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Nats must decide on Lannan, Flores

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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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42-year-old reliever Fernando Rodney will get a chance to prove he still has it for the Nationals

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42-year-old reliever Fernando Rodney will get a chance to prove he still has it for the Nationals

The Nationals are filling their open 40- and 25-man roster spot with veteran reliever Fernando Rodney on Tuesday, a source confirmed. 

Rodney, 42, is joining the Nationals bullpen after nine appearances for Triple-A Fresno which produced a 4.50 ERA and 2.125 WHIP. He was released earlier this season by Oakland after a rough start led to a 9.42 ERA. He will become the oldest active pitcher in baseball once added to the roster Tuesday.

This is a desperate swing by Washington to find help for a bullpen which entered Monday 29th in bullpen ERA. When Rodney was at this best -- something Nationals manager Dave Martinez saw in Tampa Bay -- he threw an almost unhittable changeup. It remains an effective pitch, if he can control it or his fastball. Command of both often give him trouble. However, the unpredictable nature of his pitching -- for better or worse -- is something that provides an odd duality. It can make him both ultra-effective or a ticking bomb. It almost always assures laborious outings.

Washington will be the 11th major-league team to employ Rodney in his 17 years of professional baseball. Being a three-time All-Star and former closer defines his on-field reputation. Randomly barking in the bullpen, shooting an imaginary arrow following a save or operating with a tilted cap exemplify the rest of Rodney's makeup. He once carried a "lucky plantain" at the World Baseball Classic. When pitching for Seattle in 2014, Rodney explained his bow-and-arrow gimmick like this: 

“The arrow? I don’t know,” Rodney said. “Just do something after the last out. Out 27. You know the game is over. I shoot the moon. I shoot the arrow, just let them know game over.

“That’s my game. Every time I go pitch, I do my arrow. That’s what the fans are waiting for. Rodney shoot the moon.”

He won't be on the mound to end a game in 2019 unless it is in mop-up duty. 

Multiple relief choices existed in Fresno for the Nationals. Few were good. Dakota Bacus has been the most effective Grizzlies pitcher this season. Yet, he remains in the minors. Veteran relievers George Kontos and Michael Blazek are also on the Grizzlies' roster.

Washington releasing Trevor Rosenthal on Sunday morning opened a 40-man roster spot. The Nationals sent Erick Fedde to Triple-A Fresno after the game Sunday to open a 25-man roster spot. Rodney fills those slots. Austin Voth remains in the rotation.

The Washington Post first reported Rodney's movement.

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Why controversy surrounds Adam Eaton and the Minor League Pay Problem

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Why controversy surrounds Adam Eaton and the Minor League Pay Problem

Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton found himself at the center of the Minor League pay problem issue this past weekend.

On Thursday, Washington City Paper published an article describing the living and working conditions of a handful of the Class A-Advanced Potomac Nationals, one of Washington's minor-league affiliates. The article, which credited Eaton with saying that he doesn't believe minor leaguers should be paid "big time," but they could be paid slightly more. 

Additionally, Eaton said that he believes the MLB shouldn't make conditions in the minor leagues "more hospitable," because otherwise players could get complacent and, supposedly, have less of an incentive or drive to make the majors. 

Eaton's argument is more nuanced than those few quotes, and on Monday City Paper published an article with the entirety of Eaton's interview available online. 

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH MINOR-LEAGUE PAY?

Four players sued MLB in 2014, alleging that its policies “artificially and illegally depressing” minor league salaries. The case was dismissed, but it elevated the concerns of minor league players and the disparity between the support for them and MLB players (here's a good place to start if you want to learn more about this fight). 

Many have had to live with host families or share small apartments with upwards of five teammates while in a major league team's farm system. Some, including Eaton, recall the abysmal food options provided to players by the teams, often including peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. 

The issue of whether minor leaguers are paid a "livable wage" has become a more prominent issue since the suit was filed.  In 2018 President Donald Trump signed the "Save America's Pastime Act," which enables MLB to exclude most professional baseball players from the Fair Labor Standards Act and thus insulates the current system of pay between the major and minor leagues. 

While those drafted in the earlier rounds may receive signing bonuses upwards of $8 million, those who do receive signing bonuses make up only a small percentage of those in the minor leagues. 

Last year, the monthly minimum salaries for minor league players were: $1,100 in rookie ball and Single-A, $1,500 in Double-A and $2,150 in Triple-A, according to an article from the Associated Press

WHAT DID ADAM EATON SAY?

Eaton's argument is complicated and mainly based on personal experience. (The Nationals outfielder spent time in the Arizona Diamondbacks' minor league system after he was drafted in the 19th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. Since then he's also spent time in the Chicago White Sox and the Nationals' minor-league systems, mainly on rehab assignments.)

It's unfair to lay out Eaton's claim as one claiming that nothing should change and minor league players should continue to be exploited. Eaton explicitly said that he "doesn't disagree [minor leaguers are] being exploited," but added that "it's for the betterment of everybody."

The outfielder credited his experience in the "dog-eat-dog world" of the minor leagues as helping him appreciate the majors all the more, because it kept him from getting complacent and made him focus on baseball.

But Eaton also admitted that there is what he calls "wiggle room" in the minor-league salaries; the minor league teams could increase salaries a little bit (but not too much, according to Eaton). 

WHY IS THERE CONTROVERSY?

The problem stems from the fact that Eaton's argument is complex, and he repeatedly backtracked in his interview with City Paper. Plus, words are extremely subjective. So while Eaton said that if MLB made the minor league life "more livable," then players would get complacent, he also said that minor league players shouldn't be exploited and should make slightly more money. 

Many articles published have used headlines that amount to "click-bait," which shave Eaton's argument down to "minor-leaguers should be exploited because it's a good thing." That isn't Eaton's whole argument, though. 

Understanding where Eaton's argument fits into the entire pay problem is important in understanding why Eaton is under scrutiny right now. And to do that, what amounts to a "liveable wage" and "liveable conditions" must be better defined. Eaton argues that minor league players should make enough so that they're "literally not eating crumbs," but not so much that they grow comfortable. As he claims, it's those minor-leaguers who are "milled by pressure," the 30th and 40th round draft picks with no signing bonus and no guarantee they'll ever reach the majors, who ensure a "longevity in the big league." 

HAS EATON SAID ANYTHING ELSE?

Well, yes. Eaton took to Instagram Monday, after the City Paper article with the complete interview transcript was published, essentially cleaning up his argument and apologizing for offending anyone. 

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