Where the Nationals payroll stands heading into the winter

The annual GM meetings are taking place this week in Orlando. It’s the kind of event where a lot of stuff is discussed but very little is actually done. Most clubs and most players prefer to wait until the Winter Meetings in December to start getting serious about contract negotiations or blockbuster trades.

But this is the unofficial beginning of the Hot Stove League, with general managers and agents beginning the conversations that may ultimately lead to actual transactions down the road.

It’s also the time for teams to determine how much money they actually have to make changes to their roster. And the Nationals have plenty to determine in that regard.

Though the vast majority of their 2017 roster is already set to return in 2018, there are some significant financial changes to consider. Some players are about to see their salaries jump. A few key free agents are now coming off the books, opening up some money to spend.

Where does all that leave the Nationals? Let’s look first at how much is already set to be committed to players next season. (All figures are from Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration estimates) ...

SIGNED FOR 2018
Bryce Harper: $21.625 million
Daniel Murphy: $17.5 million
Max Scherzer: $15 million
Stephen Strasburg: $15 million
Ryan Zimmerman: $14 million
Gio Gonzalez: $12 million
Matt Wieters: $10.5 million
Ryan Madson: $7.5 million
Adam Eaton: $6 million
Shawn Kelley: $5.5 million
Sean Doolittle: $4.38 million
TOTAL: $129,005,000

ESTIMATED ARBITRATION SALARIES
Anthony Rendon: $11.5 million
Tanner Roark: $7.5 million
Michael A. Taylor: $2.3 million
TOTAL: $21,300,000

So that’s already a projected $150,305,000 committed to 14 players. If the other 11 players on the opening roster all come from in-house, all have fewer than three years of big league service time and all make near the league minimum of $545,000, that’s another $6 million added to the pot, bringing the grand total to approximately $156 million.

For comparison’s sake, the Nationals’ opening day payroll this season was $164.3 million, ninth-highest in the majors and a franchise record.

rizzo-close-sidebar.jpgNow here’s what needs to be pointed out: The above figures represent how much money the Nationals are expected to actually pay out to those players in 2018, but they don’t represent how much money Major League Baseball will consider they’re paying for luxury tax purposes.

That gets a whole lot more complicated, with many figures of long-term contracts changing based on their average annual value, eliminating the effect of back-loaded deals and post-contract deferments (of which the Nats have plenty).

Based on those figures, the Nationals are looking at a projected payroll (according to Cot’s Contracts) of $193 million. And the luxury tax threshold is set to be $197 million.

That’s not a lot of wiggle room to make significant additions this winter. Though it also needs to be pointed out that the Nationals actually went over the luxury tax threshold this season for the first time in club history and thus paid a 20 percent tax on the amount they surpassed the threshold. If they pass it again next year, they’ll be taxed at a 30 percent rate.

What do the Nationals need to add this winter? Well, their starting lineup is set, with Eaton sliding into Jayson Werth’s spot in left field. Four of their starting pitchers are set, but they’re going to be looking for a fifth starter with Joe Ross rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and Erick Fedde and A.J. Cole highly unproven at this point. They have a couple of vacancies to fill in their bullpen, with Brandon Kintzler, Oliver Pérez and Joe Blanton all free agents. And they need to remake their bench, with Adam Lind, Howie Kendrick, Stephen Drew and Jose Lobaton all free agents.

So there are a good number of needs, and not a ton of money to spend (unless ownership is willing to go way over the luxury tax threshold).

Keep all this in mind as Mike Rizzo navigates his way through what promises to be a compelling offseason.

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