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Nats must decide on Lannan, Flores


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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Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

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Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]