The Washington Nationals will add closer Drew Storen to a list of nine other arbitration-eligible players this winter with the 24-year-old right-hander qualifying for Super 2 status under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Craig Stammen is also expected to be a Super 2 player, though he would’ve qualified under the old requirements as well.
Storen and Stammen are expected to join pitchers Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Tom Gorzelanny and John Lannan, along with position players Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina and Jesus Flores.
According to the Associated Press, the cutoff for Super 2 eligible players (select major leaguers with more than two years of major league service time but less than three years) was calculated at two years, 139 days of service time. Storen made the cut for the extra year in the potentially lucrative process by one day.
Essentially what this means is both Storen and Stammen will have four years of salary arbitration eligibility, instead of the usual three. Under the old CBA, only the top 17 percent of players between two and three years qualified, but that was expanded to 22 percent under the most recent CBA. Stephen Strasburg missed the cutoff by 21 days.
This does not change the structure of their contracts as all players are under contract for their first six years of major league service time, regardless. All it affects is their salaries, which are worked out between the Nationals and each players’ representatives. If terms for the 2013 season cannot be agreed upon before mid-January, the teams will file arbitration figures (one by the team, one by the player) and a panel will award the player either salary.
Teams can continue negotiating with players and their representatives, though, right up until the scheduled hearing — and often times this negotiation period leads to multi-year agreements.
That’s likely where the most interest in this process resides. So let’s look at each of the Nationals’ expected arbitration cases individually:
Ian Desmond (first year arbitration eligible) — Desmond set himself up for a handsome raise with a career year that was among the best in baseball for his position and the Nationals were thrilled to see him put everything together this season. The Nationals could certainly explore a multi-year contract with Desmond this offseason, in fact it seems likely they’ll discuss it, to at least buy out his three remaining arbitration years (2013, 2014, 2015) and set his salary for the remainder of his rookie contract. In that case, the team gets cost certainty and the player gets financial security (as the Nationals did with Michael Morse last offseason).
Often times extensions around arbitration years also include a year or two of what would’ve been a players’ free agency. The Nationals went this route with Gio Gonzalez (who was a Super 2) last offseason, extending him through the 2016 season (what would’ve been his first year of free agency) with a team option for 2017 and a vesting option for 2018. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them explore this route with Desmond this season.
Drew Storen (Super 2) — Storen has set himself up for four years of salary arbitration and while the multi-year deal could be an option with him as well, Storen comes into the process with a few pros and cons. Working against him is the fact that he missed a bit more than half the season after April surgery to remove a bone chip from his right elbow. When he returned, he wasn’t immediately returned to the closer role so he only collected four saves in the regular season and one in the playoffs.
Working for him is the fact that when he returned and continued to work his way into shape he looked as sharp as ever — perhaps even sharper than he was when he saved 43 games for the Nationals in 2011 — and his future as the team’s closer seems brighter than ever.
His final moments from the 2012 season will likely be difficult for him to swallow, and it’ll probably be a long winter for him, but to think that one game would drastically impact this process seems short-sighted.
Craig Stammen (Super 2) — Stammen, like Storen, is now set to go through the arbitration process four times before he hits free agency, unless he works out a multi-year deal before then. Stammen was one of the most versatile and valuable members of the Nationals’ bullpen this season doing everything from long relief to late-inning set-up work. He had some periods that were more impressive than others but on the whole he proved himself an important part of the team’s relief corps.
Regardless, Stammen will also be in line for a raise from the MLB minimum $485,000 he made in 2012.
Ross Detwiler (first year arbitration eligible) — Detwiler will go through arbitration for the first time this year and his first (mostly) full season in the Nationals’ rotation has given him a significant resume to take into the process. Detwiler compiled a 10-8 record with a 3.40 ERA this season and he gave the Nationals’ their best starting pitching performance of the postseason with a six-inning, three-hit outing in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
There are scouts who believe that Detwiler may be one of the best young left-handed arms in the league in the coming year so this arbitration process will be an interesting one, particularly if Detwiler drastically improves his performance in the 2013 season.
Roger Bernadina (first year arbitration eligible) — Bernadina should be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, the first mile marker on a long journey for the Nationals’ fan-favorite outfielder. After several years in the organization where Bernadina didn’t always take advantage of his opportunities at the major league level, he proved himself to be an extremely valuable fourth outfielder this season.
Bernadina appeared in 129 regular-season games this season, but started only 94 of them in the outfield. He still managed to hit .291 with a .372 on-base percentage and five home runs.
Tyler Clippard (second year arbitration eligible) — This will be Clippard’s second time through the arbitration process. Last year he was able to bring his selection to the NL All-Star team to the negotiating table, along with the stats as one of the league’s best eighth-inning men, to agree to a $1.65 million salary for 2012.
This offseason he’ll go into the process with 32 saves on his resume from the 2012 season. His ERA was significantly higher this season (3.72 compared to 1.83 in 2011) but he proved his versatility.
Jordan Zimmermann (second year arbitration eligible) — The Nationals began to explore a contract extension with Zimmermann last offseason but the two sides couldn’t agree on long-term details and the right-hander chose to simply go through the arbitration process.
They agreed to a $2.3 million salary for the 2012 season and Zimmermann took significant steps in his first unrestricted season after 2009 Tommy John surgery.
The Nationals could (and likely will) approach Zimmermann about an extension, perhaps within the framework of Gonzalez’s deal or something similar to it, this offseason. But, if not, Zimmermann continued to build his resume with a 2.94 ERA and a 12-8 record this season. He was one of the Nationals’ most consistent starters this season, not pitching less than six innings in a game until August, and he rebounded from a less-than-stellar postseason start with an electric relief appearance in the Nationals’ must-win Game 4 of the NLDS.
John Lannan (third year arbitration eligible) — Lannan accrued very little service time this season as the Nationals kept him (and his $5 million salary) in the minor leagues for much of the season. But he made several pivotal starts for the team at the major league level in September, as well as in July and August, and the Nationals know what they have in him: a viable major league starter.
The Nationals could certainly non-tender Lannan this offseason (the deadline for this is Nov. 30). They could also try to non-tender Lannan and attempt to re-sign him to a lesser contract — considering the fact that he is now out of minor league options so if the Nationals intend to have him in their organization next season it’ll likely have to be on the major league team and for a salary not much different than the $5 million they paid him this year — but working out a deal of that nature could be unlikely.
Tom Gorzelanny (fourth year arbitration eligible) — The Nationals’ left-handed long man made $3 million this past season in his third year of arbitration. Gorzelanny was a Super 2 player and, thus, will go through the process one more time before he hits free agency.
Three million dollars may seem like a stiff price to pay for a middle reliever but the Nationals view Gorzelanny as an extremely valuable member of their bullpen.
Jesus Flores (fourth year arbitration eligible) — Flores began the 2012 season filling the role of backup catcher to Wilson Ramos extremely well, and when Ramos went down with a an ACL and meniscus tear Flores began to fill in for him admirably well also. But over the course of the season, Flores’ offense waned. He became a hole in the Nationals’ lineup, and there was some criticism of his defensive ability (Flores caught just nine of 60 attempted base stealers, a significantly low total despite the Nationals’ pitchers own struggles to hold runners) and his game calling ability.
The Nationals’ trade for Kurt Suzuki (who will make $6.45 million in 2013 and has a vesting options for 2014) at the beginning of August made it likely that Flores will be non-tendered this offseason with Suzuki and Ramos sharing the catching duties in 2013. The Nationals don’t have to officially decide this until Nov. 30, though.
Suzuki was an impressive pick-up for the Nationals as his bat was immense down the stretch and the pitchers took to throwing to him shortly after his arrival. He gives the Nationals an insurance policy so as not to rush Ramos back from his surgery (though he’s been on-target to be ready for the season) and a valuable veteran backstop who, along with Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano in the minor leagues, makes Flores somewhat expendable.