Mike Rizzo and the Nats Window for Opportunity
The last remaining side-effect of the Rafael Soriano contract is that it defines when Mike Rizzo thinks the Nats window for opportunity ends, or could end. The Nats will pay Soriano $7 million over the next two seasons and then won't pay him the remainder of the contract until 2018-2025. $2 million a year over those seven seasons doesn't sound like a lot, but that will include some interest so it may end up being more like $2.5-3 million, but none of the will affect the top of the Nats roster.
It won't affect the Nats decision to extend Strasburg, Harper, Desmond, or Zimmermann past 2018. It may have some effect on the bottom of the roster, but the Nats did let John Lannan sit in the minors for $5 million last season and are in no rush to trade Michael Morse who is owed $7 million for 2013. The big thing is that the Nats first have to get to 2018. The only players on the Nats current roster that are under contract in 2018 are Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, and 2018 is Harper's walk year.
The Nats have made moves this off-season that could lead people to believe that they have plans to extend Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond past their walk year of 2015, but Strasburg and Harper are still too far away for anything to be known, and their agent, Scott Boras, likes to take players to free agency. As of right now the earliest that the Nats window starts to close is 2015, and it will slam completely shut after the 2018 season if Harper is allowed to walk.
All of this is very much in the future, but the Soriano deal gives us some idea that Mike Rizzo is more concerned about the 2013-2015 season when he has most of the core of the team guaranteed to be together. The only free agents the Nats have after the 2013 season are Zach Duke, Dan Haren, Chad Tracy, and Michael Morse (if he isn't traded). The Nats for the next two seasons are in a very good position. The signings of LaRoche and Soriano not only set the Nats roster for the 2013 season, but essentially set it for the 2014 season as well.
The way the Nationals have spent money this off-season to get the players they want and how there is very little money on the books for the 2016 and 2017 seasons and even less for the 2018 season. The Nats have $47.6 million committed for 2016, $36.07 million for 2017, and only the $14 million owed Ryan Zimmerman and the $2 million plus interest of the Soriano deferment guaranteed for 2018. The Nationals have payroll flexibility for those seasons and if Desmond, Zimmermann, and other current young Nats continue to perform the Nats have the means to reward them with contracts past the 2015 season, and with Strasburg and Harper they have even more flexibility.
Theoretical contracts are nice to talk about, but what is known is that the Nats have most of their roster under contract for the next two seasons and their entire core under contract through the 2015 season. It is after that that the Nats window begins to close, but it will be open as long as Strasburg and Harper are members of the Washington Nationals. As of right now 2018 is the last year Harper will be in DC, and that is the year Mike Rizzo chose to defer Soriano's money to.