So how do you replace Tyler Clippard now that the 29-year-old, right-handed, All-Star set-up man has been dealt to the Oakland A's?
Washington Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo was asked for his thoughts this past Thursday, during an appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant and Danny show, when he spoke with hosts Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier the day after he dealt Clippard to the Athletics straight up for Yunel Escobar.
As the Nats' GM explained it, you don't replace Clippard, who posted a 2.18 ERA, a 2.75 FIP, 23 walks (2.94 BB/9) and 82 Ks (10.49 K/9) in 75 games and 70 ⅓ IP in 2014, over which he was worth +1.5 fWAR.
"It's going to be difficult to fill Tyler Clippard's performance in the eighth inning," Rizzo said.
"But we certainly have candidates to back-fill the bullpen and power arms to get the opportunity to pitch later, more leverage innings during the game. Bullpens are built each and every year. Tyler Clippard got an opportunity years back to prove what he could do and we're talking about him as one of the best eighth-inning relievers in baseball.
"So it opens the door to the Blake Treinens of the world and the Aaron Barretts of the world to take the next step in their progression of their career and take more leverage innings."
Treinen, 26, put up 3.00 ERA, a 3.60 FIP, 11 walks (2.75 BB/9) and 16 Ks (4.00 K/9) in 36 IP as a starter in the majors last season, after making his MLB debut in April.
As a reliever with the Nationals, Treinen posted a 1.23 ERA, a 1.84 FIP, two walks (1.23 BB/9) and 14 Ks (8.59 K/9) in 14 ⅔ IP.
"Blake has proven himself as a major league pitcher," Rizzo told Paulsen and Rouhier.
"We value him as a major league starter. But it's not to say that if our rotation is as it is right now and all five of our starters stay healthy that we can't utilize Blake out of the bullpen. He's a power arm. Throws 95-100 [mph] in a bullpen role with good sink and secondary stuff and pounds the strike zone and most importantly is not fazed or afraid to pitch in leverage situations during the game."
"He's definitely one of the guys that are in the mix," Rizzo said at one point.
Barrett, 27, threw 40 ⅔ innings out of the Nationals' bullpen in 2014, posting a 2.66 ERA, a 2.59 FIP, 20 walks (4.43 BB/9) and 49 Ks (10.84 K/9).
Though his season ended in a disappointing outing in Game 4 of the NLDS with the San Francisco Giants, Barrett told reporters last month he'd put the rough appearance behind him.
I take responsibility for it," Barrett said. "And all I can do is take that experience and try to take it as motivation for this offseason and use it to fuel the fire for this season and you better believe I'll be ready for the opportunity again."
Can he take what he learned pitching in a postseason atmosphere and build on an impressive rookie campaign?
Rizzo said he was confident in the arms the Nationals have at the major league level and coming up through the organization.
"We've got a plethora of power arms in the minor leagues that we can utilize at any time in our starting rotation or out of the bullpen. We feel that it's a place of depth and strength for us, is power arms, not only at the big league level, but filtering up through the minor leagues, and a place that although it will be difficult to replace a Tyler Clippard, we think that we have the personnel and the depth to really put together a championship-caliber bullpen."
"We've got great confidence in Craig Stammen and Matt Thornton and Jerry Blevins and those type of guys who made up our bullpen last year," Rizzo said, though he didn't rule out further additions to the pen when he spoke to reporters last week.
A.J. Cole is likely to start at Syracuse, but could be called upon at some point next season. Xavier Cedeno, Matt Grace, Erik Davis, Eric Fornataro and Felipe Rivero are already on the 40-Man roster.
Then there's 30-year-old right-hander Rafael Martin, who put up a 2.70 ERA, a 2.90 FIP, five walks (2.25 K/9) and 20 Ks in 20 IP at Double-A Harrisburg last season and a 0.80 ERA, 1.49 FIP, seven walks (1.87 BB/9) and 42 Ks (11.23 K/9) in 33 ⅔ IP at Triple-A Syracuse.
Sammy Solis was considered a potential bullpen option last winter before an injury-plagued 2014 campaign set him back.
The Nationals have options, can one of them step up and take over at the back end of the bullpen? Rizzo thinks so.
"We think we're going to be a really good bullpen," he said, "and something that National League teams aren't going to want to face."
Listen to Mike Rizzo's entire interview with Grant and Danny:
Mike Rizzo says Ian Desmond's "penciled in" to be Opening Day shortstop: "and hopefully through a long playoff run." http://t.co/9JlSHUIRh5— 106.7 The Fan (@1067thefandc) January 15, 2015