Nationals swap salary figures with Morse, Lannan (plus Gonzalez contract details)

The Nationals and their remaining two arbitration-eligible players - left-hander John Lannan and outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse - have exchanged salary figures in preparation for arbitration hearings which will be scheduled during February in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is the next step in the arbitration process and doesn’t preclude the parties from reaching an amicable settlement right up until the third-party arbitrator rules for one side or the other.

In any case, the Nationals maintain control over both players; it’s just a case of how much they will earn in 2012. Most times, the sides avoid the unpleasantness of an arbitration hearing - when the player will try to state his case to gain a higher salary and the team will go to great lengths to pick apart the player’s weaknesses in the hope of saving some money - by picking a mid-range point and settling there.

Coming off a season in which he batted .303 and led the Nationals with 31 homers and 95 RBIs (five more than his previous six major league seasons combined), Morse is seeking a 2012 salary of $5 million, while the Nationals are countering with an offer of $3.5 million. The 29-year-old Morse made $1.05 million last season. If the sides settled in the middle, he’d get $4,25 million in 2012.

There’s substantially less room between the figures submitted by the Nationals and Lannan, who made $2.75 last season, when he set career bests in victories (10) and ERA (3.70) and tied his previous high with 33 starts. The 27-year-old Lannan is asking for $5.7 million, while the club has countered with $5 million. The midpoint would be $5.35 million.

The Nationals have not gone to salary arbitration since 2010, when they won cases against two relievers, lefty Sean Burnett and righty Brian Bruney.

Update: The five-year, $42 million extension signed by left-hander Gio Gonzalez on Sunday includes a $500,000 signing bonus. Gonzalez will earn $3.25 million in 2012, $6.25 million in 2013, $8.5 million in 2014, $11 million in 2015 and $12 million in 2006. The Nationals hold a $12 million option for 2017 with a $500,000 buyout. Should the Nationals exercise that option, Gonzalez gets a $12 million option for 2018 that becomes guaranteed if he reaches 180 innings in 2017.

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