UPPDATE: Coffey Signs: MLB.com's Bill Ladson via Twitter (@washingnats):
"I just learned that the #Nats agreed to terms with reliever Todd Coffey, pending a physical. I'll have more on #MLB.com."
After ending the second week of the new year with the official introduction of new first baseman Adam LaRoche (2-years/$16M), the Washington Nationals have had a busy start to the third week of the month, signing veteran infielder Alex Cora to a minor league deal, acquiring 29-year-old lefty Tom Gorzelanny, pending his physical, (who agreed to a 1-year/$2.1M dollar deal with the Cubs?) and agreeing on contracts that avoid arbitration with starter John Lannan (1-year/$2.75), reliever Doug Slaten (1-year/$675,000+) and left field platoon partner Michael Morse (1-year/$1.05M acc to NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman). After all that, reports emerged last night, from SI.com's Jon Heyman (via Twitter @SI_JonHeyman) that had the, "Nationals closing in on reliever [Todd] Coffey."
...making 69 appearances and throwing 62.1 innings for the Brewers in which the 6'4'' right-hander out of Shelby, North Carolina struck out 56 (8.09 K/9) and walked 23 (3.32 BB/9) while posting a 4.76 ERA and 4.20 FIP. Coffey held right-handed batters to a .267/.312/.424 slash line last year, with left-handers hitting .275/.386/.507. Having induced grounders from opponents 52.1% of the time over the course of his 6-year career, Coffey, the Reds' 1998 41st Round pick saw a rise in his fly ball percentage (from 30.7% to a career-high 35.8%) between 2009 and 2010 while his ground ball percentage dropped (to 47.6% from 52.3%) in his second full year in Milwaukee after he was selected off waivers by the Brewers at the end of the season in 2008. In 2009, Coffey posted a 2.90 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 6.99 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9.
The Nationals, whose search for starting pitching help was the no.1 priority this winter, have also spoken often about their desire to add a power arm to the bullpen. "[We need] a front-line starting pitcher," Riggleman told MLB.com's Bill Ladson, as reported in a December 6th article entitled, "Bullpen additions on Nationals' radar":
"However, if there isn't a front-line pitcher we could obtain, then I would be comfortable with our starting pitching the way it is. But strengthen the strength, which is our bullpen. Make it stronger with the understanding that our starters are who they are and we may be going to be bullpen even earlier..."
Already this winter the Nats have added two power arms. Now-former Mets' prospect Elvin Ramirez, is a 23-year-old right-hander with a triple-digit heater but control issues which D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore the 6'3'' Dominican-born right-hander was just beginning to figure out. In a WaPost article entitled, "Nationals select Elvin Ramirez in Rule 5 draft", after the Rule 5 selection, the general manager said they'd been watching Ramirez's growth for some time now:
"He's finally figuring out the strike zone," Rizzo said. "The latter portion of the minor league season and this winter, he's taken it to a different level. He's a big, power guy we hope helps us in the bullpen this year."
The Josh Willingham trade with the Oakland A's also landed the Nats another 100mph+ arm with some late-inning experience at the major league level, 10.7 K/9 and the usual control issues on his resume 32 games into his MLB career. When I asked the Nats' GM about the 23-year-old right-hander Henry Rodriguez (who'll be 24 when the season starts) at last week's introductory press conference for Adam LaRoche, Mr. Rizzo said that the Nationals, "...fully expect Henry to make the club. He's been scouted extensively by us. We think that he's a power arm that's going to fit in somewhere in the middle of the bullpen."
24-year-old Brian Broderick is another Rule 5 pick, out of the Cardinals' system, who's expected to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training, battling young arms from the Nats' system like Adam Carr, Cole Kimball, Collin Balester and Craig Stammen (if he's not given a chance to start), for the opportunity to pitch alongside Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Drew Storen and now possibly Todd Coffey. Coffey's saved just 11 games in his career, so he's not necessarily being brought in (if these reports are even true) to compete for the closer's role, but his eleven saves are more than any other pitcher expected to be in the Nats' bullpen has recorded.
How will the Matt Capps-less bullpen perform this season? Who will grab the closer's role? Will it be closer-by-committee or can Drew Storen take over the ninth in his first full season? Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month...