The Washington Nationals are reportedly still interested in adding a left-handed reliever to their bullpen this winter with J.P. Howell and 2012 Nats' reliever mentioned as possible options.
Sean Burnett signed a 2-year/$8M dollar deal with the LA Angels that includes a club option for 2015 that would pay him $4.5M. Tom Gorzelanny signed what is reportedly a 2-year/$6M dollar deal with the Milwaukee Brewers this afternoon. The Washington Nationals entertained the idea of bringing both relievers back to the nation's capital in 2012, but realized quickly that each was likely to receive more money than they were willing to give them. So far this winter, the Nats have re-signed left-hander Zach Duke and brought lefty Bill Bray back to the organization six years after they dealt the '04 Expos' 1st Round pick to the Cincinnati Reds.
When D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters after the Nationals signed Duke, who was (15-5) with a 3.51 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 2.14 BB/9 and 4.98 K/9 in 26 starts and 164.1 IP at Triple-A Syracuse last year and (1-0) with a 1.32 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 2.63 BB/9 and 6.59 K/9 in eight games and 13.2 IP with the Nats in September, the general manager explained that Duke would be stretched out like a starter in Spring Training but would likely end up in a long-relief role in the 2013 Nationals' pen. Rizzo did, however, add that that Nats would still like to add another reliever, telling the Washington Post's James Wagner, "'We’d like to get a second left-hander. It’s not a necessity because our right-handed relievers get out left-handers well, but in a perfect world we’d like to get a second.'"
While Burnett and Gorzelanny are off the market, two lefties mentioned often as targets this winter remain available. Michael Gonzalez, who was coming off a 2-year/$12M dollar deal with the Orioles, signed a one-year minor league deal last May when he joined the Nats and he had a 3.03 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 4.04 BB/9 and 9.84 K/9 in 47 games and 35.2 IP last season in a +0.5 fWAR 2012 campaign. Gonzalez held opposing left-handed hitters to a .177/.257/.269 line in 2012. In his 10-year MLB career, the left-hander has held lefties to a .206/.278/.327 line. MLB Network Radio host and ESPN analyst Jim Bowden reported on Twitter this afternoon that the Nationals remain interested in Gonzalez:
Cincinnati Reds & Washington Nationals continue pursuit of LHR Mike Gonzalez who would fit in nicely with both post-season contenders in '13— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) December 20, 2012
J.P. Howell has been mentioned often this winter as a potential replacement for Sean Burnett and the '04 Royals' 1st Round pick who has pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays for the last six seasons told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that he'd like to join the Nationals' bullpen. Howell avoided arbitration with the Rays last season, signing a 1-year/$1.35M dollar deal. The 29-year-old reliever, who'll turn 30 in April, had a 3.04 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 3.93 BB/9 and 7.51 K/9 in a -0.3 fWAR campaign in his seventh MLB season in 2012. Howell held left-handed hitters to a .198/.306/.306 line last season, and he has a .238/.323/.351 line against left-handers over the course of his career. MLB.com's Mr. Ladson listed the Phillies, Cubs, Mariners and Rangers as other teams interested in the lefty this winter.
The options are dwindling on the free agent market. The Nationals could, of course, trade Michael Morse as rumored for bullpen help if they do sign Adam LaRoche, but as of this afternoon, neither of the situations have been settled.