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Nats avoid arbitration with four players

[UPDATE] -- Willingham will make $4.6 million this season.


With a busy day of contracts signings Tuesday, Washington Nationals avoided arbitration cases with four players, sparing them from all but two further salary negotiations with current team members.

The Nationals came to terms with outfielder Josh Willingham, relief pitcher Jason Bergmann, and catchers Wil Nieves and Jesus Flores. Relievers Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett are the final remaining Washington players eligible for arbitration this season.

Bergmann received a one-year deal that will pay him $750,000. Terms for the other contracts were not immediately available.

Arbitration hearings will take place between Feb. 1 and 21. Burnett and Bruney may still agree to terms any time between now and the date of their hearings.

Of those who signed on Tuesday, Willingham is certain to have received the richest deal. He earned $2.95 million in 2009, a season in which he hit .260 with 24 home runs in 427 at bats. This is the second season in which Willingham was eligible for arbitration -- the process used by baseball to determine salaries for those with between three to six years of service time.

Bergmann, Flores and Nieves were all due to enter the arbitration process for the first time. Bergmann, who had a 4.50 ERA in 48 innings (56 games) last season, will handle a middle spot in the bullpen. Flores, rehabbing from a shoulder injury, is slated to handle catching duties alongside offseason free agent signee Ivan Rodriguez. Nieves will compete for a back-up spot. All three players made between $450,000 and $410,000 in 2009.

By Chico Harlan  |  January 19, 2010; 4:20 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Chat Excerpt: Boswell on the Nationals
Next: Free agent targets, plaudits and poetry


Hopefully, they can quickly come to terms with the last two. Those arbitration meetings have to be a lose/lose proposition that lead to bad feelings on both sides.

Then again, a team could feel free to "insult" me with "only" 4.5 million...

Posted by: TimDz | January 19, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Hooray. I am particularly releived about Willingham. I hope they can avoide arbitration with Bruney and Burneet too. Both are too new to the organization to have to suffer through that process.

Posted by: natbiscuits | January 19, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Are we really going to carry three catchers? Or are we just keeping Nieves around until Flores proves he's healthy?

Is Willingham more marketable now that he's signed? Marginally so, I would guess.

Posted by: BobLHead | January 19, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I would say the willingham signing means, that he nows has a distinct market value on the trade market. I wonder if this stirs the pot again for that "major-league ready pitcher" that boswell mentioned

Posted by: wrw0601 | January 19, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

What happens to Wil Nieves when Kid Flores and Pudge are both healthy? Well, somebody gets jettisoned. Who? Wil Nieves.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | January 19, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Then again, a team could feel free to "insult" me with "only" 4.5 million...


HA! They could "insult" half the world with a fraction of that!

Posted by: TigerDog | January 19, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Hey Gang-a quick question...waking up I groggily thought I heard Al Galdis on 980 mention something about Ben Sheets. I did some digging and found mention of the Nats being one of the teams at his throwing session today down in Texas. Possibly as being one of the franchises most interested....anyone hear anything more? Boy, if he was anything like the guy who threw 200+ for 3 or 4 years in a row....
Oh-and 30 days (Feb 18) til pitchers, catchers and injured report! Sweeeeet!!!!
Go Nats!!!

Posted by: zendo | January 19, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

@BobL: Bingo on your second question; Nieves sticks around until Flores proves he's healthy enough to return to the roster; He's a competent 'insurance policy' who might clear waivers when Flores is activated from the DL.

Posted by: BinM | January 19, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

To Jason Bergmann-

Those of us who have been on Nationals Journal from the beginning have not forgotten how you engaged with us a few years ago. Congratulations on a nice contract that will give your family some years of security. I wish you luck making the team, and having a year that will earn you an even more lucrative deal next year.

Please give us one post that gives your thoughts on the coming year, and perhaps answer a few posts from us faithful. You may not have fulfilled all your dreams yet, but you certainly have done much better than most who want to reach the majors, and you still have a shot at stardom, friend.


Posted by: kevincostello | January 19, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

The Rockies have apparently signed PLod to a minor league deal.

A-hahahaha!!! We may have a bad team but, at least we don have that useless sack of excrement.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 19, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

@zendo: Yes, the Nationals are rumored to be doing their due diligence in Louisiana, but I don't think they are really in on this one. Sheets has a litany of injury issues, and is asking for too much $$$ to be considered as a 'low-risk, high-reward' type of pitcher, imo.
Unless he really lights it up, I'd rather see someone like Davis, Looper, or even Livan as a #4-5 stopgap coming out of Viera, if the FO thinks they need it.

Posted by: BinM | January 19, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

In interviews this winter it certainly seems to me that Riggleman is politely by persistently lobbying to keep Willingham on the team. Maybe he's just being politic or helping to talk up the stock, but I would think the deal would need to be whelming or even overwhelming to make the deal.

A month from today all but the most resolute of free agents will be signed. Most will want to be signed by the end of January. I suppose it is possible that the Nationals will have at least two more front line free agents signed by then - a 2B and another starter.

Posted by: natbiscuits | January 19, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

So LoDuca is signing with the Rockies. According to MLBTR "Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson tells's Thomas Harding that the deal is not yet official, but the club hopes to have the details finalized by tomorrow. Harding adds that Lo Duca's role with the team would be to come off the bench as a backup option at catcher, first base and the outfield. Lo Duca's contract would include an invitation to spring training."

Cracks me up. Backup catcher, 1B, and outfield. Wonder if LoDuca sent them a demo tape of his highlights from 2008. LoDuca calling a game, throwing past the 2B, playing a fly ball in left, fielding the throw at 1B as the runner crashes into his wrist and grounding weakly into a double play.

Posted by: natbiscuits | January 19, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Question: what are the negatives to carrying 3 catchers after Flores heals. We could then use Pudge as a pinch hitter and still have Nieves as a backup. I realize its a 25 man roster but who would be sent down if we carry 3 catchers?

Posted by: sjm3091 | January 19, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Natsbiscuits - You are pulling our leg on LoDuca, right? Who in their right mind outside of an over 21 year old men's league would sign LoDuca?

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | January 19, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

@sjm3091: Who would be sent down if we carry 3 catchers?

12 pitchers
3 catchers
5 INF - Zimm, Gooz, Desmond, Dunn and, hopefully, O-Dog.
5 OF - Willingham, Morgan, Dukes, Harris and that stud, Mike Morse.

Thirty days to pitchers and catchers! Let's play two!

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | January 19, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

don't think we can go with that 5 for infield. who's backing up zimmerman? guzman? i guess morse could short-term backup dunn (or maybe willingham in a pinch).

really there's one more IF missing, a backup for the two corner IF spots.

Posted by: sec231 | January 19, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

don't think we can go with that 5 for infield. who's backing up zimmerman? guzman?

Posted by: sec231 | January 19, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

I think Willie Harris will back up Zim at third again this season, no?

Posted by: Kev29 | January 19, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Who? Wil Nieves!

OK, I'm just messing with you now.
don't think we can go with that 5 for infield. who's backing up zimmerman?
Posted by: sec231 | January 19, 2010 11:01 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | January 19, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Srsly? No one. This franchise has no one at third if a tree falls on Zimmerman (which I pray to Roberto Clemente never happens). Still.
don't think we can go with that 5 for infield. who's backing up zimmerman?
Posted by: sec231 | January 19, 2010 11:01 PM

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | January 19, 2010 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Harris or Morse would backup the CI spots for Zim's occaisonal day off.

Posted by: BinM | January 20, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I think Sheets is well worth the risk. All other FA SP's are 4's or 5's; Sheets is the only top of the rotation guy out there. He's had plenty of time off and before his injury, he was quite durable. Considering we paid Kearns $8 mil last year to ride the pine, I'd just assume take a gamble on Sheets. If he pitches well, we can deal him to a contender and get a good return.

I'm against three catchers. What's the big deal about sending Nieves thru waivers when Flores is ready? Who cares if we lose him if we have two healthy guys on the roster. I hear the argument that Pudge could be a pinch-hitter with 3 catchers, but I still think the roster spot would be better served by someone who can play the field. I'd rather carry Bernadina or Maxwell or Desmond instead of Nieves.

Posted by: sec307 | January 20, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Guzman can back up Zim long term if necessary - he looked good in the All-Star game there. Guzy at 3B, Desmond at SS and Hudson/Harris at 2B if the unthinkable happens. I see Morse there on the three days Zim takes off. I think Morse is a better fielder than he's given credit for. And for what it's worth, Marrero started at 3B, although his D is suspect everywhere.

Posted by: sec307 | January 20, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Guess Flores health will determine Nieves spot. I cant see us going into the season with 3 catchers unless Flores is still having health problems, at which point we need to seriously reevaluate this position.
Although Nieves is due for the that 3rd home run this year, the man has been on fire past two seasons. That spot that Nieves would free up dependent on Flores health would be much better served if filled by Bernidina or Maxwell,guys who we will see at some point anyways or Desmond depending on MI pickup and position shuffling.

Posted by: Stu27 | January 20, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

For the record, Marerro has not played 3B in the minors. Back in his HS days, yes. But not as a pro.

The Nieves signing is strictly insurance and organizational depth. Someone has to catch at Syracuse and Nieves is OK to have around if Pudge/Flores get injured.

As for Sheets - sign him now. Guarantee him about $5M, add another $1M for every 5 starts he makes capping it at $10M. Add a vesting option for say $13M if he can make 25+ starts. Doug Davis, Looper are not on the same level. And please people, Livan is done. There's no reason to spend money on him - he's no better than Stammen/Martis/Martin/Balestar.

Posted by: comish4lif | January 20, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The downside of carrying 3 catchers is that you have less roster flexibility. Pudge, Flores and Nieves can catch - and don't play anywhere else.

So, your starting 8 position players, plus 2 catchers is 10 of the 25 man roster.

The Nats will break camp with 12-13 pitchers.

That leaves only 2-3 other spots on the bench for reserves. Maxwell and Harris and either Morse or no one.

So, one of the catcher spots goes and you can carry another position player like Bruntlett or Bernadina or Desmond...

Posted by: comish4lif | January 20, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

ouch. sorry, morse and wee willy harris (and guzman) are all very lightweight subs for zimm if he gets hurt (god forbid). for a day off sometime, sure, but if he goes on the DL for 15-30 days (or longer), that's a painful drop in offense.

i think the team needs someone along the lines of what we had with aaron boone on the roster. don't know who that might be in this market, but i don't think guz/harris/morse/willingham is a solid backup plan to cover the corner IF spots for injury.

Posted by: sec231 | January 20, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

and the above is *especially* true if you're doing this purely to be able to keep will nieves on the roster. i mean, he's a nice guy and a good story, but not a reason to gut your depth on the CI spots. he'll probably clear waivers and hit AAA safely when flores comes back. and if not, there are similar quality catchers out there to replace him.

Posted by: sec231 | January 20, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Actually, aren't they likely to come north with 11 pitchers, with the 2 off days the first week?

Posted by: stantonpark | January 20, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, 231, wouldn't any team see a significant drop in offense if it lost a guy who a) bats third, b) is their best-known player, and c) has won at least one Silver Slugger? Or even a player who meets any two of those conditions?

Your overall point, though, is valid. Holding a roster spot for Wil Nieves is indeed lunacy.

Posted by: Scooter_ | January 20, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

yes, that's a fair statement, scooter. but we don't have to drop from the fifth floor down to the basement for a replacement, do we? maybe just land on the first floor?

Posted by: sec231 | January 20, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

The Nats took 12 pitchers north from Spring Training last year.

Posted by: comish4lif | January 20, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Okay enough with the Zimm injury talk, cmon were in a bad place if he goes down it doesn't matter what we have backing him up.

Posted by: Stu27 | January 20, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Personally, 231, I think Morse is a better hitter than you give him credit for. His career OPS+ is much closer to Zimmerman's than Harris's or Guzman's.

Now, I don't think he's ever gotten to play full-time in the bigs, so he might get "exposed," as the kids are calling it. But yeah, having better backups at every position should certainly be on the Nats' list. Just like having better farmhands at every position. And better starters at several positions. And an extra Gifford's stand wouldn't kill 'em either.

Posted by: Scooter_ | January 20, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

morse career OPS is 764 (minors) 753 majors. not terrible, but i agree that it may get exposed (and i'd argue that we all expect zimm to stay closer to last year's 889 than the career 825).

still, i would prefer someone who's a veteran to cover the corners. and one who isn't a defensive liability. we already have that at 1B. if we keep our current roster, we have one far above average defender in zimmerman, one below average in guz, and one well-below average in dunn. if hudson shows up, we'll have another average defender (since it seems his defense has slipped). remove zimmerman and replace him with a statue, you have guys on the corners who'll stop a ball that hits them in the chest.

Posted by: sec231 | January 20, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Hey Gang-just caught a blip on B.B. Tonight/ESPN on Ben Sheets down in Monroe...seems he was mighty impressive.Then Tim K. said that in talking to him, Ben said he was itching to prove to folks just what he's still capable of.Next, in mentioning teams that may be interested, our Nats weren't mentioned....which I actually take as a positive sign-as our new modus operandi seems to be under the radar and out of the limelight. Any compensation due from the team that signs him? Give him 2 at 20k!!! (I dunno-that's just off the top of my head. Seems no one wants to offer him more than 1 year, and the wags felt he wants 2. But Tim thought he might actually prefer an incentive laden 1 so's he can really hit the jackpot next year-assuming he has the year he seems to believe he's capable of. In which case I like his attitude-sign him up!)
Go Nats!!!

Posted by: zendo | January 20, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Compensation for Sheets? No way, no how. He might have been worthy of compensation last year (Wintet 2008), but missing all of 2009 with an injury, there'd be no one to send the compensation pick to.

Posted by: comish4lif | January 20, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Doug Davis just signed with the Brewers so scratch him off the list.

Sheets' deal with the Rangers last year was voided due to his injury, so no compensation picks will be involved with signing him.

Posted by: sec307 | January 20, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

MLBTR says the Brewers signed Doug Davis for 1/5.25

I hate to say it, but I think not getting Davis was a major botch by Rizzo. The guy says he wanted to come here and he says he is focused on a second baseman. Can't he talk to Doug Davis and Orlando Hudson, Kennedy, Garland, and go watch Ben Sheets pitch? Isn't that what all his lieutenants were hired for? At least talk to the guy, negotiate, drag him along, or something.

That's one more bird taken out of the Nationals' bush. Let's go Mike Rizzo!

Let's go Nats!

Posted by: SpashCity | January 20, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

12-13 pitchers is such a lot of pithcers. I know it's about average, but still. Also, I saw the Yankees early last season when A-Rod was out, and even as many quality players as they have, there was this huge yawning chasm at clean up. You can't really back up your star, which seems more true the bigger the star.

Posted by: markfromark | January 20, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

231, I didn't mean to give a disingenuous stat and run off. I realized the problem with using Zimm's career numbers, but plowed ahead anyway. I think we agree on the important stuff.

And Markie Mark, I continue to be astounded by the number of pitchers major-league teams seem to think they need. I do wonder if it's self-fulfilling: carrying so many pitchers means some will be lousy, so teams need more pitchers to come in for the lousy ones, so they add even more, lousier pitchers.

I'm quite certain I'm overthinking this one, but hey.

Posted by: Scooter_ | January 20, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I fully expect to be shouted down and I seriously doubt it would happen, but Preston Wilson is looking to make a comeback and if he is healthy his skill set would be useful. When he was here in DC before his knees were a wreck and he struggled to field his position. In his healthy years he was a decent defender and he could provide some protection in case Bernadina or Maxwell fail to earn the backup position. Worse case scenario he doesn't work out and gets released. Best case is probably he earns the fifth outfielder spot and provides some power off the bench.

Posted by: natbiscuits | January 20, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Just heard Rizzo on MLB Network. He was clearly using all the code words that tell me they do not want to spend any more money. He is done except for the Mid March dumpster dives. He keep saying "it has to work for the Nationals" and "work withing our long range plan beyond 2010". It sucks to see it yet again. Nats are happy to take our money and put crap on the field. 72 Wins is all they are trying to do in 2010. Past history tells us they over estimate their talent so it will be more like 65 wins this year. They dropped the ball (pun intended) on defense yet again this off season.

Posted by: JayBeee | January 20, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

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