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Nationals mailbag: Luxury tax for dummies, odd memories and how to break into a front office job

Nationals mailbag: Luxury tax for dummies, odd memories and how to break into a front office job

Hello and welcome to another Nationals mailbag as we wait for baseball to hopefully be played in 2020.

As a reminder, you can send questions to me directly at Todd.Dybas@nbcuni.com or through the mailbag portal here.

On to the questions:

Q: Could you do a “luxury tax for dummies” write up?  You always say on the pod that it is too complicated and boring for listeners.  But readers have nothing but time right now.

Jennifer Lowe


A: This insinuates I am not among the dummies. But, I’ll do it regardless.

The Competitive Balance Tax (CBT), or, colloquially, the “luxury tax” in baseball was a threshold introduced to try to close the gap between the giant spenders and the have-nots. The plight of small-market teams became such a topic in the early 1990s -- mainly because of the Yankees’ ongoing largess -- the league decided to put the CBT in place.

The premise was to find a way for significant spending to flow back to clubs who did not have the same payroll prowess. And, it’s become a major factor in how the Nationals do business.

Managing principal owner Mark Lerner has repeatedly said the Nationals would not exceed the CBT threshold (it’s $208 million this year). The organization wound its way under the tax last season to reset its clock. That move was important.

The CBT works on an ascending penalty scale. So, go over once, and you pay a 20 percent tax on any overage. For instance, if Team X has a $218 million payroll this year, they are $10 million over the threshold, and their penalty would be $2 million for going over one time.

Go over in consecutive years, and the penalty rises to 30 percent. Three consecutive seasons of overage produces a 50 percent tax on the amount the threshold is exceeded.

There’s also another recent wrinkle:

Beginning in 2018, clubs that are $40 million or more above the threshold shall have their highest selection in the next Rule 4 Draft moved back 10 places unless the pick falls in the top six. In that case, the team will have its second-highest selection moved back 10 places instead.
So, the next time you hear the Nationals don’t want to go over the “luxury tax”, remember their penalty for doing so could well be minimal. But, they achieved the ultimate upside last year: they slid below the tax threshold, resetting their clock, and won the World Series. That’s a financial coup.

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Q: I’m a relatively new Nationals fan and baseball fan in general, having gotten into it around the 2018 All-Star Game, and I was just wondering what are some of your favourite weird or obscure moments in Nationals history that maybe not a lot of people will remember?

- Maple Meadows


A: Hey, Maple. Thanks for tuning into the podcast and reading.

This is certainly fan dependent. But, a few random things came into the head of our resident baseball historian, Tim Shovers:

-- Alfonso Soriano’s 40-40 season in 2006 is an odd anomaly. Not for Soriano personally, because he was close multiple times prior, but that it came in his only season in Washington. The Nationals sent three players to Texas -- Armando Galaragga, Termel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson -- for a year of work from Soriano. He went crazy, finished sixth in MVP voting and signed with the Cubs in the offseason. Meanwhile, the team finished 20 games under .500.

-- John Lannan was the team’s No. 2 starter at the start of 2011 and pitched 184 ⅔ innings, then didn’t make the team out of spring training the following season. He eventually returned to the major leagues that year. But that was the end of his time in Washington. Lannan made 14 starts for Philadelphia in 2013 then pitched four innings for the Mets out of the bullpen in 2014. He never pitched in the major leagues again.

-- Back in April of 2009, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn wore Nationals jerseys which were missing the  “o” because of a mistake by jersey-maker Majestic Athletic. So, across their chest was “Natinals.” They were in proper jerseys after the first three innings.

The lessons here? You can’t predict baseball.

Q: I know this isn't a complete Nationals question but, I have a dream to work in the Nationals baseball front office one day, as hard as that is what in your opinion can I do as a senior in high school to raise my chances of possibly one day getting there?

Yitz Taragin


A: Hey, Yitz.

I turned to a better authority on this, and relayed your question to Nationals assistant general manager of player development Mark Scialabba. Here’s what he had to say:

“I always tell students when they ask about how they can eventually work for a Major League team that they should immerse themselves in the game as much as possible.  If you are playing, play as long as you can and if not that is OK, too. Watch games live, study the game, and watch games regularly on TV. Read as much as you can to understand the history of the game as well as the business/economic side and read online contemporary articles and interviews with people in the game.

“Develop skills that can impact a front office one day when you have the opportunity to interview for a position, whether that may be learning statistical analysis, player evaluation, computer programming, new video or technologies impacting the game, biomechanics, general management skills, mental conditioning, or perhaps even becoming fluent in Spanish.

“Apply for internships that will provide you experience in an area where you can immediately utilize your strengths and have a growth mindset that will allow you to best impact your organization long term. Take advantage of opportunities by using your skills to complete an independent study for school or take on a challenging project during an internship. This way you will have something tangible to help demonstrate your ability when you are seeking the next opportunity or position.

“Schedule information interviews with veteran scouts, coaches and front office executives who are willing to share their experiences and impart their wisdom from years of experience. The demand for these jobs greatly outweighs the supply so you have to be aggressive in your search for an internship/job and distinguish yourself by leveraging your strengths. Everyone’s process is different but regardless where and when you start I believe it is best to be humble, always continue to learn, be ready to take risks and make sure to be persistent.”

There you have it. Thanks to Mark for the assistance.

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MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

The NBA appeared to pull things together Wednesday, following the NHL.

Basketball is expected to return July 31 in Orlando with an inventive, though truncated, format. A quick eight-game wrap to the regular season will be followed by the playoffs, according to ESPN. All in one place. The NHL will not start training camp before July 1. It has not determined when the playoffs may begin. The league shelved the regular season but will use “hub cities” for a playoff tournament when they deem it safe. No date has been set yet.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is trying to launch itself via a much quicker, and earlier, timeline.

Officials want to play at the end of June or start of July. They are currently haggling to get there.

Multiple reports earlier in the week said the league was considering a 50-game schedule. This is not an authentic pursuit of playing just 50 games. Rather, it was a fist clench from league commissioner Rob Manfred against the players’ insistence their prorated salaries will be the lone salary cut. Manfred is suggesting if that is true, then he has the right to dictate scheduling.

The players previously suggested a 114-game schedule. The number between the two proposals -- 82 -- remains the most-likely outcome.

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But, baseball continued its jousting and contorting and time loss Wednesday, jeopardizing the entire process. After rejecting the 114-game proposal, the owners said they would not send a counter, according to The Athletic. Further, the league said it has started talks with owners about playing a shorter season without fans, The Athletic reported. This brings the 50-game scenario back into play.

The calendar is not baseball’s friend in the near-term or around the bend. Pushing the season further into the fall and winter increases risk and logistical problems. It also cuts the offseason down.

Blitzing toward a start time with multiple questions about health and the coronavirus still unanswered delivers another set of problems. Baseball needs to race to a start so it can have a legitimate season and acceptable chance at a finish. Most of the prospective money for the season would be delivered by the playoffs. Playing without a postseason would fall into the “something-is-better-than-nothing” category, but barely. Playing a short season would also only amplify the risk-reward questions for the players. Why put so much on the line for 50 games? Or even 82?

And, don’t think both sides are not currently keeping score for the winter of 2021, after the current collective bargaining agreement expires. A brutish labor fight was already coming. Rule changes, perhaps league realignment, the typical eye-gouging over the splits of cash. The core of mistrust for players remains in place: The owners have not shown their full financial situation. Until that changes, both sides will be shouting from bunkers, no-man’s land in between them, whispering to each other how vile the other side is. Agreements are hard to come by in those circumstances.

Sunday marks the close to the first week of June. Players want three weeks of spring training. They also want to start the season sometime between June 30 and July 4. Which means if they can’t suddenly construct a bridge in the next handful of days, they have a week to pull everything together. The other leagues used creativity, an expanded timetable and risk reduction to present viable ways forward. Baseball has deployed none of that to this point.

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Potential Nationals draft pick Cole Wilcox shows pitchers are athletes too

Potential Nationals draft pick Cole Wilcox shows pitchers are athletes too

With a little over a week left until the start of the 2020 MLB amateur draft, teams are combing over every bit of game footage they have to finalize their top targets for the first round.

Georgia right-handed pitcher Cole Wilcox, who’s been matched up with the Nationals in several mock drafts, made sure scouts got a look at another video of him showing off his athleticism—albeit one off the diamond.

Wilcox has apparently taken offense to the popular opinion that pitchers aren’t athletes. Hoping to put that narrative to rest, he made sure the camera was rolling when he pulled off this impressive trick shot.

The Nationals are slated in the first round at No. 22 overall, putting them right in the middle of the target range in which Wilcox is expected to be picked. If he’s still available when they’re on the clock, his display of athleticism certainly won’t be counted against him.

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