UPDATED: Arbitration money day, and Nats ink all of their players to 2024 salaries!

(UPDATED at the bottom of the article) There are a quartet of Nats players who are arbitration-eligible and have not agreed to their 2024 salaries. Lane Thomas, Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, and Luis Garcia have until today at the 1 p.m. deadline to either agree to a salary or else they will have to submit salary demands by 8 p.m. tonight with the Major League Baseball office. After that, they will have a date scheduled for an arbitration hearing for sometime before training camp. Of course, the team and player have the ability to negotiate an amount until the start of an arbitration hearing.

We have MLB Trade Rumor estimates to give us some guidance on these players:

In the old days, we used to project our own numbers for players — but MLBTR does such a great job with using three different sets of criteria, that we now use their estimates for our salary tote board. Using their numbers, the Nats Opening Day payroll would be at $108.3 million, and $131 million with player benefits. Of course, we expect more moves by general manager Mike Rizzo to take place in free agency going forward.

Teams and agents have to be careful when submitting their figures to the MLB office later today. If the agent goes too high with their salary number, an arbitrator could choose the team’s figure if they go to a hearing, and similarly if the team goes too low, the arbitrator could go with the agent’s number. Arbitrators can only choose one number at an arbitration hearing.

Most cases get settled before numbers get filed or before the date of a hearing. Some GMs are known as “file-and-trial” types, and that means they treat this arbitration figure exchange date as a hard deadline and if it goes past that point they will not negotiate further and will head to an arbitration hearing. General Manager Mike Rizzo is not a “file-and-trial” GM, and he generally tries to avoid arb hearings which can hurt the team/player bond given the challenging nature of a hearing.

You can read what happened to Jerry Blevins and John Lannan after they went to arbitration hearings against Rizzo. In year’s past, the Nats have generally settled with their arb players prior to the need for exchanging figures to the league office. In 2019, Rizzo beat Kyle Barraclough and Michael A. Taylor during arbitration hearings. Barraclough did not make it through the 2019 season and Taylor was cut after the 2020 season. Rizzo has always seemed to be fair with his numbers. Words to the wise — DON’T CHALLENGE RIZZO!

The next few hours will hopefully make this all a moot point as players agree to their numbers. Others will see what the team submitted versus their agent, and subsequently negotiate a number somewhere in-between. Stay tuned on this.

Spring Training Camp

We are now about 30-days from the official opening to Spring Training camps. With that said, over 120 free agents are unsigned, and there will continue to be players signed to MLB deals with more signed to minor league deals. There are also some trades to be made. Now remember, with almost every team at the 40-man roster limit — every player signed to MLB deals would require a corresponding move and every DFA causes another player to hit free agency. It becomes a vicious circle of sorts as players are trying to arrange for travel and housing to Spring Training homes that can change quickly for those players that live on the edge as expendable on the 40-man roster.

International Free Agency

We are just four days away from all of those international free agent signings that can become official on January 15. Most of the names are known at the higher end as the teams all have a spending cap, and only players signed for $10,000 and less are exempt from that cap. The Nats have a cap this year at $5,925,000.

There will be more names that are not on that list, and certainly the big names you will hear initially signed by the Nationals will be OF Victor Hurtado and SS Angel Feliz. This certainly sets up a nice class with the Nats getting away from what they had done in the past with spending most of their money on one player, like they did with Yasel Antuna, Armando Cruz, and Cristhian Vaquero. While Baseball America’s article is a good read on the top prospects in this 2024 IFA class, they only rank the players on their bonus amounts. Hurtado is listed as the 7th highest bonus this year — but the Nats still had room for Feliz who is ranked 16th.

Teams have shown better results going with more top players, and a reminder that Juan Soto was the 22nd ranked player in his signing class back in 2015. If you think it is tough to sign 21 year old college players, the IFA process has you scouting players while they are in Middle School and committing to them at 15 years old. International players are officially eligible to sign with MLB teams when they are at least the age of 16, and must be born between Sept. 1, 2006, and Aug. 31, 2007 for this class.

UPDATED: The team has now announced that all four arb-eligible playera have settled on a salary with the team. MLBTR had Thomas at a $7 million projection, and Thomas agreed to a 2024 salary of $5.45 million, Finnegan at $5.1 million, Harvey at $2.325 million, and García at $1.95 million per Andrew Golden of The Washington Post.

In comparison with the MLBTR salary projections, Harvey exceeded the number and Finnegan hit the exact number MLBTR had while Thomas and Garcia came in below the estimates. That will bring the Nats payroll today on salaries to just under $107 million, an increase from Opening Day last year of $101.1 million.

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