Our payroll on Opening Day this year was $92,534,929 and according to what Mark Lerner has said he is willing to spend that gives us room to work with. To start next year for contracts already on the books:
Jayson Werth: $16 million
Ryan Zimmerman: $14 million
Kurt Suzuki: ~$5 million (guessing the A's picked up about $1.5 mil of salary for next season)
Stephen Strasburg: $3 million
Michael Morse: $6.75 million
Gio Gonzalez: $6.25 million
Sean Burnett: $3.5 million (would be shocked if this option weren't picked up)
Jordan Zimmermann: $5.5 million (estimated arbitration value is a bit low for lack of wins but this could be higher especially if extended)
Yunesky Maya: $2 million
Anthony Rendon: $1.8 million
Bryce Harper: $2 million (includes prorated signing bonus)
Tyler Clippard: $4.35 million (saves could greatly increase Tyler's salary at arbitration)
Matt Purke: $1.04 million
Ian Desmond: $1.8 million (Desmond is hard to project with a lot of factors in arb, this number could either be way high or way low)
Danny Espinosa: ~$650,000
Drew Storen : $850,000 (missing most of the year really hurt his earning potential at arb)
Wilson Ramos: ~$500,000
Roger Bernadina: ~750,000 (best arb guess)
Henry Rodriguez: $450,000
Ross Detwiler: $2.1 million (could see a similar boost in salary to Jordan Zimmermann's last year with similar performance with likely more IP)
Craig Stammen: $800,000 (long relievers don't get any love at arbitration, he'll frankly be lucky to get this even with a 2.40 ERA and lots of IP)
Steve Lombardozzi: $500,000
Chris Marrero: $450,000
Ryan Mattheus: $500,000
Tyler Moore: $400,000
Total After Arbitration: $80.44 million
Projected non-tenders: John Lannan, Jesus Flores, Tom Gorzelanny
The non-tender of Lannan is pretty obvious so I won't explain that. Jesus Flores gets non-tendered because with Suzuki and Ramos on for next year and Solano basically proving that he is major-league ready there is no room for him in the organization. Tom Gorzelanny gets non-tendered because despite the fact that he has been a solid long reliever this year he is being paid way too much ($3 million in 2012 with arbitration raise) to justify paying him for his role. Craig Stammen is already a superb long reliever and the Nats have plenty of blocked pitching talent in the minors that could become long relievers the way Ross Detwiler and Gorzelanny did last year and Stammen has this year.
So with $80.44 million tied up in major league contracts before extensions or free agent signings but after (projected) arbitration this is what we have under contract for next year.
Henry Rodriguez (should be non-tendered but probably won't be)
Corey Brown (not officially but I think this is a safe assumption)
So with all that being said, as of right now we would be paying for my projected lineup of:
1. 2B Stephen Lombardozzi (vs. RHP)/Danny Espinosa (vs. LHP)
2. RF Jayson Werth
3. 3B Ryan Zimmerman
4. LF Michael Morse
5. CF Bryce Harper
6. SS Ian Desmond
7. 1B Tyler Moore
8. C Kurt Suzuki
9. Starting Pitcher
NEEDS FOR UPGRADE:
Leadoff hitter/CF: Nationals leadoff hitters are batting .257/.299/.405 this season. What is the opposite of getting it done?
Possible Solutions: Free agents include Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera, and B.J. Upton while Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, and Peter Bourjos could be obtainable in trades. Internally Corey Brown appears as though he could be ready now with Brian Goodwin possibly targeting an arrival in 2014. The Nationals would likely do best to target Denard Span in a trade as he is young and would be under team control through 2014. The Nationals could offer a package centered around Corey Brown or Brian Goodwin with the hope that the other would be ready to take over center field in 2015. This would appeal to a Twins team that is in desperate need of a rebuild and doesn't project to be competitive until Span would be in his thirties.
Middle-of-the-Order LHB: There is a good chance Bryce Harper is the solution to this. That is why I have him in the middle of the order instead of batting second. If not, the Nats need some serious help here.
Possible Solutions: Picking up Adam LaRoche's $10 million option for 2014 is a possibility (if LaRoche would agree to it) and could be the best option if the Nats think he can come anywhere close to duplicating his 2012 performance in 2013. Even if LaRoche doesn't if he can give you a hometown discount he would still be worth a 2 year deal given that Harper hasn't proved anything and there are just no other options here. This would keep the outfield as Morse, Harper, and Werth for another year and give Harper a year to prove that he can be the solution in the middle of the order. Unlike last season, there is no Prince Fielder to be had. Carlos Pena would provide a cheaper option on the free agent market but the production would reflect that. At the end of the day the Nationals (unless a good trade target becomes available) will likely have to choose between picking up LaRoche's option or putting their faith in Harper to truly develop at 20 years old as Mike Trout did.
Starting Pitcher: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Detwiler make up a very admirable 1-4 but the Nationals need a #5 and some organizational depth. In the organization right now the depth after these guys under contract for next year would be Craig Stammen and Yunesky Maya. The Nats don't only need the 5th starter but they also need some organizational depth such as what John Lannan has provided this year.
Possible Solutions: Craig Stammen could actually be a solution here as he has a lot of good qualities you want from a starter with 8.6 K/9 and FIP numbers that indicates bad ERAs as a starter were due more to luck than bad pitching. However his walk rate is concerning and he has a very consistent track record of better performance out of the bullpen. Zach Duke is another internal option who has had a lot of success at AAA going 11-5 with a 3.78 ERA in 128.2 IP. His 1.438 WHIP is concerning but he provides at least a possibility to be a solid #5 starter. Re-signing Edwin Jackson is a possibility as well if the Nationals feel he can be the long-term number 5. Free agent options that could appeal to the Nats would be Zack Greinke, Francisco Liriano, Shaun Marcum, Anibal Sanchez, and Joe Saunders (as a decent innings eater). There are plenty of potential trade targets in Matt Garza, James Shields, Cliff Lee, and more. The point here is while the Nationals are bare in terms of what they have under contract for next season there are too many solutions out there for this to realistically be a point of concern.
Centerfielder: The Nats have no shortage of organizational prospects that may be able to man this position with Corey Brown, Eury Perez, Brian Goodwin, and first time arbitration eligible Roger Bernadina. However, the Nats are too good to be relying on prospects at this position and need to address it at least on a one-year basis.
Possible Solutions: Same as leadoff hitter.
WHAT SHOULD THE NATS DO?:
Realistically the Nats should probably pick up Adam LaRoche's option (or negotiate a 2 year contract) and then dangle Michael Morse along with some of the depth they have at center field to try to trade for Denard Span. The Twins would probably prefer a younger center fielder who projects to peak when they would be competitive in two to three years. As far as goes starting pitcher, there are plenty of good solutions out there many of which could be considered the right move as long as doing nothing isn't the choice. Assuming the Nats pick up LaRoche's option and don't overspend for what would amount to their #5 pitcher they would have a lot of room under payroll to extend players like Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Ian Desmond plus take care of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper down the line.