Answering a question on Strasburg, plus a NatsFest update

Yesterday’s news that the Nationals agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Stephen Strasburg, avoiding arbitration, led to some discussion on Twitter and in the comment section of the blog on the $3.975 salary the pitcher will receive in 2014.

Some readers felt that Strasburg’s salary for this upcoming season was a bit low and that the Nationals should have offered him a deal with a larger payout for 2014.

In reality, the arbitration system is very controlled and leans heavily on precedent, and typically, the salaries that arbitration-eligible players receive are based on their performance in the previous season as well as what comparable arbitration-eligible players earned. (Other criteria that are included on a lower level are career contributions, past compensation, and injuries or other debilitations.)

Two years ago, coming off a 2011 season in which he posted a 3.18 ERA over 161 1/3 innings, had a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed 0.7 home runs per nine innings, Jordan Zimmermann earned $2.3 million through arbitration. That’s more money than most people earn in a lifetime, yes, but why was it such a low number in the baseball scheme of things? Because it was Zimmermann’s first year eligible for arbitration, and that salary matched up with what similar players in his situation had earned.

Same deal last year with Ian Desmond, who made $3.8 million in 2013 despite having a 2012 season in which he made the All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger and finished 16th in the MVP voting. Desmond had earned $0.5125 million in 2012, so he received a healthy raise last year, and he’ll get another one this year, as players almost always do as they move further in the arbitration process and get closer to free agency.

strasburg-throws-white.jpgIf the Nationals had given Strasburg a larger salary in 2014 to show some goodwill, as some fans suggested they should in order to give themselves a better chance to sign him long-term down the road, they would be helping to boost the rates of all pitchers with similar numbers that go through the arbitration process in future years. Plus, agents of other Nats players might then expect their clients to earn larger salaries though the arbitration process, because if the Nats are handing out extra money to one player, why couldn’t they do it for another?

The Nats don’t have the payroll constraints that many teams do, but they also aren’t going to just hand out cash when it’s not necessary. They have a budget that they need to try and stick to, and giving Strasburg extra money for 2014 isn’t smart business, and could also impact how much they end up paying the right-hander in his next two arbitration-eligible years.

Teams can offer extra salary boosters to players in the form of incentives, and the Nats are doing so with Strasburg in 2014. But giving players a larger-than-normal guaranteed salary through the standard arbitration negotiating process isn’t something that is typically done.

Meanwhile, I meant to pass along a quick NatsFast update the other day, but it got lost in the shuffle. The Nationals have released a list of players that are scheduled to attend the event, which will be held on Jan. 25 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Washington.

The list includes new Nationals Doug Fister and Jerry Blevins, and manager Matt Williams is also scheduled to attend, allowing him to address the fanbase for the first time since his introductory press conference in early November.

Here are the 18 players who are currently on the list, although the Nats note that this group is subject to change:

Jerry Blevins
Tyler Clippard
Ross Detwiler
Danny Espinosa
Doug Fister
Gio Gonzalez
Scott Hairston
Bryce Harper
Ryan Mattheus
Tyler Moore
Ross Ohlendorf
Anthony Rendon
Tanner Roark
Denard Span
Craig Stammen
Drew Storen
Stephen Strasburg
Jayson Werth

A number of players likely had prior obligations or couldn’t make it into town that weekend, which explains why you see some names up there and not others.

There were also a few Nationals’ babies born this offseason, and with spring training almost a month away, you figure the new daddies will want to be spending as much time with their families as possible before reporting to Viera.

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