In an interview broadcast this weekend with Nationals 360's Francis Rose and MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr, Nats' Skipper Jim Riggleman said the acquisition of flame-throwing-but-control-challenged right-hander Henry Rodriguez from the A's in the Josh Willingham deal was a "subtle move that is going to pay dividends for us for many years," providing the Nationals with a live bullpen arm that could potentially push closer-in-training Drew Storen or one of the Nats' other late-inning options for a role in the year '11 bullpen. As the season came to a close, the Nationals' bench manager identified another power reliever as one of the needs Washington might address this winter:
"A couple other managers have been talking about this lately," Riggleman told D.C. press corps, "...it just seems like every night, every club has two or three guys throwing 95 to 98 mph in the bullpen and it's nice to put a guy like that out there." "[Tyler] Clippard, the radar gun will say 93, but it really plays about 97, because his changeup and the level that he throws his fastball, it plays about 97, that's why you see so many swings and misses, and we need another guy like that, and I think that [Collin] Balester's shown that he's going to be in the mix for that."
Having missed out on the starting pitcher they were looking for in spite of their willingness to deal and/or pay for what they wanted, the Nationals and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, according to several reports, are still in the market for a potential closer. MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling described what the Nats were looking for in a recent article entitled, "Nationals continue to pursue another reliever", in which he wrote that, "Washington is still in pursuit of another reliever who can pitch in the late innings and close if young arms like Drew Storen or Henry Rodriguez can't get the job done." Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell, in a recent chat with fans entitled, "Ask Boswell", said the Nats are still looking to add a, "...utility infielder and probably another reliever with power stuff but not a lot of saves on his baseball card (which drives up the price)."
The Nationals reportedly pursued veteran free agent reliever Kevin Gregg earlier this winter. FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) put the Nats in the mix (according to his sources) as one of several teams with, "Strong multi-year interest for FA RHP Kevin Gregg", before the right-hander signed a 2-year/$10 million dollar deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
MLBTraderumors.com's Ben Nicholson-Smith listed three late-inning options in an article this morning entitled, "Top Ten Remaining Free Agents", who were still available late in the process this winter. Former Rays' closer Rafael Soriano is still out there. Another Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour's unsigned. Lefty reliever Brian Fuentes? Do any of the top relievers remaining make sense for the Nats? Jon Rauch? Bring the Big Wookie back? Chad Qualls is a name MASNSports.com's Mr. Goessling mentioned. Soriano and Balfour are the only Type-A free agents on the list. Kyle Farnsworth? Aaron Heilm...ah, forget I mentioned that one. There aren't too many options left.
Do you think Storen and Rodriguez, working with Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester, etc. can get the job done in the late innings, or do the Nats need a proven closer? Storen's pitched just 55.1 innings at the major league level thus far, recording 5 saves and 8.5 K/9? Rodriguez and his triple-digit heater pitched just 31.2 innings with the A's, earning 11 saves at Triple-A and striking out 13.1 K/9 in the minors and 10.7 K/9 in the majors in 2010 before the Nats acquired the right-hander this winter. Are you comfortable handing either the ball in the ninth inning right now? Or do the Nats need a veteran bullpen arm to help the young pitchers along?