Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Nationals were rumored to have interest in free agent left-hander J.P. Howell, but the now-former Tampa Bay Rays' reliever signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight. Does Howell's deal with the Dodgers end the Nats' search for a late-inning lefty?
J.P. Howell told MLB.com writer Bill Ladson that he was interested in playing for the Washington Nationals. Multiple reports said the Nats had interest in the veteran left-hander as a potential replacement for late-inning lefty Sean Burnett, who signed a 2-year/$8M dollar deal with the LA Angels that included an option for a third year at $4.5M. Howell told MLB.com's Mr. Ladson in early December that he liked what he's seen from Washington in recent years. "'I love [the Nationals'] style, and they are absolutely loaded,' Howell said via telephone. 'They have so much talent. They are championship contenders. ... They are truly a heavyweight.'" Howell said he thought he would be a good fit in the Nats' bullpen. Davey Johnson wanted another lefty. Seemed like a match.
Howell signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight, however, potentially ending the Nationals' pursuit of another left-handed reliever on the free agent market.
CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) wrote that the deal Howell received for 1-year, and it's reportedly worth $2.85M with $1.2M available in possible performance bonuses. The Nats lost Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez to free agency this winter.
Washington has already added Bill Bray and Fernando Abad on minor league deals and they signed veteran lefty Zach Duke after he had a strong season at Triple-A in the Nats' system and a nice run in the major league bullpen when he was called up at the end of the year. MLB.com's Mr. Ladson wrote on Twitter (@washingnats) tonight that Bray could end up being the Nationals' second left-hander in the bullpen. The Nationals were believed to be interested in adding another lefty, though D.C. GM Mike Rizzo had recently talked up his right-handers' ability to get both left and right-handed hitters out in an article by the Washington Post's James Wagner:
"'We’d like to get a second left-hander,' Rizzo said, '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.'"
Craig Stammen has a .266/.310/.407 line against lefties in his career. As a reliever last year, the right-hander had a .198/.274/.331 line against left-handed hitters. Henry Rodriguez held lefties to a .208/.356/.354 line before he was injured last year. Ryan Mattheus has held lefties to a .214/.294/.393 line over two years as a Nationals' reliever, and in 2012 the righty held lefties to a .241/.313/.471 line. Tyler Clippard has a .186/.268/.325 line against lefties in his career, and left-handers hit for a .170/.260/.259 line against the Nats' reliever in 2012.
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell wrote in a chat this past Monday that the Nationals should act quickly and, "... go with the wisdom of the last 100+ years that it's a real good idea to have a tough late-inning lefty who can [dominate] key sluggers on other teams, not just 'have good splits." The Nats might have to look to the trade market if they're going to find the lefty they're believed to be after since Howell was one of the last ones on the free agent market this winter.