And then there were two

The Nationals had a whopping 10 players eligible for arbitration this offseason, leaving assistant general manager Bryan Minniti, general manager Mike Rizzo and others with quite a lengthy to-do list when it came to finalizing contracts with these players for 2014 and possibly beyond.

Minniti, Rizzo and company checked off most of the items on that list within the last handful of weeks, agreeing to one-year deals with left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins, left-hander Ross Detwiler, right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, catcher Wilson Ramos, right-handed reliever Drew Storen and right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

The Nats also signed right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond to two-year deals worth $24 million and $17.5 million, respectively, contracts that aren’t guaranteed to keep the two homegrown talents around long-term, but will lock them in at set salaries over the next two years, avoiding arbitration.

Long-term deals with both players are still a possibility, although it sounds like Zimmermann might be heading for free agency after the 2015 season unless he and the Nats are able to make some serious progress in contract talks and find more common ground for a potential deal. Zimmermann told me yesterday that while he and the Nats discussed a long-term deal this offseason, the two sides were “quite a ways off” on the terms that were tossed around.

All this activity leaves the Nats with two arbitration-eligible players still without contracts after yesterday’s 1 p.m. deadline for teams and players to submit formal salary figures for 2014.

Right-hander Doug Fister has filed at $8.5 million, while the Nats have countered at $5.75 million. Right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard asked for $6.35 million, and the Nats countered at $4.45 million.

Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, of all the arbitration-eligible players remaining without a contract for 2014, Fister has the third-largest gap between the numbers he and his team filed, at $2.75 million. Clippard has the seventh-largest gap at $1.9 million.

In other words, while those in the Nats’ front office put in plenty of work in order to lock up eight of their 10 arbitration-eligible players, they might still have a bit of work ahead of them. The gaps between what the Fister and Clippard feel they’re worth compared to what the team feels they’re worth are fairly large, and if deals can’t be struck through standard negotiations, a three-man arbitration panel might need to determine the players’ salaries for 2014.

For what it’s worth, projected earlier this offseason that Fister would earn $6.9 million through arbitration and Clippard would make $6.2 million.

As I mentioned the other day, there are some teams around baseball that refuse to continue negotiating contracts with their arbitration-eligible players after the deadline to submit figures has come and gone. Those teams are called “file-and-trial” teams, meaning that once the salary figures have been filed, an arbitration hearing is a certainty.

The Nats aren’t a “file-and-trial” team, but they also aren’t afraid to go to arbitration if they need to. They’ll continue working with Fister and Clippard’s agents, and both sides surely hope that a fair deal can be worked out without the arbitration panel being necessary. Especially when it comes to Fister, it probably wouldn’t be too pleasant to head to arbitration before even having played a game with his new team.

That’s what lies ahead in February, however, if Fister and Clippard aren’t able to reach deals with the Nationals.

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