Yesterday, I raised the subject of the Nationals possibly pursuing a big bat this winter, someone who could be inserted into the heart of their lineup between Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy and add some more consistent firepower to a batting order that was effective this season but seemed to be lacking at times.
Some have since raised an important question that ties into that subject: Do the Nationals have enough money to sign a big-name batter like that?
So let's delve into that matter, because it most certainly is a factor in this whole equation, not to mention every significant move general manager Mike Rizzo might be exploring this offseason.
We'll start by running through the 2017 salaries for everyone we already know will be on the Nationals roster. These figures came from Cot's Contracts and MLBTradeRumors, a pair of excellent sources for information such as this. The salaries listed are those that are officially counted toward a club's payroll, with the actual payment amount for next year following in parentheses if needed).
ALREADY SIGNED FOR 2017
Max Scherzer: $22,142,857 ($15 million actual payment)
Jayson Werth: $21,571,429 ($21 million actual payment)
Stephen Strasburg: $18,333,333 ($15 million actual payment)
Ryan Zimmerman: $14 million
Daniel Murphy: $12 million
Gio Gonzalez: $12 million
Shawn Kelley: $5.5 million
Oliver Perez: $4 million
Chris Heisey: $1.4 million
TOTAL: $110,947,619 ($99.9 million actual payment)
ESTIMATED ARBITRATION SALARIES
Bryce Harper: $9.3 million
Anthony Rendon: $6.4 million
Ben Revere: $6.3 million
Tanner Roark: $6.1 million
Danny Espinosa: $5.3 million
Jose Lobaton: $1.6 million
TOTAL: $35 million
So that's 15 players who stand to make just shy of $146 million. Now add 10 more players who make at or near the league minimum, which hasn't been set yet but is expected to be in the range of $508,000. That produces a grand total of approximately $151 million in payroll, though the number drops to $140 million when you're talking about actual dollars being paid out in 2017.
That's still pretty high and leaves only $5 million to add to match last year's opening day payroll of $145 million, though there's more room than that if the Nats are willing to match their record 2015 opening day payroll of $162 million.
There are, however, opportunities to shed some of that projected payroll and open up more space. Ben Revere, for example, is a strong candidate to be non-tendered before the Dec. 2 deadline. If the Nationals make that move, they'd have an extra $6.3 million or so at their disposal. They also could seek to trade Danny Espinosa or perhaps even Gio Gonzalez, though in either of those scenarios they might have to assume some of the contract in order to get a deal done.
But also keep in mind the Nationals need to acquire a closer (whether re-signing Mark Melancon or finding a replacement for the free agent) and that could cost a significant amount of money. They may also choose to replace Wilson Ramos with an experienced (and thus more expensive) catcher instead of handing the job to prospect Pedro Severino.
The bottom line: The Nationals do have some money to spend this winter. Not a ton, unless they can get creative and shed some existing payroll. But perhaps enough to make one big splash in an attempt to improve what already is a very good team.