Major league players with more than three but fewer than six years of service time are eligible for salary arbitration. The quick skinny is that arbitration-eligible guys generally get less than free agents, but a lot more than guys in their first three years. And you basically never take a pay cut in arb.
The Nationals have eight players who are arbitration-eligible: Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett, Logan Kensing, Wil Nieves, Mike MacDougal, Scott Olsen, Pete Orr, and Josh Willingham.
Other than Josh Willingham and Sean Burnett, they should non-tender all of them.
Guys like Bergmann and Kensing would all probably get around $750k to $1 million. If Rizzo really wants to bring back Kensing on a minor league deal, fine. But that's it. Bergmann could certainly provide $1 million in value, but not the way he's being used. If no one else is interested, then they could bring him back for a little more than he's getting now.
But the team would probably be doing Bergmann a favor by making him a free agent. He could throw 100 scoreless innings to start the season, and he'd never get a shot at starting here. If he went to San Diego, he could be next year's Kevin Correia. Seattle's outfield defense would do him a world of good. Kansas City, Oakland, or Cleveland might be interested. No one's going to sign him to start on opening day 2010, but he should be in an organization that hasn't decided he can't ever start ever.
Tendering MacDougal a contract would be a disaster. He made $2.65 million in 2009 (paid by the White Sox) and has a $3.75 million club option with a $365k buyout for 2010. So he stands to make over $3 million next year in arbitration. He's not worth half that. Yeah, he saved a lot of games, but the guy can't find the strikezone with both hands. We're talking about a guy with 34 strikeouts and 38 unintentional walks in 54.1 innings. He's got a giant blinking light on his head that says "stay away." Over his last 12 appearances, he had a 9.28 ERA. That, my friends, is the real Mac. If they want to bring him back on a bargain-basement deal (ideally a minor league deal) as an "in case of emergency pull glass" option for the set-up man, fine. But that's it.
Tendering Scott Olsen a contract would be no better. He also stands to get around $3 million in arb, and chances are his days as a useful major league starter are over. His velocity this year was 88.0, basically the same as the 87.8 last year, and light years from the 90.9 he averaged in his one good season. Again, if you want to pay him the minimum or sign him to a minor league deal, fine. But that's all.
If someone wants to argue that Pete Orr should get $750k or more, feel free. Ditto Wil Nieves. These are totally fungible, not even replacement level guys. And they aren't even young. I'd be shocked if the team doesn't non-tender these guys.
Sean Burnett is actually a debatable case as well. I would go ahead and tender him a contract, mainly because the team's relief pitching is so dire. But really he's barely more than a LOOGY. He had a 3.12 ERA with a silly .201 BABIP. Once that regresses, his 4.37 walks per 9 will turn into a lot of runs. He can cut that number, but still he's not the kind of guy you really want to go to arb with unless you really have to. Sadly, the Nationals really have to.