Once more we'll delve into the Pitcher Projections in The Bill James Handbook 2009, published by ACTA Sports, to see what the book, described by ESPN Baseball Analyst Peter Gammons as, "The prize of our winter hibernation," in online advertisements, predicts the Nationals will get out of their reconstructed bullpen next season.
This comes just a day after Washington outrighted former closer, Chad Cordero and his fellow DC reliever Ryan Wagner, and then saw the two (along with IF Pete Orr) opt for free agency rather than accept the demotion to Triple-A Syracuse. MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in his report on the roster movement entitled, "Cordero's Nats tenure likely over", writes that Cordero has softened his stance about a possible return to DC, with the Montreal Expos' 1st Round pick, 20th overall in 2003, quoted as saying:
"'Yeah, I'm open to coming back. I'm not going to close the door on anybody,' Cordero said. 'Obviously, I had a great time in D.C. and with the organization. This year was a tough time for me. I'm going to keep my options open. If it works out, I'll come back, and that would be awesome.'"
Wagner's departure, which seems certain after he tells Mr. Ladson, "'I threw the ball well at the end of the year. I'm anxious to see where I end up,'" leaves Austin Kearns as the lone player who was acquired in the 7/13/06 deal with Cincinnati (which sent Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris, Gary Majewski and Daryl Thompson to the Reds in return for Kearns, Wagner and Felipe Lopez, who was released during the '08 campaign before signing on with St. Louis), that is still on the Nationals' roster...
Here are the numbers Mr. James' statistical analysis tells us we can expect out of the relievers in the DC bullpen next season, including, "Wild" Joel Hanrahan, Saul "Sa-ool" Rivera, Steven Shell and Jesus Colome, (who is abitration eligible), as well as Jason Bergmann, who ended '08 in the bullpen, and one BIG look back at another former closer... (ed. note - "The other players who are expected to be a part of the DC bullpen but are not included in the TBJH's Pitcher Projections...Mike Hinckley, Marco Estrada and Garrett Mock.")...
NOTES ON THE #'s...
• - Joel Hanrahan, if he manages to get up to 25 saves in 65 games like Mr. James predicts, would have 16 more saves than he managed in 69 games last season, only a small portion of which he appeared in as the Nationals' closer...and 25 saves would be 8 more than any DC reliever recorded last season, with Jon Rauch leading the Nationals with 17...
• - Looks like more of the same is in store for Saul Rivera if Mr. James' projection hold up. The 31-year-old right-hander didn't allow a home run from 4/29 - 8/21 last season, but after posting a 1.59 ERA in 13 games and 17.0 IP in June and a 2.00 ERA in 8 games and 9.0 IP in July, Rivera struggled late in '08, allowing 15 hits, 15 ER, 1 HR and 10 walks combined in August and September, while posting a 4.60 ERA in 16 August appearances and a 6.75 ERA in 10 games in the final month of the season...
• - Steven Shell posted a (2-2) record and a 2.16 ERA with 41 K's, 20 walks and 2 saves in his rookie campaign last season, giving up 34 hits, 12 ER and 5 HR's in 50.0 innings after his debut on June 22nd in Texas. Along with Garrett Mock, Jesus Colome and Marco Estrada, Shell's going to be counted on all season to bridge the gap between the Nationals' young arms and their late-innings relievers. A 4.98 ERA will not be good in that case, but it will be better than anyone managed in the same role last season.
- Can the Nationals recover from losing Cordero, Rauch, Wagner, Charlie Manning, and Luis Ayala? Can Mock, Shell, Hinckley and Estrada help reestablish the DC bullpen?
- Will "The Flat-Brimmed Closer" Chad Cordero return to the Nationals? Or will he do as I expect and sign with the Mets?
- When, if ever, will Mike Hinckley, who began his big league career with a streak of 13.2 innings in which he didn't allow a single ER, finally allow one to cross? Can Hinckley, who was once thought a lost-cause, continue his surprising ascent in '09?
- Can "Wild" Joel Hanrahan survive the whole season as DC's closer? Will anyone from the system (I'm talking to you, Zech Zinicola) be able to emerge to challenge Hanrahan for the stopper role?
- Which, if any, free agent relievers do you see the Nationals pursuing?
- Will the '09 bullpen be a strength or a weakness?