Where do the Washington Nationals stand with outfielder Michael A. Taylor and reliever Kyle Barraclough? There could be two very different answers depending on the way you tilt your head.
Both Taylor and Barraclough could not agree to terms with the Nationals ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline to exchange salary figures for a possible arbitration hearing. Taylor and his representation want him to be paid $3.5 million in 2019, while the Nationals stood pat at $3.25 million, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations. Barraclough wants $2 million while the Nationals have offered him $1.725 million, according to a person with knowledge of those negotiations. From that vantage point, the Nationals and their players are not standing too far apart.
But the negligible differences between the team’s salary figures and each player’s ask — acknowledging that only in certain worlds is $250,000 be considered negligible — is a bit more concerning. Players and teams can continue to negotiate contracts following Friday’s deadline, but not settling before it increases the likelihood of an arbitration hearing in February. In a hearing, both sides make their case and arbiters pick between the team’s number and the player’s while considering no other choices.
So Taylor, in his second year of arbitration eligibility, would walk out of an arbitration hearing with either a $3.5 million or $3.25 million salary for 2019. Barraclough, in his first year of arbitration eligibility, would be granted a salary of $2 million or $1.725 million. To get to either option, teams need to point out their players’ weaknesses and prove why they are not as good as they might think. It is a messy situation that can strain relationships. The last time the Nationals went to an arbitration hearing was with reliever Jerry Blevins in February 2015, and he was traded away before the season started in April.
Any divide between the Nationals and Taylor could stem from how the 27-year-old finished last season. He hit .122 in August, .200 in September and, at least at the plate, was a shell of the player who cranked 19 home runs with a .271 average in 2017. He played winter ball in the Dominican Republic this offseason, has worked with hitting coach Kevin Long and, as the Nationals’ roster is currently constructed, figures to be a fourth option who could push 21-year-old Victor Robles for starts in center field.
The Nationals and Barraclough do not have much of a past together, as the 28-year-old joined the organization in a trade with the Miami Marlins in early October. Disagreements on his salary could possibly start with the role the Nationals envision for him in 2019. He was mostly a setup man for the Marlins last season and finished with 10 saves, a high-leverage role that could earn a pitcher more money. But he is more likely to be a middle reliever for a Nationals team that already has all-star closer Sean Doolittle and setup men in Trevor Rosenthal and Koda Glover. Barraclough is under team control until 2022 and a one-year deal might only come once his place in the bullpen is sorted out.
Since arbitration hearings occur in February, the Nationals still have a lot of time to settle with Taylor and Barraclough before they would need to go to one. But each day gets them closer to doing so, and clouds the short- and long-term outlook for both players in Washington. It may seem like only slight differences between the sides — $250,000 separating the Nationals and Taylor, $275,000 in Barraclough’s case — but it may be more than enough to spark friction in the weeks ahead.
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