First, the moves:
- Non-tendered RH RP Mike MacDougal and LH SP Scott Olsen.
- Offered arbitration to C Jesus Flores , OF Josh Willingham, C Wil Nieves, RH RP Jason Bergmann, RH RP Brian Bruney, and LH RP Sean Burnett.
- Signed RH RP Ryan Speier to a minor league contract.
- Signed LH SP Scott Olsen to an incentive-heavy free agent contract.
There are a couple of expected moves in the above list, and a couple of surprises.
First, the expected: the Nats' non-tendering of MacDougal and Olsen. Both players stood to make a pretty big payday with arbitration, and the Naitonals figured they could re-sign both—if they wanted—after non-tendering.
They were right about Olsen, as he was a free agent less than one day, signing a $1 million contract with incentives that could push the total to just under $4 million. Olsen is coming off season-ending labrum surgery, and according to GM Mike Rizzo, he is ready to start getting into baseball shape.
Whether Olsen returns from the surgery to be a valuable member of the Nats' rotation is a story for another day, though, because we won't know until well into spring training how his shoulder responds to the procedure.
MacDougal's return has to be considered questionable at this point, though MASN.com's Byron Kerr indicates talks are continuing.
MacDougal led the team in saves last season, and was third in the league in save percentage last year, but his underlying stats tell a different story.
The hard-throwing righty posted a career low K/9 at just 5.6, while his walk rate for the Nats was the same 5.6. His overall WHIP was 1.52, much higher than one would expect for the No. 3 save percentage closer in the game.
His gaudy save total (20-for-21) though would have driven an arbitration salary through the roof of what the Nats would have wanted to pay him.
And it was completely expected that the Nats would offer arbitration to Flores, Willingham, Bruney, and Burnett.
On to the (mild) surprises: bringing back Nieves and Bergmann, and the signing of Justin Speier.
All offseason, the Nats have maintained their need to upgrade at backup catcher. Primary to the point, the signing of Ivan Rodriguez. That the club decided to retain Nieves, a player at a position they were vocal about upgrading, has to be considered a bit surprising.
The team has been very careful not to name names when talking about addressing their needs at catcher, but Rizzo didn't want to go into the season with Nieves as the main backup again, that much is clear.
But offering him arbitration now indicated to me that he will indeed be the primary backup, this time to Rodriguez, at least to start the season.
Everything the Nats have done at the catcher spot (signing Rodriguez, who made it clear he's ready to play every day, and bringing back Nieves and Jamie Burke), indicates to me that Flores is not only not going to be ready in spring training, but probably well into the regular season.
Bergmann's return surprised me as well, his quality down the stretch last year notwithstanding. Overall, though, his season numbers were less than inspiring, and with his track record with the team, I thought this was going to be the season they let him test the free agent waters.
But we can now expect Bergy one of the known elements for a bullpen in flux going into spring training, along with Burnett, Bruney, and Tyler Clippard.
Ryan Speier is an interesting case. A local kid from West Springfield High, he has a lifetime 3.99 ERA in 90 appearances , all for Colorado. He doesn't strike a lot of guys out, and puts his fair share of runners on base, but manages to mostly keep them from crossing home plate.
He only pitched 5.2 innings at the big league level last season, and wasn't particularly impressive in AAA , but he does have a track record and getting out of the mile-high air of Colorado could help him out.