Tonight at midnight is the deadline for major league teams to offer salary arbitration to free agents. The Nationals have only two free agents eligible--Aaron Boone and Odalis Perez--and there's been basically zero speculation about either player, presumably because it's a foregone conclusion that both will be non-tendered.
Clearly, Boone is done. But why is it not even worth a discussion to offer Perez arbitration? If he accepts, that means we get him for one year at whatever the arbitrator says he's worth. If he declines, we're in the same place we are now. No, he's not a type-A or type-B free agent, so we wouldn't get any draft pick compensation if he left, but if he accepted, then we'd have him safely in the fold for one year.
Now, the argument against offering him arbitration it seems to me would be that the arbitrator would give him more than he'd get on the open market. I'm not sure this is true, since it seems to me that the times when arbitration really overvalues a player is when you have a declining player. Arbitration basically never allows for pay cuts, so if you have a guy like, oh, Felipe Lopez, whom we took to arb last year, he got a $1 million raise even though his performance was in free-fall. But Perez earned just $850,000 last season, and he's due for a significant raise regardless of what the Nationals do.
Another argument would be that we should let him walk if we're going to make a play for a bigger name free agent starting pitcher, like Derek Lowe (whom I still like but is less of a good fit for us now than he was back before Bowden traded away Emilio Bonifacio and broke off his momentary flirtation with caring about infield defense).
One could also argue that we have five starters who are basically as good or better than Perez, which isn't totally absurd. This isn't my evaluation, but a reasonable person could argue that Lannan, Redding, Mock, Balester, Olsen, Hill, Bergmann and Zimmermann will all put up numbers close enough to what you can reasonably expect from Perez to not pay the additional millions that he'll cost.
But I don't know that I really buy any of these arguments. First, it's hard to guess what Perez would get as a free agent or in arbitration, but it seems to me that there's as good a chance that Perez gets some excessive contract on the open market as he would from an arbitrator. The fact that there are even quickly debunked rumors about a 3-year contract for Perez makes me nervous. Besides, Bowden's performance judging the market when re-signing his own players has not been at all good (case in point: Dmitri Young).
As for the status of the rest of the rotation, I think Perez will still be at least the second or third best guy here (unless Hill is healthy or Zimmermann explodes on the scene), and I think there's room even if they do sign a bigger name. I don't want them to rush Zimmermann, Hill clearly shouldn't be counted on, you know what I expect from Olsen, and I'd like to see them trade Redding. So that leaves you with Lannan, Mock (who I think deserves a spot in the rotation unless he totally implodes in spring training), Balester, and Bergmann. I'm setting aside Martis because I think it's clear he's not ready.
Bottom line, I wouldn't mind seeing Perez back here for another year. I'd really be unhappy if they signed him for more than a year. If arbitration is the safe way to make sure that's what happens, why not do it? Maybe I'm being excessively risk averse, but it seems like at least something worth considering.