K in his first year or arbitration with the Marlins. The scan of other similar relievers showed that Rivera would expect a raise to somewhere between $600-900K. I don’t believe he is worth that salary, he is a right-handed option out of the pen but nothing spectacular. The Nationals can readily replace him with a non-roster invitee or someone out of their minor leagues (e.g. Jesse English). Rivera is a non-tender.
  • Nieves – Nieves made $445K in 2009 and is one of only two catchers currently on the Nationals 40-man roster. The three comps I found for Nieves are Humberto Quintero, Rob Bowen, and Jamie Burke. Quintero signed for one year with Astros for $610K and Bowen signed with the A’s for $535K. My guess is that Nieves sees something along the lines of this kind of deal for 2010 but I’d prefer he end up with a Jamie Burke deal, a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. I understand the Nationals need catching depth but I believe they can find a better option on the free agent market (either minor or major league).
  • Bergmann – This can be easily described as see Rivera, Saul. I believe that Bergmann will be non-tendered with a chance to come back on a non-roster deal.
  • Flores – This is going to be interesting. As a Super Two, Flores could potentially have four cracks at arbitration (2010, 2011, 2012, & 2013). He made $412K in another injury-plagued year. He’s promising but seems to have some concerns with staying healthy. Here are the catching Super Twos from last year along with their 2009 salaries: CA Humberto Quintero ($610K), CA Mike Napoli ($2M), and CA Russell Martin ($3.9M). Flores is better than Quintero and not as good as Martin. His closest comp is Napoli who saw a raise from $425K to $2M in his first year of arbitration as a Super Two. If Flores could remain healthy he may be able to put up something close to Napoli’s numbers. An arbitration offer is a no-brainer here and I believe he’ll end up getting a one year $1.5M deal.
  • Burnett – Acquired from the Pirates along with Nyjer Morgan, Burnett was quietly effective as a left-handed option out of the Nationals bullpen. Scanning the list of 2009 arb-eligibles who are lefthanders out of the pen turns up Neal Cotts ($1.2M) and Tim Byrdak ($1M). Unlike right-handed relievers, lefties tend to get the benefit of the doubt, making a bit more money. My guess is the Nationals offer arbitration and re-sign Burnett to a deal in the $1M range.

In summary, I have the Nationals non-tendering two players (Rivera & Bergmann) opening up two spots on the 40-man. If it were me, I’d non-tender four (throw in Olsen & Nieves).

  1. #1 by Todd Boss - December 1st, 2009 at 11:53

    Hey Brian, If the Nats non-tender a guy, that essentially turns him into a free agent, correct? What restrictions do we then have on negotiating with that player? (I’m wondering if we’ll end up with a Jesus Colome situation where we can’t sign the guy til like 5/1/2010 or something).

    Todd Boss the GM would non-tender Rivera and Nieves today. I’d be on the horn to agents for both Olsen and MacDougal discussing a one-year deal; if no deal, then cut ‘em loose. I don’t think either player is worth much more than what they earned last year, and I’d hate to have $4M committed to a closer with more walks than Ks.

    Bergmann i’d offer arbitration; he’s a bit more valuable than replacement righties in our organization. But this is his one year to shine.

    The rest of the guys you offer arb and they earn what they get.

  2. #2 by Positively Half St. - December 1st, 2009 at 12:02

    It’s too late to add anyone to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, so do the Nats just leave the slots open for now, and see who else got non-tendered?

  3. #3 by Brian Oliver - December 1st, 2009 at 12:03

    PHS – Correct

  4. #4 by Berndaddy - December 1st, 2009 at 12:27

    This is what makes winter baseball fun. Thanks for the info Brian !!!

  5. #5 by Pilchard - December 1st, 2009 at 12:41

    Great analyis Brian.

    Really hope that the Nats non-tender Nieves. He is a 32 year-old weak-hitting journeyman catcher. Even with the lack of depth at that position, losing Will Nieves will not cost the Nats a game, and there is zero chance that he will be part of this team’s future. There is no reason to waste a 40 man roster spot on him. Agree that Bergmann and Rivera will be non-tendered.

    Olsen has gotten progressively worse and is coming off an injury, unless he is amenable to an incentive-laden contract, would hope that the Nats cut him loose too, but at 25, I bet that the Nats still hold out hope that he will return to form. As a result, they will hang on to him.

  6. #6 by peric - December 1st, 2009 at 12:57

    They look pretty weak at catcher. Esp. if you non-tender Nieves. I don’t see any catchers that are ready yet in the minors? How would this be addressed?

  7. #7 by Rich - December 1st, 2009 at 13:18


    it sounds like Phil Wood disagrees with you. You think he has an inside scoop?

    He thinks Bergman and MacDougal will be tendered.

  8. #8 by SpringfieldFan - December 1st, 2009 at 13:44

    I’m excited to see what the team does with the open roster spot when Rivera is non-tendered.

  9. #9 by Pilchard - December 1st, 2009 at 13:45


    Brian answered that in his discussion of Nieves above when he said the Nats could get a better deal for a catcher through free agency (either a MLB or minor league free agent). I saw one projection on MLB trade rumors speculating that the Nats would sign Benji Molina (who would massively upgrade the position and the Nats lineup).

  10. #10 by Sue Dinem - December 1st, 2009 at 14:01

    sounds like Phil Wood disagrees with you. You think he has an inside scoop?

    And, get this: He was born on the 4th of July,[sic] 1971, in Washington, D.C. If ever a guy was destined to wear a Nats’[sic] uniform, it’s this guy.

    With such deep insight as this? Not likely.

    Fine job of untangling the issues surrounding the ‘09 arbs, Brian. Let’s see how it plays out tomorrow.

  11. #11 by Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 - December 1st, 2009 at 17:07

    When will the announcements be made?

  12. #12 by Brian Oliver - December 1st, 2009 at 17:12

    S204 – Likely closer to 12/12. We could hear about other potential moves on 12/8 prior to the Rule 5 draft

  13. #13 by Paul - December 1st, 2009 at 17:39

    I think that non-tendering Olsen would be a terrible idea. I am skeptical of the Nats going out and signing anyone better than him as a free agent, and they have the money to burn. He could be awesome and the clear #1 of the staff (assuming no SS) if healthy. I know that there are big IFs there, but what else would the Nats do to add depth to the rotation?

  14. #14 by BinM - December 1st, 2009 at 18:43

    @Todd Boss: There is a clause that blocks a team from re-signing a non-tendered player for a period of time, but I can’t lay my hands on the specific reference. Anybody else got it?

  15. #15 by BinM - December 1st, 2009 at 18:55

    Brian: I think if the team were not ready to tender Nieves, they’d have bumped him from the 40-man prior to today, and re-signed him (like they did Burke). I think they’ll tender both Catchers, both LHP’s & Willingham. Bergmann is “on the bubble” & is probably gone, but I agree that Rivera is gone – his numbers in the Winter Leagues aren’t helping his case at all.

  16. #16 by Basil - December 1st, 2009 at 19:03

    There’s no way in the world that paying Mike MacDougal $4M is a rational decision.

  17. #17 by Brian Oliver - December 2nd, 2009 at 08:43

    Todd – That deadline of May is no longer in the CBA. The deal with Colome was based on the team releasing him within a certain window. Non-tendering is different than releasing

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