Major League Baseball's deadline for teams to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players comes a week earlier than usual this year. Instead of waiting until after the Winter Meetings, teams have to decide by today to offer contracts to players eligible for arbitration or to "non-tender" them, effectively making them free agents.
The Nationals have 10 players eligible for arbitration in 2011: starters John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang, relievers Sean Burnett, Joel Peralta and Doug Slaten, catchers Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves, infielder Alberto Gonzalez and outfielders Michael Morse and Josh Willingham.
Of those 10 players, Lannan, Morse, Burnett and Willingham are locks to return, and Peralta and Slaten figure to get arbitration offers, as well. Flores is an interesting case, having not played in almost two years but earning enough service time to get Super Two status before last year, but the Nationals believe he will be ready to go for spring training, and will likely offer him arbitration, as well. Gonzalez could be on the fence, but he was effective enough as a utility infielder for the Nationals this year that it's likely he'll return, as well.
That leaves Nieves and Wang. Nieves got an arbitration offer last year, and he'd be cheap enough that the Nationals could want to bring him back for organizational depth. But with Ivan Rodriguez, Flores and WIlson Ramos, they've probably got enough catchers not to bring Nieves back, especially when they could save a few hundred thousand dollars by non-tendering him and resigning him later in the offseason.
The Nationals wanted to work out a deal with Wang before arbitration, but haven't been able to get one done, so they'll likely non-tender the pitcher, who didn't appear in a major league game this year after signing a $2 million contract in February and working to rehab his surgically repaired shoulder all season. They'd like to strike an incentive-laden deal with Wang, but if they do that, it would have to wait until after the non-tender date. General manager Mike Rizzo could do with Wang what he did with Scott Olsen last year, non-tendering him and resigning him the next day. But if the Nationals chase Brandon Webb, they might not have enough room for two injury risks.
By the end of the day, they'll have a better sense of their 2011 roster, and a fresh crop of players they can consider signing from other teams. Matt Capps was one such signing last year after the Pirates non-tendered him, and he became an All-Star. With the non-tender date coming earlier this year, it should make for plenty of activity at next week's Winter Meetings.