The Washington Nationals elected not to tender contracts to left-hander Scott Olsen or right-hander Mike MacDougal before Saturday’s midnight deadline, choosing to cut ties, at least temporarily, with both players.
The Nationals still could re-sign Olsen and MacDougal to lesser contracts and invite them to spring training, and general manager Mike Rizzo said that remains a possibility.
“I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to bringing either guy back,” Rizzo said. “There’s nothing wrong with the way they conducted themselves in the clubhouse and on and off the field. They were good teammates and good people.”
Washington did tender contracts to its six other arbitration-eligible players: outfielder Josh Willingham, catchers Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves and relievers Sean Burnett, Jason Bergmann and recently acquired Brian Bruney.
The decision on MacDougal was perhaps Rizzo’s toughest. The right-hander converted 20 of 22 save opportunities this season and helped stabilize what had been a disastrous bullpen. But after making $2.65 million on an old contract with the Chicago White Sox, he stood to receive a sizable raise through arbitration, and the Nationals couldn’t justify that kind of salary for a pitcher who wasn’t seen as a long-term answer at closer.
Bruney, holdover Tyler Clippard and first-round draft pick Drew Storen all could end up getting a chance to close in 2010, though Rizzo said he still intends to pursue more relief help from outside the organization this winter.
“I think we need to stabilize the back end of the bullpen,” Rizzo said. “We have some in-house options right now, but we certainly are going to look at every avenue. We need to have as much inventory back there as we can.”
Olsen was a key addition last winter in a trade with Florida that also landed Willingham in exchange for Emilio Bonifacio and two minor leaguers, and the 25-year-old lefty was expected to become an anchor in the Nationals rotation.
But Olsen struggled to a 2-4 record and 6.03 ERA in 11 starts, then was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that required season-ending surgery. He did, however, recently complete his rehabilitation program and has been cleared to prepare for spring training.
Since he made $2.8 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility, Olsen would be guaranteed to make at least 80 percent of that figure ($2.24 million) in 2010 if tendered. Considering the injury risk, the Nationals were hesitant to commit that much money to him.
Among the other arbitration-eligible players, Nieves was a candidate to be nontendered. But the veteran catcher, who hit .259 with 26 RBI in 72 games this season, remains affordable with an expected 2010 salary under $1 million. He’ll serve as a backup option should Flores not be ready to return from shoulder surgery by Opening Day.