End of Series means flexibility for Nats
Salary comes off books and gives club options
The day after the end of the World Series marks the unofficial beginning of the offseason and the official start of free agency, which means it's decision time for Major League clubs. For the Nationals, it also means one very important thing: a little contractual freedom.
Beginning Thursday, players with expiring contracts and at least six years of Major League service time have a 15-day window to file for free agency. During that time, the team that player ended the 2009 season with has exclusive negotiation rights. After that, they are free to sign with any team.
For the Nationals, that means the $10 million Dmitri Young made in two injury-riddled seasons will be off the books, and so will the $10 million club option for Austin Kearns they almost certainly won't pick up -- instead opting for the $1 million buyout.
Then there will be some decisions to make: Do they bring back some of their other free agents -- Josh Bard, Livan Hernandez and Ron Villone?
The Nationals are in need of veteran arms in the starting rotation, but whether or not they make Hernandez one of them is still in question.
The 34-year-old native of Cuba was signed to a Minor League deal by the Nationals in late August and finished the season 2-4 with a 5.36 ERA in eight starts. For his 14-year career, Hernandez has 156 wins and a 4.45 ERA.
The veteran right-hander has topped 200 innings nine times in his career -- most recently in 2007 -- and can be an innings-eater in the back-end of the rotation if the Nationals bring him back.
"Livan would be interested in returning to the Nationals," his agent, Barry Praver, said. As for the other side, Praver added, "My understanding is that the Nationals like Livan."
Bard was signed to a Minor League deal by the Nationals in March after he was released by the Red Sox. He then went on bat .230 with six home runs and 31 RBIs in 90 games.
The 31-year-old switch-hitting catcher holds a career .259 batting average in eight seasons in the big leagues and is regarded for his ability to handle pitchers. But the Nationals already have Jesus Flores, as well as Wil Nieves as a potential back-up, and they'd also like to acquire a front-line catcher while Flores recovers from right shoulder surgery. So Bard's return isn't likely.
Villone, also signed to a Minor League contract by the Nats after the Mets released him, went 5-6 with a 4.25 ERA in 63 relief appearances -- second-most on the pitching staff. The 39-year-old left-hander has a 4.73 ERA in 15 seasons in the big leagues, and opposing left-handers are batting .241 against him throughout his career -- compared to .260 for righties.
Young was limited to a total of just 186 games in his three years in Washington because of a series of injuries, including a torn left quadriceps that kept him out of the Major Leagues all of '09. The 36-year-old first baseman may choose to retire this offseason.
Kearns, 29, made $17.5 million with the Nationals the last three years but hit just .209 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs combined the last two seasons.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.