The Washington Nationals have freely moved many players on its 40-man roster between the majors and the minors in past seasons, but that freedom will be hampered this season with a few key players. There are five Nationals who are out of options with less than five years of MLB service time, and therefore must pass through waivers before being sent down to the minors. This list is courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.
The two most interesting players on this list for the Nationals are Ross Detwiler and Roger Bernadina. I say this every year, but this is really Detwiler's year to shine. Detwiler ran out of options last season, and as the Nationals first pick in the 2007 amateur draft, the young lefty has to prove his worth inside the organization quickly. Otherwise, he may see the Nationals hit their golden years in a different uniform. Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang, and John Lannan are the likely competitors for the No. 5 spot in the Nationals rotation. Despite Lannan's $5 million salary next season, he does have options remaining and could be sent down if the Nationals aren't able to trade him before Opening Day. That would leave Detwiler near-league-minimum salary to compete against Chien-Ming Wang's one-year/$4 million contract. If Detwiler could start the 2012 season the way he finished last season, he could find himself on the trading block as a piece for a center fielder while his value is high, or as a replacement if and when a starter gets hurt. The Nationals will need some significant pitching depth, considering Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Chien-Ming Wang are all still recovering from significant arm surgeries.
Roger Bernadina has been in the Nationals organization for 11 years, but he has just over two years of service time. The team hoped his speed and ability would eventually make him an every day outfielder and leadoff man, but it hasn't quite turned out that way. Bernadina is still just 27 years old, but the Nationals organization has probably outgrown him, even with a less-than-ideal outfield depth. However, he is still extremely inexpensive and under club control for four more seasons. If you combine that with his skill set, he has the ability to be included as part of a trade, though not as a primary piece. It seems likely we're seeing the waning days and months of Bernie's time with the organization.
Despite being in the league for parts of seven seasons, Tom Gorzelanny has just over 4 years of service time at age 29. He's making the most money of anyone on this list, $3 million in 2012, and that could actually work to the Nationals advantage. If Gorzelanny underwhemls in Spring Training, the Nationals could decide to put him through waivers to send him to Triple-A Syracuse. If he clears waivers, he'll be demoted and won't take up a spot on the 25-man roster. If he doesn't, and another team picks him up, the Nationals will be freed from their $3 million obligation to him. It may be a win-win situation, rather than just outright releasing him, and his high salary relative to his recent performance doesn't carry much value on the trade market.
Tyler Clippard is also out of options, but it certainly won't matter. There isn't a chance he is sent to the minors this season, coming off an All-Star year in 2011. If the Nationals did try to put him through waivers, he would be gobbled up by a team on the waiver wire immediately. He's making a club-friendly $1.65 million this season, is under team control until 2016, and is one of the best set up men in baseball.
Henry Rodriguez is also under a team friendly deal, and even if he doesn't quite become what the Nationals hope, a solid set up guy, his ability to consistently hit triple-digits on the radar gun is valuable in almost any situation. It's unlikely that the Nationals would be worried about sending HRod down in 2012.
A situation like Ross Detwiler's shows that when a player runs out of options, it could have far reaching affects on the organization and how they deal with personnel. If Detwiler had options left, the Nationals could trade Lannan, send down Detwiler, and put Wang in the No. 5 spot, making Detwiler available in case of injury. It would be difficult to switch Detwiler and Lannan in that scenario, because Detwiler has less trade value than Lannan, and Lannan would be making $5 million to pitch in the minor leagues. However, Lannan in the minors does allow for depth to the rotation as the season rolls on. It will be fascinating to see how this log jam is wrapped up in Viera during Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in just four days to start hashing out these story lines.