Suero, Harper, Ford are non-tendered by Nats before deadline

The Nationals chose not to tender contracts to relievers Wander Suero and Ryne Harper, plus minor league first baseman Mike Ford, before tonight’s league-wide deadline, making all three free agents only 28 hours before Major League Baseball is expected to begin a lockout of players that could stretch through most of the winter.

The Nats did tender contracts to all other unsigned players on their 40-man roster, including seven arbitration-eligible players - Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Victor Robles, Tanner Rainey, Austin Voth - before the 8 p.m. deadline. They have not yet agreed to salary terms with any of them, though, so that will need to be addressed at a later date if they want to avoid arbitration hearings with the players.

Thumbnail image for Empty-Nationals-Park-at-Opener-Sidebar.jpgThough Soto, Bell and Rainey were never in any danger of being released, everyone else in that group entered the day with less than 100 percent certainty of being retained. In the end, the Nationals chose to part ways with Suero and Harper, not wanting to pay them the increased salaries they would have commanded via the arbitration process after erratic seasons.

Suero had been a mainstay in the bullpen since debuting in 2018; his 185 career relief appearances rank eighth in club history. But the 30-year-old had a miserable 2021 season that saw his ERA skyrocket to 6.33 and his WHIP to 1.406 over 42 2/3 innings. The Nationals demoted him to Triple-A Rochester in early August, and though he briefly returned in September, his performance did not improve and he ended the year back in the minors.

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Suero was one of the organization’s longest-tenured players. He showed flashes of dominance along the way and led the 2019 staff with a whopping 78 appearances. But he was never able to maintain command of his trademark cutter, and when the bottom fell out earlier this year, the writing was on the wall.

Eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, Suero was projected to earn a 2022 salary approaching $1 million. Harper’s salary likely would have been slightly less, though it was still enough of a raise that the Nationals opted not to retain him following an up-and-down season.

The 32-year-old right-hander, acquired from the Twins in 2020, actually sported a 0.79 ERA on Aug. 15, having appeared in 19 games to that point. But nearly every appearance came in a low-leverage situation - the Nats’ record in games he pitched in was a ghastly 5-29 - and once he got an opportunity to pitch in situations of more consequence, he flailed.

Harper had a 9.69 ERA over his final 15 appearances, finishing the year with a 4.04 ERA and 1.178 WHIP spanning 35 2/3 innings.

Ford, meanwhile, was acquired off waivers from the Yankees in midsummer and spent the rest of his season in Rochester. He’s not eligible for arbitration yet, but the Nationals decided not to continue to use a 40-man roster on the first baseman and thus did not tender him a contract tonight.

With those moves, the Nats’ roster now stands at 37. They have until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday to make any more moves before MLB’s lockout of players is expected to begin, at which point all transactions must be halted.

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