Before the Washington Nationals’ front office personnel descend on Nashville for next week’s winter meetings, they have one more roster deadline to reach: Friday’s non-tender date.
The deadline to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players is one that often comes and goes without incident for most. But for a select few on each team, it is the date which they will become free agents.
For the Nationals, the two players most likely to be on the non-tender bubble this offseason are left-hander John Lannan and catcher Jesus Flores. So let’s examine each case separately.
– Lannan, one of the Nationals’ longest-tenured members, never expected the 2012 season to go the way it did for him.
After competing for a spot in the Nationals’ starting rotation in the spring, Lannan was optioned to Triple-A on the eve of the season as the Nationals made the decision to use the left-hander’s remaining contractual minor league option and put power left-hander Ross Detwiler into the rotation.
Lannan did ultimately pitch in several meaningful games for the Nationals, including a must-win performance in July against the Braves, and he assumed Stephen Strasburg’s spot in the rotation admirably well in September.
And just as they did last spring, the Nationals know what they have in Lannan: a proven major league starter who holds great value for them as someone they can trust on the mound. But here’s the catch: Lannan made $5 million in 2012, most of it spent in the minor leagues, and the least he could make in arbitration again this season is $4 million (players cannot lose more than 20 percent of their previous salary in arbitration).
Players getting a reduction in salary at all is also rare, so that’s a significant sum for a pitcher the Nationals may not view as part of their 2013 rotation.
The Nationals and Lannan have a few routes available to them as Friday night’s midnight deadline approaches. Needing a fifth starter for next year, the Nationals could simply tender Lannan a contract and prepare to go through the arbitration process with him as part of their plans, or attempt to trade him — a fairly standard course. They could also attempt to non-tender him and workout a new contract, though in that instance it’s likely Lannan will be inclined to simply look elsewhere.
Then there is Door No. 3: non-tender Lannan and simply cut ties with the former Opening Day starter.
The Nationals have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday to decide.
– The case for Flores is a little less convoluted.
When the Nationals acquired catcher Kurt Suzuki last August, the end of Flores’ tenure with the organization became fairly clear. Barring an extreme change of heart and direction, it’s likely Flores is not tendered a contract for the 2013 season and will be free to find work elsewhere.
Wilson Ramos’ rehab from a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee has been going extremely well and the Nationals also view Suzuki as a strong No. 1 catcher. Their depth, which as they saw at the major league level this season, also included Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, which would seem to make Flores expendable.
Flores, a Rule 5 pick by the organization, is just 28 years old, but he got a chance to seize the opportunity and prove he could be this team’s everyday catcher when Ramos went down in May. The team still felt it needed to acquire Suzuki.