Mike Rizzo was asked during a conference call with reporters last week what kind of budget he's been given for next year's payroll. The Nationals general manager politely declined to divulge any numbers, saying only that he has been given parameters by ownership and knows how much money he has at his disposal to spend in 2012.
This much we can say with a fair amount of certainty: The Nationals' payroll should increase next season, perhaps by a significant amount, depending on what moves Rizzo makes this winter. And if that is the case, this will mark the fifth consecutive year the Nats' payroll has gone up since its low point of 37.3 million on Opening Day 2007.
Some of this has to do with free agents added to the roster, but a good amount also has to do with the raises that will be handed out to current players who are quickly gaining more big-league service time.
Two of the biggest increases from 2011 to 2012 will come from the raises built into the Nationals' two highest-paid players: Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. Werth will earn a salary of 13 million next season, up from 10 million this year; Zimmerman will earn 12 million, up from 8.925 million.
Then there are the club's seven arbitration-eligible players, guys with more than three years but less than six years of big-league service time: John Lannan, Michael Morse, Tom Gorzelanny, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard, Jesus Flores and Doug Slaten.
Lannan and Morse, in particular, are about to see their salaries get major bumps as each player reaches his second year of arbitration eligibility. It'll be up to those players and the Nationals to come to terms by themselves, or else submit dueling figures to a three-judge panel and abide by those arbitrators' decision. But it's fair to speculate that Lannan (who made 2.75 million this year) will wind up making in the neighborhood of 5 million next year, and that Morse (who made 1.05 million) will skyrocket toward the 4 million mark following his breakthrough season.
Now, it's unlikely the Nationals will keep all eight of those players. Gorzelanny and Slaten are prime candidates to be non-tendered next month, and Flores' future with the organization remains uncertain. But the arbitration process as a whole figures to cost the Nats some significant money moving forward.
Where does that leave the club's payroll entering 2012? Well, there are seven players already signed for next season: Werth, Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Burnett, Yunesky Maya and Bryce Harper (who has a big-league contract even though he's not in the big leagues quite yet). Add up those seven salaries, and you get a total of 44,596,000.
Add up the projected salaries of the seven arbitration-eligible players (this assumes all will return, which of course is unlikely) and you get an additional 16.9 million.
The final 10 roster spots, for now, go to players with less than three years' service time, whose salaries are determined solely by the Nationals and will sit close to the major-league minimum (which was 414,000 this year but will probably increase with the new CBA that's about to be announced).
Put it all together, and what do you get? A payroll that at this moment sits around 67 million. That would be down slightly from last year's 68.3 million figure on Opening Day, but you have to remember the Nationals will be adding several veterans this winter via free agency andor trades. They need a center fielder. They would like to acquire another starting pitcher. And they've got to fill out their bench.
Which means it's all but certain the Nationals' payroll will surpass the 70 million mark in 2012, perhaps 75 million. Anything greater than the 2011 number would set a new franchise record.
Just another measure of this organization's ascension to a more competitive perch in the National League.
Here's a breakdown of the roster's estimated 2012 salaries...
ALREADY SIGNED FOR '12 Jayson Werth 13,000,000 Ryan Zimmerman 12,000,000 Adam LaRoche 8,000,000 Stephen Strasburg 3,000,000 Sean Burnett 2,300,000 Yunesky Maya 2,000,000 Bryce Harper 1,750,000TOTAL 44,596,000ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE John Lannan 5,000,000 Michael Morse 4,000,000 Tom Gorzelanny 2,800,000 Jordan Zimmermann 1,800,000 Tyler Clippard 1,700,000 Jesus Flores 850,000 Doug Slaten 750,000TOTAL 16,900,000 UNDER TEAM CONTROL Roger Bernadina 500,000
Ian Desmond 500,000 Brian Bixler 500,000 Wilson Ramos 450,000 Danny Espinosa 450,000 Ross Detwiler 450,000 Drew Storen 450,000 Henry Rodriguez 450,000 Ryan Mattheus 425,000 Chris Marrero 415,000 Steve Lombardozzi 415,000 Tommy Milone 415,000TOTAL 5,420,000GRAND TOTAL 66,916,000-Includes 1.25 million bonus due to be paid July 1 -Projected 2012 salary