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Payroll will top $120 million next season

Nov 19, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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The Nationals have done an impressive job building a successful franchise, mostly with home-grown prospects, but there are ramifications of such an endeavor.

Such as an ever-increasing payroll.

When Mike Rizzo replaced Jim Bowden as general manager in 2009, the Nationals’ payroll stood at $60 million, a figure that ranked 27th among MLB’s 30 franchises. In the ensuing five seasons, that payroll has nearly doubled, evidence both of the club’s higher-profile acquisitions and the continued development of young players whose salaries increase via baseball’s arbitration process.

The Nationals opened 2013 with a $114 million payroll, which ranked 12th in the majors. And it’s only going to keep rising in 2014.

Several prominent players will receive raises next season. Jayson Werth’s salary increases to $20 million from $16 million. Adam LaRoche’s increases to $12 million from $10 million. Gio Gonzalez gets a $2.25 million raise to $8.5 million.

That’s to say nothing of Washington’s eight arbitration-eligible players — Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Tyler Clippard, Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Wilson Ramos and Ross Ohlendorf — who all are guaranteed raises, in some cases of several million dollars.

Put it all together and the Nationals are almost certain to top the $120 million mark in 2014, shattering the franchise’s previous high payroll mark and likely ranking among MLB’s Top 10. And if Mike Rizzo were to go out and sign another veteran starting pitcher or experienced left-handed reliever or seasoned bench player, that number will only continue to rise.

Nobody’s complaining about any of this, mind you. Unless your last name is Lerner and you’re physically signing the checks, you should be pleased to see a franchise that for years made efforts to keep payroll down is now operating like the big-market club it is.

But it’s fair to question just how much higher this number can go, and whether someone in ownership will actually put a hard cap in place at some point, restricting Rizzo’s options.

For now, let’s simply run through the entire roster’s 2014 salaries. For these purposes, we’ve constructed a 25-man roster using only players already under contract to the Nationals, plus pitching prospect Matt Purke (who has a guaranteed, major-league contract even though he has yet to reach the big leagues).

Salaries for arbitration-eligible players and those with less than three years of big-league service time are estimated. Those figures won’t actually be finalized for several months…

OF Jayson Werth           $20,000,000
3B Ryan Zimmerman          14,000,000
1B Adam LaRoche            12,000,000
SP Jordan Zimmermann       10,000,000*
SP Gio Gonzalez             8,500,000
RP Rafael Soriano           7,000,000^
SS Ian Desmond              7,000,000*
OF Denard Span              6,500,000
RP Tyler Clippard           6,000,000*
SP Stephen Strasburg        6,000,000*
RP Drew Storen              3,500,000*
SP Ross Detwiler            3,000,000*
OF Scott Hairston           2,000,000+
OF Bryce Harper             2,150,000
C  Wilson Ramos             2,000,000*
2B Anthony Rendon           1,800,000
RP Ross Ohlendorf           1,500,000*
RP Craig Stammen            1,375,000
SP Matt Purke               1,037,500
2B Danny Espinosa             550,000*
RP Ryan Mattheus              525,000*
IF Steve Lombardozzi          525,000*
OF Tyler Moore                510,000*
RP Ian Krol                   505,000*
SP Tanner Roark               505,000*
C  Jhonatan Solano            505,000*
TOTAL                    $118,987,000*

*-Estimated figure, 2014 salary not yet finalized
^-Soriano’s actual salary is $14 million, but $7 million is deferred until later dates
+-Cubs will pay $500,000 of Hairston’s salary

  1. sjm308 - Nov 19, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    I think its going to be a tad higher because I am hoping that our second catcher will be someone like Buck who will probably be overpaid in today’s market but that is what baseball has become. Again, its not my money so I am ok with it. Do you all remember way back when Mark was starting out how many commentors would get on here and complain about the Lerners? I am not saying they are the best owners in baseball but they certainly seem to know how to run a business. They have continued to let Rizzo have the flexibility to make whatever deals he thinks he needs to make.

    It was over a week ago, but one of our astute posters posed a question about Purke and his number of options. I found out that he might have one more because of injury but this will be a defining year for him (and the Nationals). This will be the last year we can send him down without the danger of losing him. I am not saying teams will jump to sign him but I sure bet there will be a couple. It will be interesting to see who is brought up first, Purke or Solis.

    Go Nats!!

    • Doc - Nov 19, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      Depends on what happens in ST and early part of the year, but I’d bet on Solis. Sammy’s also getting kinda old for a rookie, and will turn 26 this coming season.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:07 AM

        Good point Doc. I think the money has to be spent on the bench and the much needed quality 4th outfielder.

  2. nats128 - Nov 19, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    There is such an irony in this whole salary discussion. You could flip back 2 years to the blogs where the Lerners were getting smashed for the teams payroll. They were called horrible names. How quick things change however I doubt they get any apologies from those haters.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 8:11 AM

      Some of the more vocal posters just didn’t understand the payroll dynamics of cost controlled players and kept equating salary to wins. That’s the Yankees and Dodgers system but payroll isn’t an exact predictor of success.

      Haters will usually always hate. Last week when Kilgore did the story on Harper’s arbitration, a few commentors once again pushed the “Lerners are cheap” button. It’s just a sad commentary on the commentors and who they really are and some things never change.

      • Doc - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM

        Ghost, a few years ago, I read a comment from a GM that there is about a 60% chance of success when an owner puts his money down on a player’s contract—slightly better than playing roulette.

        According to that stat, the Lerners, like many other owners, are doing the fans a favor twice a month on players’ payday!

        If I was told that there was a 60% chance of owning my house after I paid off my mortgage, I think that I’d keep renting! LOL

        The big spenders now in MLB are the Dodgers. Just a guess looking at their high-priced roster, but I think that they are going to come up even shorter again next year, than they did this year.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 19, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    I see seven bottom of the barrel/haven’t proved squat players, one (Purke) who has zero chance being in the major leagues, two (Soriano, Hairston) who are ridiculously overpaid. They have no possibility of anything beyond the wild card with that approximately $15-$16MM in dead weight around their necks. They need to put their hands over their eyes, pick up about $20MM in new/additional contracts and pray that the new hires actually bring some talent to the table.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 8:23 AM

      Purke probably won’t be in the Majors this year but he still could make it. Lefty fastball like his could still be a reliever. Don’t count him out yet.

    • masterfishkeeper - Nov 19, 2013 at 8:26 AM

      Seems a little harsh. Would you have thought a year ago that Tanner Roark would make the majors in 2013? Don’t give up on Purke. Pitchers can suddenly arrive.

    • pdowdy83 - Nov 19, 2013 at 9:39 AM

      Theo, after watching Taylor Jordan this year how can you say Purke has “zero chance of being in the major leagues” next year. That is just a ridiculous statement. in 2012 Taylor Jordan pitched 54.1 innings, none of which were above Low A. He started this year at High A. We all know the rest of the story. Those 54.1 innings of ball at Low A in 2012 for Jordan consisted of a 5.13 ERA and a WHIP of 1.55. Jordan is a full year ahead older than Purke and has a comparable injury history in the minors to Purke. Purke actually pitched 61 innings in High A this year along with another 23 in the more advanced hitting AFL. In those innings at a higher level than Jordan, Purke posted a 4.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.35. While those numbers are not overly impressive they markedly better than Jordan’s 2012 and are at a higher level of competition at the same age Jordan pitched his 2012 season at. On top of that Purke had a much higher pedigree than Jordan and is left handed and reports from the AFL are that his velocity has returned to the 92-93 range.

      I agree that they probably need to spend some money on new contracts but considering how we are in mid November I am content to watch and see how the offseason plays out before declaring they have no possibilities of anything beyond the Wild Card. I don’t see why it is that far fetched that with no Haren, no Espinosa for 2 months, better pitcher management and an upgraded bench this team wouldn’t fall in between the 86 and 98 win marks of the last two seasons. Those things above don’t cost much more to put together.

      • therealjohnc - Nov 19, 2013 at 12:52 PM

        Over the years Theophilus has had his favorite minor league players and those he has disdain for, both of which opinions he frequently discourses on extensively and authoritatively. The upside for Purke (and downside for Corey Brown and several others) is that there is very little correlation between ultimate player success and Theophilus’ projections.

        To be fair, we all have our favorites. Most of us just acknowledge our limitations as talent scouts and prognosticators.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Nov 19, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        Dowdy — I overlooked the probability they will sign another Haren look-alike; more sunk money. And I’d be happy if Purke proved to be a Major League player this season but (A) he still shows evidence he hasn’t healed from a multitude of injuries, both chronicled and undisclosed; (B) there are several players between him and the major leagues, including the aforementioned Taylor, Solis, Karns, Cole, Ray, and so on and so forth. So far as Purke is concerned, they’ll be paying $1.4MM this year with probably not a single major league out in return. They can’t be bragging about a $120MM payroll this year when (A) so much of it is dead weight; (B) there are so many glaring holes unaddressed. Granted there is a long time between now and the opening of training camp.

  4. Jason - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    It is easy to look at payroll on a year by year static basis, but the way the Nats structure contracts by back weighting them leads to an inaccurate picture. LaRoche made 10 Mil last year and 12 this year, Werth made 16 mil last year and 20 this year, both under the same contract. The team saved over 3 mil last year on these two contracts by deferring payment.

    I tend to think the Nationals look at payroll like a business would over a 5 or 10 year window, not as a 0 base budget every year.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      Most teams try to do that with payroll so it’s still apples to apples in comparison to other teams. Look what the Yankee$ did with Jeter’s last 2 contracts. The Orioles in fact try to pay deferrals beyond retirement like they did with Albert Belle and others.

      I think Rizzo has to be smarter about overpays like Soriano and Hairston as you need those extra millions wasted to fill in the bench with higher quality.

  5. edshelton2013 - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Now that the Giants have passed on Zito and Vogelsong, what about either one as our fifth starter??
    I

    • NatsLady - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM

      I fear Zito would be another Haren, if not worse. Good teammate, good work ethic, etc, but finished as a reliable starter? Probably. Zito’s made a fortune, he should probably retire and do Hollywood stuff.

      I might look into Vogelsong, see if it can be determined what his issues are.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 1:26 PM

        Agree on Zito. Too much risk there. I’m not up to date with Vogelsong and his issues.

  6. NatsLady - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Like it or not, Hairston’s deal is looking about average now at 1.5MM.

    Yesterday the Reds signed Skip Schumaker to a two-year contract and now Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com passes along the monetary details: He’ll get $5 million.

    Nick Punto‘s deal with the A’s pays him $3 million, with a $2.75 million option for 2015, so it appears as though the going rate for a veteran utility man with a weak bat (and in Schumaker’s case, a weak but versatile glove) is $2-$3 million per season.

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/11/19/skip-schumakers-two-year-deal-with-reds-worth-5-million/

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      I think Hairston is $2.5 million.with $0.5 paid by the Cubs making him a $2 million net but I could be wrong.

      • NatsLady - Nov 19, 2013 at 1:39 PM

        You could be right. Even so, his contract doesn’t seem out of line with other veteran “bench” players at this point. That extra TV money is pumping up salaries, and I don’t mean Cano.

  7. NatsLady - Nov 19, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    DeJesus would have been an expensive 4th outfielder–the Rays are planning to use him as part of a 4-man rotation/platoon in the DH/OF spots. That’s very creative of them, but wouldn’t work in the NL.

    As regards Corey Brown–apparently he wants to be the 4th outfielder & had a conversation with Rizzo regarding same. This was reported in WaPo.

    Now, he was sent (unwillingly) to Venezuela for winter ball, where he promptly “got sick” and returned home after nine games. So, for me, is it a health question or a work ethic question?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      Agreed on the AL style that will work well with DeJesus.

      Corey Brown is a longshot to make this team and his fate with the Nats is more dependent on who Rizzo acquires for the bench with a lefty bat.

      • blovy8 - Nov 19, 2013 at 8:31 PM

        Yeah, I don’t think they want to go into 2014 with Brown as the left-handed power off the bench.

  8. sjm308 - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    Just finished reading the comments and I continue to gain so much here. Between Ghost, Natslady, and so many others its just a great site. The one commenter who doesn’t post that often but when he does, I listen is pDowdy. Usually backs up his thoughts with actual facts which delights me to no end. I love the back and forth and also love that people here can express negative thoughts and are usually intelligent about it rather than just spewing hate.

    Theo – take a look at most teams bottom 6 or 7 and you will not have exceptional value. Look at what the Giants payed Zito last year. There are examples on each team of bad/poor deals. Rizzo isn’t perfect and like Natslady pointed out, we have bench players signing now for excess of 4 million dollars.

    On Purke, I see him breaking through in a relief role this year for the mere fact that he is out of options out of this and they have to see what they have. I don’t think he makes the club out of spring training but I do think at some time this year he will throw in the majors.

    Go Nats!!

  9. Eugene in Oregon - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Agree with those who have written some version of ‘payroll isn’t everything’ or asked ‘where’s the correlation between payroll and wins?’ or expressed similar sentiments. To me, the willingness to spend is less about the final rank (who’s first, who’s tenth, who’s last?), but much more about the flexibility it gives the GM to make a deal when the opportunity arises. And I think that’s where the Lerner family seems to have given Mike Rizzo not a blank check, but the ability to write a big check — without worrying about a specific payroll limit — when he thinks he can improve the team (e.g., Rafael Soriano). Is it going to work every time? Of course not. But I infer from afar that if Mr. Rizzo goes to the owners with a persuasive argument for an impact player, the Lerners are not going to worry too much about keeping precisely to some pre-specified spending limits. Note I said ‘too much'; not that they won’t ask questions and have some concerns. But that’s an impression and inference, not a certainty.

    Also, for Mark Zuckerman, any chance of an update on the MASN contract mess? While the Lerners are certainly rich beyond my imagination, I know they will still impose some general spending limits on Mr. Rizzo each year. And I suspect that those spending limits will likely increase if the team is bringing in more revenue via a market-rate TV contract. Where oh where is Bud Selig? When oh when is MLB going to resolve this festering issue?

    • Eugene in Oregon - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      To be clear, when I wrote ‘final rank’ in my second sentence I was talking about the ranking of team spending.

  10. shawndc04 - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    >>But it’s fair to question just how much higher this number can go, and whether someone in ownership will actually put a hard cap in place at some point, restricting Rizzo’s options.<<

    All the more important to get our television rights from Angelos.

  11. Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 19, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    “It isn’t the high price of stars that is expensive, it’s the high price of mediocrity.”
    Bill Veeck

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