The Nationals elected not to tender Doug Slaten a contract before tonight's midnight deadline, cutting ties with the left-handed reliever and making him a free agent.
The Nats did tender contracts to their six remaining arbitration-eligible players: Tyler Clippard, Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny, John Lannan, Michael Morse and Jordan Zimmermann, according to a club official. All will remain in the organization and have until next month to negotiate 2012 salaries with the club or else exchange formal arbitration figures.
Slaten's non-tender didn't come as a huge surprise. The 31-year-old was remarkably ineffective when healthy this season, posting a 4.41 ERA, allowing 43 percent of batters he faced to reach base while also allowing 47 percent of runners he inherited to score. He also missed three months in midseason with an elbow injury.
With a 695,000 salary this season, Slaten would likely have been in line for a modest raise next year through the arbitration process. The Nationals felt the veteran wasn't worth the money, especially when considering their other bullpen options moving forward.
One of those bullpen options is Gorzelanny, who was in danger of being non-tendered himself but now will return in 2012 and likely serve as a long or middle reliever despite the hefty salary he's sure to receive. The 29-year-old made 2.1 million this season, and though his stats (4-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 30 games) weren't all that impressive, he'll still be in line for a raise to perhaps 2.5 million or even 3 million through the arbitration process.
The Nationals, who like how Gorzelanny performed once he was moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen, could have non-tendered the pitcher and then attempted to re-sign him at a lower salary. But doing so would have made him a free agent and would have opened the door for him to sign with another organization, perhaps one that would have given him a chance to start.
Tonight's other tender decisions were fairly clear-cut. Clippard, Morse and Zimmermann all are considered pieces to the Nationals' long-term plan, and Lannan has proven a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter who should remain relatively affordable next season with a salary in the range of 4 million to 5 million. Flores didn't play much after missing two years with a shoulder injury, but he's slated to be the No. 2 catcher behind Wilson Ramos and won't make much more than his 2011 salary of 750,000.
The Slaten move leaves the Nationals with 36 players currently on their 40-man roster.