Whether fans want to hear it - or believe it - teams are always going to be dealing with payroll guidelines. Even the most free-spending clubs have a budget they need to conform to; it's just that some clubs' budgets are much larger than others, either because they have to be or because owners want them to be that way.
The Nationals don't divulge their annual payroll budget, but it's not hard to make a reasonable estimate by looking at their pattern of spending over the years.
Here's a look at the Nats' opening day payroll, the actual total amount they spent on player salaries at season's end and how that ranked among all major league franchises since they arrived in town. (All figures come from Cot's Baseball Contracts on BaseballProspectus.com.) ...
2005: $48,581,500; $62,866,000 (17)
2006: $63,143,000; $67,483,815 (20)
2007: $37,347,500; $43,254,278 (28)
2008: $54,961,000; $59,699,668 (26)
2009: $60,328,000; $69,321,137 (26)
2010: $66,275,000; $71,937,323 (24)
2011: $68,306,929; $72,022,999 (22)
2012: $92,534,929; $96,704,070 (16)
2013: $118,289,679; $120,935,536 (10)
2014: $137,356,579; $141,803,228 (9)
2015: $162,014,559; $169,227,370 (5)
2016: $145,178,886; $170,876,032 (11)
A couple of things stand out when you examine this: 1) The Nationals maintained one of Major League Baseball's lowest payrolls through the first half-decade of the Lerner family's ownership of the club; 2) They significantly increased payroll over the next several years as the team developed into a real contender and turned into one of the sport's top spenders; 3) They leveled off last year and dropped back a bit in relation to other franchises.
So where does that leave the Nationals for 2017? Well, barring something quite unexpected at this point, their opening day payroll is going to go up from last year.
With all arbitration-eligible players now under contract, we can make a reasonable payroll estimate...
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
Bryce Harper: $13.625 million
Daniel Murphy: $12 million
Gio Gonzalez: $12 million
Anthony Rendon: $5.8 million
Shawn Kelley: $5.5 million
Tanner Roark: $4.315 million
Derek Norris: $4.2 million
Adam Eaton: $4 million
Oliver Perez: $4 million
Jose Lobaton: $1.575 million
Chris Heisey: $1.4 million
TOTAL: $144,462,619 ($133,415,000 actual payment)
So that's 15 players making that amount. (Keep in mind: For official payroll purposes, MLB counts a pro-rated portion of any signing bonuses or deferred payments. That's why the payroll figures for Scherzer, Werth and Strasburg are different than the amount the Nats will actually pay those three in 2017.)
Ten more players are needed to fill out the opening day roster. If all 10 of those players are young guys who make near the league minimum salary of $535,000, then the total payroll winds up just shy of $150 million.
And that assumes the Nationals don't acquire any more players making more than the league minimum. If they sign or trade for an experienced closer, another veteran reliever or any veteran bench players, the number will go up by a considerable amount.
So the 2017 opening day payroll is all but assured of being larger than the 2016 opening day payroll.
It just remains to be seen how much higher it goes, and how that ultimately compares to the rest of baseball.
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