Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Even if they re-sign Adam Dunn, the Nats should have plenty of leftover money for payroll.
Should the Nationals re-sign Adam Dunn? Should they sign another big bat to play first base? Should they go all-in on the only legitimate No. 1 starter on the free agent market, Cliff Lee? Should they pursue second-tier starters instead? Should they seek to fill their gaps via trades?
All important questions that need to be answered. But there's another question that hovers around every move or potential move the Nats are looking to make this winter: How much will it cost?
Actually, the more pertinent question may be: How much money do the Nationals have to spend? That obviously depends on how high ownership is willing to raise payroll from its Opening Day 2010 total of $66,275,000. Delving into the numbers and the contracts, though, you come to realize the Nats have plenty of room to work with, even if
they bring Dunn back at a higher price than he made this year.
There are only seven players already signed, sealed and delivered for 2011 with guaranteed, major-league contracts: Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Marquis, Stephen Strasburg, Ivan Rodriguez, Yunesky Maya, Bryce Harper and Livan Hernandez. Those seven players are guaranteed a total of $28,650,000 in salaries and bonuses next year.
There are eight additional players who will be eligible for arbitration this winter: Josh Willingham, Chien-Ming Wang, Sean Burnett, John Lannan, Michael Morse, Doug Slaten, Jesus Flores and Joel Peralta. Those players' salaries are still yet to be determined (and in the case of a guy like Wang, it's still to be determined whether the Nats will bring him back at all) but if you project what each player is likely to earn through arbitration, the total works out to about $14,250,000.
So that's slightly less than $43 million the Nationals will be paying 15 players in 2011. There are 10 more players with less than three years' big-league service time who remain under the franchise's control and will earn salaries at or slightly above the league minimum of $400,000: Nyjer Morgan, Alberto Gonzalez, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Clippard, Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Maxwell, Ian Desmond, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos. Now, those 10 guys aren't all necessarily going to make the Opening Day roster, but the names are irrelevant for these purposes. Point is, there are 10 slots currently going to players making anywhere from $400,000 to $450,000, for a total roughly around $4.25 million.
Throw in the $500,000 the Nationals will have to pay Adam Kennedy to buy out his contract (a near-certainty) and here's what you wind up with: At the moment, the Nats only have about $47 million committed to payroll for 2011.
Which also means this: Even if they re-sign Dunn to a contract that pays him $15 million next year, they'd still only be looking at a total payroll of $62 million, down $4 million from last year's number.
Obviously, there will be lots of moves made this winter that increase this number, whether in the form of high-priced free agents, bargain free agents or trades. But the point is, the Nats have the ability to re-sign Dunn and still have another $18 million at their disposal just to get to an $80 million payroll. And if they choose not to re-sign Dunn, they've got $33 million to spend to reach that $80 million figure.
Will they field an $80 million roster in 2011? We don't know. This front office has never publicly revealed its projected budget heading into a season. But Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo have pushed for a payroll increase this winter, suggesting it's time for the Nationals to escape the lower quarter of the major leagues in this department and at least approach the sport's median payroll (which was $84 million this year).
If the Lerner family agrees, the Nats should have no shortage of options this winter to attempt to improve their roster.
Here's the full breakdown of players' 2011 salaries (salaries with an asterisk are projected because they haven't been determined yet)...
ALREADY SIGNED FOR '11
Ryan Zimmerman $9,025,000Jason Marquis $7,500,000
Stephen Strasburg $4,375,000
Ivan Rodriguez $3,000,000
Yunesky Maya $2,000,000
Bryce Harper $1,750,000
Livan Hernandez $1,000,000
Josh Willingham $6,000,000*
Chien-Ming Wang $2,000,000*
Sean Burnett $1,500,000*
John Lannan $1,500,000*
Michael Morse $1,000,000*
Doug Slaten $800,000*
Jesus Flores $750,000*
Joel Peralta $700,000*
UNDER TEAM CONTROL
Nyjer Morgan $450,000*
Alberto Gonzalez $450,000*
Roger Bernadina $450,000*
Tyler Clippard $420,000*
Jordan Zimmermann $420,000*
Justin Maxwell $415,000*
Ian Desmond $410,000*
Drew Storen $402,000*
Danny Espinosa $400,000*
Wilson Ramos $400,000*
Adam Kennedy $500,000
GRAND TOTAL $47,617,000*
*-Projected 2011 salaries