Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Washington Nationals

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2016

Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Washington Nationals

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Fans of the Washington Nationals don't care that Game 5 of the National League Division Series was a contest for the ages. Their team lost, failing to advance to the National League Championship Series for the third time since 2012.

    "That's probably one of the craziest, if not the craziest, games I've ever been a part of in my career," Nationals ace Max Scherzer said after the game, per MLB.com's Jamal Collier and Ken Gurnick. "Man, this is a tough one to be on the wrong side of."

    Even tougher will be the months ahead, one that will find Washington's front office tasked with trying to improve upon a team that won 95 games and its third NL East title in five years. Will there be wholesale changes to the roster, or mere tweaks here and there? Let's take a look at how things might shake out.

Payroll Breakdown

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    Stephen Strasburg's $175 million extension kicks in next season.
    Stephen Strasburg's $175 million extension kicks in next season.G Fiume/Getty Images

    If we take away the four players with renewable deals—players we've estimated a 2017 salary of $600,000 for due to the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement—Washington has roughly $97 million committed to only seven players heading into 2017.

    That's a lot of money for less than a third of a 25-man roster.

    PlayerPos2016 Salary2017 Salary
    Shawn KelleyRP$4,000,000$5,500,000
    Daniel Murphy2B$8,000,000$12,000,000
    Oliver PerezRP$3,000,000$4,000,000
    Clint Robinson1B/OF$534,900$600,000
    Joe RossSP$514,400$600,000
    Max Scherzer SP$22,143,000$22,143,000
    Stephen StrasburgSP$10,400,000$18,333,000
    Michael TaylorOF$524,900$600,000
    Blake Treinen RP$524,000$600,000
    Jayson Werth OF$21,571,000$21,571.000
    Ryan Zimmerman1B$14,000,000$14,000,000
    Total $85,212,200$99,947,000

    More than half of the team's committed payroll is locked up in three players—Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth and Stephen Strasburg, who has now missed out on pitching in two of the team's three postseason appearances since 2012, this time due to a balky elbow.

    That's a bad look for a guy about to start a seven-year, $175 million extension.

Arbitration-Eligible Players

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    Bryce Harper
    Bryce HarperHarry How/Getty Images

    Some big names are due some big raises through arbitration this winter in Washington, none bigger than 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper.

    While he didn't put forth another MVP-caliber season, the 23-year-old did deliver his first 20-20 campaign, finishing the year with 24 home runs and 21 stolen bases. That's going to help his case for a hefty raise as he heads into this third arbitration-eligible offseason.

    PlayerPos2016 Salary Proj. 2017 SalaryPlayer Comp.
    Aaron BarrettRP$519,400$950,000Tanner Scheppers
    Danny EspinosaSS$2,875,000$5,000,000Asdrubal Cabrera
    Bryce HarperOF$5,000,000$8,500,000No comparison
    Jose Lobaton C$1,387,500$1,950,000Jeff Mathis
    Anthony Rendon3B/2B$2,800,000$5,500,000Mike Moustakas
    Ben RevereOF$6,250,000$6,800,000Michael Bourn
    Tanner RoarkSP$543,400$5,500,000No comparison
    Totals $8,024,370$14,225,000 

    Aside from Harper, Anthony Rendon and Tanner Roark stand out as the most notable arbitration-eligible players in Washington. While there's little chance of Harper agreeing to a long-term extension, the Nationals figure to explore one with either Rendon or Roark, if not both.

    They're only going to get more expensive to retain down the road.

    It'd be shocking if the club actually offered arbitration to veteran outfielder Ben Revere, who lost his center field job to Trea Turner and was left off the team's roster in the NLDS. There's no way the Nats are going to pay him in excess of $6 million to serve as the team's fourth outfielder.

Players with Options and Washington's Free Agents

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    Wilson Ramos and Gio Gonzalez
    Wilson Ramos and Gio GonzalezThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Picking up Gio Gonzalez's $12 million team option is an easy call for Washington to make, given the uncertainty surrounding Stephen Strasburg's elbow and the fact that it'd cost just as much, if not more, to find a suitable replacement for Gonzalez on the free-agent market.

    PlayerPos2016 SalaryNotes
    Matt Belisle RP$15,800,000 
    Sean BurnettRP$4,000,000 
    Stephen DrewIF$4,000,000 
    Gio GonzalezSP$6,000,000$12M team option, $500K buyout
    Chris Heisey OF$6,250,000 
    Mat Latos SP$10,650,000 
    Mark MelanconCL$6,575,000 
    Yusmeiro Petit RP$8,500,000 $3M team option, $500K buyout
    Wilson RamosC$5,100,000 
    Marc Rzepczynski RP$7,000,000 

    It's also fair to assume that the Nationals will try and convince Mark Melancon to pass on testing free agency. The veteran closer was phenomenal for Washington (1.82 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 17-for-18 SV), bringing stability to the ninth inning for the first time in a long time.

    If the Nationals are willing to give Melancon a deal that's around market value, which I'm approximating in the area of $12 million per year, he'll remain in Washington. If not, he'll be able to find that sort of offer elsewhere. 

    How the club will proceed when it comes to Wilson Ramos, however, isn't as clear. Ramos finally delivered the breakout season the Nationals have waited for, but tore his ACL in late September, clouding not only his immediate future but his availability for 2017 as well. 

    It wouldn't at all be surprising to see the Nationals extend Ramos a qualifying offer (worth $17.2 million) and look to work out a multi-year pact should he return healthy and at his previous level of play next season.

Potential Free-Agent Targets

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    Could Matt Wieters move from the Inner Harbor to D.C.?
    Could Matt Wieters move from the Inner Harbor to D.C.?Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    With most of the Nationals' key contributors set to return in 2017, there's not much room for significant free agent additions in Washington. That said, the team could have an opening behind the plate and in the ninth inning.

    It just so happens the free agent market is deep in options for both areas.

    • Jason Castro, C: A light-hitting but defensively sound backstop, Castro isn't going to command a massive payday on the open market.
    • Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, CL: If Melancon departs, expect the Nationals to make a huge push to try and sign Chapman, a pitcher they've had eyes for ever since he defected from Cuba in 2010. If that fails, Jansen figures to be next on their list of targets.
    • Matt Wieters, C: Should the Nats decide to move on from Ramos and not be willing to roll with a platoon of Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, Wieters is the best free-agent catcher available. That Washington would be taking him away from in-state rival (and courtroom opponent) Baltimore only adds to his appeal.
    • Brad Ziegler, RP: Arizona's former closer has been terrific in whatever role he's filled and would be a far less expensive addition to the back end of the bullpen than signing Chapman or Jansen or retaining Melancon would be.

    If replacing Ramos behind the plate is something the team deems necessary, the Nationals could turn to the trade market to fill the void as both New York's Brian McCann and San Diego's Derek Norris are expected to at least be shopped by their current clubs.

             

    Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and all payroll and salary information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus). All player comparisons link to Baseball Prospectus.

    Want to talk Nationals' offseason plans or anything baseball-related? Hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR

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