The Nationals declined to pick up contract options for reliever Casey Janssen and outfielder Nate McLouth on Monday, making both veterans free agents along with six others who officially hit the market on the day after the World Series ended.
Janssen and McLouth join right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span, left-hander Matt Thornton and infielder Dan Uggla as new free agents.
The Nationals have until 5 p.m. Friday to make qualifying offers to the latter six. They are all but guaranteed to make the offer (a 1-year contract worth roughly $15.8 million) to Zimmermann and Desmond but must decide whether to do likewise to Span and Fister.
If a player accepts the offer — and none have in three years since MLB instituted this system — he returns to the club one that 1-year contract. If a player declines the offer, the club then receives draft-pick compensation once the player signs with a new team.
Zimmermann and Desmond are certain to command significant long-term offers this winter, so there’s no reason to believe either would accept the qualifying offer. The market for Span and Fister, though, is less clear after disappointing 2015 seasons that saw bother former stalwarts deal with injuries and Fister deal with a demotion to the bullpen due to poor performance. Either could consider accepting a qualifying offer from the Nationals and attempt to reestablish his value with a bounce-back season before becoming a free agent again next winter.
The decisions to decline contract options on Janssen and McLouth were fairly straightforward.
Janssen was a disappointment this season after signing a deal last winter that paid him $3.5 million to be the Nationals’ new setup man following Tyler Clippard’s trade to Oakland. The 34-year-old right-hander went 2-5 with a 4.95 ERA (his highest since 2009) in 48 appearances, never fully earning former manager Matt Williams’ trust to pitch in high-leverage situations.
Janssen’s contract included a $7 million mutual option for 2016. The Nationals declined their end of that option, but in doing so picked up a $1.5 million buyout. Thus, Janssen wound up costing the club $5 million for one season on the mound.
McLouth’s 2-year deal proved a bigger mistake for the Nationals, who were counting on the veteran to be a reliable fourth outfielder who could step into a starting role in case of injuries to the likes of Span, Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper. McLouth, though, hit a paltry .173 with one homer, seven RBI and a .517 OPS in 79 games in 2014 before requiring right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum. He never returned to play this season, requiring another surgery on the shoulder.
Thus, the Nationals wound up paying McLouth a total of $10.75 million ($5 million apiece in 2014 and 2015, plus a $750,000 buyout instead of a $6.5 million club option for 2016).