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Nats must decide on Lannan, Flores

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Nats must decide on Lannan, Flores

Another of baseball's offseason deadlines arrives late Friday night, when all clubs must tender contracts to all players who aren't already signed for 2013.

For most, this is a mere formality, the acknowledgment by the organization that it intends to keep said player for another season. But for a handful of players -- typically those who have more than three years of service time and thus are arbitration-eligible -- this can be a tense time.

Arbitration-eligible players are guaranteed to make decent money, at minimum 80 percent of what they made the previous season but typically much more than that. If a player who falls into this category hasn't performed up to snuff but stands to earn a raise through the arbitration process, he becomes a candidate to be "non-tendered," which is just a fancy way of saying he's released and becomes a free agent.

Most clubs non-tender at least one or two players each winter, and the Nationals have shown a willingness to do just that over the years. They non-tendered reliever Doug Slaten last December, and the previous year non-tendered Wil Nieves, Joel Peralta and Chien-Ming Wang (they later re-signed Wang).

The Nationals have a boatload of arbitration-eligible players this winter, 10 of them to be precise. Most are key contributors and will be tendered contracts without a second thought: Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Roger Bernadina.

There are three players, however, who could conceivably be out of jobs come midnight Friday: John Lannan, Jesus Flores and Tom Gorzelanny.

Start with Lannan, probably the most difficult decision of the bunch. After relegating him to Class AAA Syracuse for much of last season despite his $5 million salary, the Nationals seemed to be saying they had no long-term use for the left-hander.

But Lannan did come up big when the Nationals needed him to make six late-season starts, four of them in place of the shut-down Stephen Strasburg. There remains a good amount of support for the 28-year-old within the organization, and there are some who would like to see him get the No. 5 starter's job that was snatched away from him last spring.

There are two problems, though: 1) Lannan is guaranteed to make at least $4 million, and will probably make more than that, perhaps even a raise from last year's salary, and 2) he's out of options and thus can't be sent back to Syracuse again in 2013.

It's no secret that general manager Mike Rizzo has listened to trade offers for Lannan for some time. To date, no one has offered enough in return to get Rizzo to pull the trigger. And it's unlikely anyone will up the ante now, knowing Lannan could be had for nothing next week.

Which leaves the Nationals to decide whether to simply cut ties with the lefty now or go ahead and tender him a contract, committing either to paying him the full $5 million or so to be a part of their 2013 rotation or perhaps releasing him during spring training when they would only be on the hook for about one-sixth of his salary.

(That final scenario sounds like the most plausible solution. The Nationals can tender Lannan his contract, then wait and see if he's needed in the Opening Day rotation or if a solid trade offer finally is made. If neither happens, he can be cut loose in mid-March at a fraction of the cost.)

While there are scenarios that would result in Lannan making the Nationals' Opening Day roster, there really aren't any plausible ones that would result in Flores making it. Both Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki would probably have to be injured for Flores' services to be required. And even then, the Nationals have plenty of young catching depth in Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon.

Flores, who made $850,000 last season, won't cost an arm and a leg, but there's simply no place for him in the organization anymore. It would be an unfortunate parting with the 28-year-old catcher, who was originally plucked away from the Mets in the 2006 Rule 5 draft, but it's probably time for both sides to go their separate ways.

Gorzelanny certainly was a valuable piece to the Nationals' bullpen last season, a durable left-hander who could eat up innings when a starter got knocked out early. And the club would happily take him back next year.

The only downside: Gorzelanny already made $3 million last season and will receive a raise next season. Is a long reliever and mop-up man really worth that much money? Probably not, but considering the shortage of lefties in the Nationals' bullpen at the moment -- Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez each are free agents -- there may be no choice but to tender Gorzelanny a contract and pay him a hefty sum for a role that doesn't usually command one.

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Nats get Solis back, still waiting for Harper's MRI results

Nats get Solis back, still waiting for Harper's MRI results

The Nationals offered no new information on Bryce Harper's sore left thumb or Daniel Murphy's sore left buttock on Monday. The results of Harper's X-ray are not back and Murphy's still shut down and out of the lineup for the seventh straight game.

They did, however, get lefty reliever Sammy Solis back from the disabled list. That was a nice boost for a team that is missing two of its best position players and one of its best pitchers in Stephen Strasburg.

Solis was their most effective lefty reliever when he landed on the DL on Aug. 16 with left shoulder inflammation. He threw two simulated games in Viera, Fla., including one on Sunday when he tossed 25 pitches.

Simulated games, though, only replicate so much. His goal now is simple: get as much work as he can in the last seven games to get up to speed before the playoffs.

"[A simulated game] is not quite a game. I think we all know that. I'm still feeling good and ready to go," Solis said. "Hopefully I'll get some game experience and get back on track for the postseason."

Since Solis threw on Sunday, he's unlikely to pitch in the team's opener against the Diamondbacks on Monday. That leaves six games and then the four days off before the NLDS begins on Friday, Oct. 7 to get work in.

That's not a long time, but the Nats will take what they can get from the left-hander, who has enjoyed a breakout season with a 2.35 ERA in 34 appearances.

"Hopefully we have a situation where we can get him into the game tomorrow," manager Dusty Baker said. "It doesn’t leave a bunch of time for us to get him sharp. But they told me that he’s feeling good and he threw the ball well.”

For Harper, the Nationals continue to wait. Usually X-rays do not take as long as MRIs to get the results back. So, it would be surprising if there was no update on Tuesday.

Like Solis, Murphy getting his rhythm back will also be important. He has just two at-bats since he hurt himself sliding on Sept. 17.

“How many at-bats he needs, that’s a toss-up between at-bats and him getting extra days to get healthy and get well," Baker said. "Which ones are more important: His legs to get healthy, or his at-bats, and are we risking that leg by pushing him too early? Murph knows himself. Murph has a strong mind. I’m just glad that we shut Murph down when we did, and we had the luxury of shutting him down when we did. Because if he had played any longer, he’d have been out for probably the entire postseason.”

Baker went on to say that he does expect Murphy to be able to play in the postseason. As for Stephen Strasburg, he said he still doesn't know.

NOTES:

-- The Nationals made a minor trade with the Pirates on Monday. They sent infielder Chris Bostick to Pittsburgh for catcher Taylor Gushue and cash considerations. Gushue was a fourth round pick in 2014 out of the University of Florida. He has a .231 average and .659 OPS in 243 minor league games.

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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Nats begin final homestand with Roark set to face Diamondbacks

Nats begin final homestand with Roark set to face Diamondbacks

Nats (91-64) vs. Diamondbacks (64-91) at Nationals Park

The Nationals already have the NL East division locked up and know they will be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series next week. But first, they have seven more regular season games, all at home. They begin that final homestand on Monday night with the Arizona Diamondbacks in town.

That means Matt Williams will make his return to Nationals Park for the first time since he was fired last October. He is now the third base coach of the D'Backs, who can technically help their division rivals, the Dodgers, by beating the Nats. L.A. and Washington are jockeying for home field advantage in that first round.

Bryce Harper (thumb) and Daniel Murphy remain out of the Nats' lineup. The Nats are still not ready to reveal the results of Harper's X-ray.

Tanner Roark (15-9, 2.70) will make his 32nd start of the season. He saw the D'Backs on Aug. 2 in Arizona and tossed 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball.

Opposite Roark will be former first round pick Archie Bradley (7-9, 5.02). Bradley pitched on Aug. 1 the first series between these teams and allowed eight runs - seven earned - in 3 1/3 innings.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Diamondbacks - Archie Bradley

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
2B Stephen Drew
1B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Brian Goodwin
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

DIAMONDBACKS

TBA
RHP Archie Bradley

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