Dec 2, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend has come and gone, the Winter Meetings begin one week from today and the Hot Stove League (you would assume) is about to kick into high gear for the Nationals, who have been awfully quiet to date.
Perhaps they will make some news before the end of the day, though, with another one of Major League Baseball’s offseason deadlines looming at 11:59 p.m. That’s when all MLB clubs must tender contract offers to all of their unsigned-but-controlled players. For most, it’s better known as the non-tender deadline.
It sounds more complicated than it really is. For simplicity’s sake, this essentially is the day of the year in which teams decide if any of their arbitration-eligible players aren’t worth keeping based on the salary increases they are expected to earn.
The Nationals have eight arbitration-eligible players, slightly more than most clubs, and there are some very prominent names on that list: Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Wilson Ramos, Ross Detwiler.
Those are all building-block players, key members of the Nationals’ lineup, rotation or bullpen who figure to remain key parts of the club moving forward. Unless Mike Rizzo decides to trade either Storen or Clippard, which wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
Even if Rizzo has visions of dealing one of those relievers, he’s going to tender contracts to both guys today. He’d never dump either one without getting something in return.
So that leaves only one name among the arbitration-eligible players whose future with the Nationals could be over by the end of the day: Ross Ohlendorf.
Ohlendorf was among this season’s pleasant surprises, a non-roster invitee to spring training who wound up contributing both as a long reliever and spot starter, going 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA in 16 games (seven starts). But how does the right-hander figure into next year’s plan? That’s not entirely clear.
It seems far-fetched that Ohlendorf would make the Opening Day rotation, beating out the likes of Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark and any veteran starter Rizzo might acquire this winter. He could make more sense as a long reliever, though that job could be targeted for Roark or even Craig Stammen.
The issue here, though, is less about Ohlendorf’s potential role on the Nationals’ 2014 pitching staff and more about his potential salary should they decide to keep him. This is a veteran pitcher with more than four full years of big-league service time on his resume, a guy who made $2.025 million via arbitration with the Pirates in 2011.
Ohlendorf has spent the better part of the last two years injured or pitching in the minors, so his salary numbers have gone down, though he’s still likely to make decent money through arbitration. How much? According to MLBtraderumors.com’s annual projections — and those guys have a strong track record at making near-accurate guesses — Ohlendorf is in line to make about $1.3 million next season.
While $1.3 million doesn’t seem all that much for a club with a payroll expected to top $120 million, it may be more than the Nationals are willing to pay a journeyman right-hander with an injury-riddled history and no clear-cut role on next year’s roster.
The educated guess here is that the Nationals decide to non-tender Ohlendorf tonight, then make an attempt to re-sign him to a minor-league deal or a big-league contract with a low base salary and lots of incentives).
They’ve got until 11:59 p.m. to make a final decision.
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