We are all interested in what the payroll will be for the Nats in 2016. While no one thinks we're going back to the days where we could dream of one day being the 25th highest payroll, there are real questions of whether the Nats are committed to being a Top 5 ish payroll (like in 2015) or was that a one-year aberration brought on by age and Boras? Let say for the sake of argument they knew early on McLouth was not going to have his option picked up. What else have they done since then budget wise?
Declined Janssen's option : saves 5.5 M (rolling payroll effect : down 5.5 M)
Non-tendered Craig Stammen : saves around 2.5 M ( down 8M)
Signed Oliver Perez : costs 3.5 M ( down 4.5 M)
Signed Yusmiero Petit : costs 2.5 M ( down 2 M)
Trade Yunel Escobar for Trevor Gott : saves 6.5 M* (down 8.5 M)
Sign Shawn Kelley : costs ~5M (down 3.5 M)
*cash was exchanged but the exact number is unknown.
So as of right now the Nats are in the neighborhood of 3.5 M less than what was assumed was possibly their payroll on October. That seems about right with Baseball-reference estimating the payroll at 130.5 M without the new signings and factoring in the addition of Papelbon late in the year?
At this point we can't really say anything. They have maintained a stable payroll. There is an assumption that they will be able to lose Papelbon (-11M) and Storen (~9M). If this is the case then they would be able to add around 20 M in salary and maintain their current level of around 140. That's important because
The Nats have interest in Jason Heyward
Heyward is the Mike Leake of the offensive free agents in that he is young (turns 27 next August) and relatively injury free. He is more impactful than Leake though being an offensive player who doesn't do anything poorly. He's a plus defensively, good on the basepaths, can hit for decent average, has a good eye, and can hit for a little power. He's sort of Jason Werth but trading some pop for some defense. The Nats would likely play him in CF which bring the D into question a little (he's played corner OF most of his career) but it's doubtful that he wouldn't be worth his contract for the next several years even with a slight dip in defensive production.
Of course the issue would be whether you could get him for the next several years, or does that contract have to go 7, 8, 9 years or even a full decade. Given the current contract climate something no worse than 8 years with an opt out after 3 is probably the floor. Assuming Heyward remains healthy he'll likely make that worth it regardless of whether the option comes into play. However the opt out presents a bit of an issue for the Nats. If they want to do more than just add Heyward (and the payroll isn't going up) then they would normally scale the salary so that the big payday starts kicking in after some other payroll (Werth) is freed up. But there isn't a chance Heyward is going to play for 2 years at below market without the guaranteed promise of more money down the line, and not just money he could choose to get (at presumably the cost of other money). No, if the Nats want Heyward they'll have to pay now.
The other issue a Heyward deal setups up is a 2018 and 2019 with 35-40 million already committed to two players (Max and Zimm). If you add 20+ million for Heyward you are committing around 60 million to 3 players before considering Bryce Harper. We've noted he could get 40 M a year. Can the Nats function as a franchise in 2019 with 100 million commited to four players? At least one of who (Zimm) is likely to be a non-factor?
The Nats signed Shawn Kelley
The Nats brought in Shawn Kelley on a three year deal last night. It's an oddly long deal in my opion for a guy who had been average in relief up until June of last year. But if you believe what you saw from June on it is worth it. In those 40 games he put up an ERA of 1.19, with an opponents batting line of .191 / 241 / .221. The BABIP was not crazy low (.273). He had an 11 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. That's some dynamite pitching.
He was particularly unhittable by right-handed bats. Nothing seems out of whack fancy stat wise but when you look at them as if he just got lucky, is there anything to expalin it? One thing might be a huge increase on first pitch strikes in 2015. Could he simply be attacking the zone better early? Another is a big increase in GB%. But his zone profile doesn't suggest a huge change to pitching at the bottom of the zone? A combination? Or maybe it was his his first year in a new league pitching primarily in a pitchers park to help mitigate HR issues?
Either way I don't see much of a downside unless you consider Kelley an injury risk. It's likely that there was some luck involved in his awesome finish of 2016 and he isn't a lights out guy you can depend on as a potential set-up or closer. In that case the Nats get a decent middle relief pitching, who can get a big K when needed but might not be able to consistently shut down innings, at a slight overpay. However, if I'm wrong then the Nats could get a very good reliever for about half-price. The downside is small compared to the upside.