The Nationals elected not to tender 2011 contracts to pitchers Chien-Ming Wang, Joel Peralta and catcher Wil Nieves before tonight's deadline, instantly making all three players free agents. They did, however, come to terms on one-year contracts with Jesus Flores and Alberto Gonzalez, avoiding arbitration with each player.
All major league clubs were required to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players before midnight, moves that essentially confirm those players will return next season.
The Nationals tendered contracts to their five other arbitration-eligible players: outfielders Josh Willingham and Michael Morse and pitchers John Lannan, Sean Burnett and Doug Slaten. The two sides have until January 18 to either come to terms on their own or exchange arbitration figures to an independent panel that will rule on their cases in February.
Despite being cut loose by the Nationals tonight, both Wang and Nieves could return on smaller, non-guaranteed contracts. Had they gone to arbitration, Wang would have been assured of making at least $1.6 million in 2011, with Nieves assured of making at least
The Nationals decided not to commit that much to Wang after paying the right-hander $2 million last season without ever appearing in a game. The Taiwanese hurler spent the entire year rehabbing following major shoulder surgery and wasn't able to face opposing hitters in a game situation until a couple of brief appearances this fall in the Florida instructional league.
Wang's eventual progress, though, could convince the Nationals to now re-sign him to a contract with a lower base salary but plenty of incentives based on games pitched in 2011. Other teams may have interest in the former 19-game winner, but Wang may show loyalty to a Washington club that was willing to take a chance on him this year.
Nieves, meanwhile, could return to the Nationals on a minor-league contract. The 33-year-old catcher appeared in 199 games over the last three seasons, hitting a combined .244. But with Ivan Rodriguez returning next year along with prospect Wilson Ramos and recovering Jesus Flores, Nieves is getting bumped down the organizational depth chart.
Peralta's non-tender was a surprise. The veteran reliever was a surprise key contributor this season, posting a 2.02 ERA in 39 appearances. He would have been in line to receive a raise through arbitration, up to perhaps $800,000.
In agreeing to terms now with Flores and Gonzalez, the Nationals avoid going to arbitration with both players. Flores, who is still attempting to return from a major shoulder injury sustained in May 2009, made $750,000 last season. Gonzalez, who qualified for arbitration as a "Super 2" player, made $415,500 last season.