Rebuilding Washington's relief corps was a point of focus this offseason after the back-end of the bullpen was an issue for the Nationals throughout the 2015 campaign.
Before the start of the Winter Meetings this week, the Nats non-tendered Craig Stammen, in a somewhat surprising move after the veteran right-hander missed most of last season following surgery to repair two torn flexor tendons in his right arm.
The Nats also signed veteran left-hander Oliver Perez to a two-year deal, bringing the southpaw back to the organization after he pitched in the minor leagues with the Nationals in 2011.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo addressed both of those moves when he spoke to reporters on Monday night at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Stammen, 31 and a 2005 Nats' 12th Round pick, was the Nationals' long reliever for the past few seasons.
"Craig has been a great competitor for us for years," Rizzo said, "but the fact that the price tag -- what it was, knowing that he's just starting to throw, unsure about where his health is going to be in Spring Training, was the reason that we non-tendered him. Tried to re-sign him as we non-tendered him and it just didn't work out."
Perez, Rizzo said, gives the Nats, "... a veteran presence, a guy that's had two really, really good seasons. A person that knows several of the players, that will fit into the clubhouse and give you a really good left-on-left guy, and if he falls back to where he was two years ago, he was good against both sides of the plate.
"He gives a good veteran arm to go with some of our young electric arms and we feel that he'll be a good fit for us."
Perez gave the Nationals another left-hander in the bullpen. Rizzo said Monday night that they would have to replace Stammen with another long relief option whether it was an in-house arm or a new one.
"We certainly have several internal candidates that we'll look to and if there's possibly something in the trade market or in the free agent market that appeals to us, that works for us, we'll definitely look into it," he said.
The Nationals may have found themselves a long reliever tonight, with reports saying they've signed 31-year-old right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, though no deal has officially been announced:
Petit was a swingman in the San Francisco Giants' bullpen for the past few seasons before he too was non-tendered recently.
In addition to Perez and Petit, the Nationals reportedly inked right-hander Shawn Kelley to a deal tonight too.
Rizzo talked on Tuesday night about the ongoing negotiations with the 31-year-old reliever who pitched for the San Diego Padres in 2015 when he was asked, explaining that they weren't close to having a deal in place with Kelley or anyone else at that point.
"We've got a few irons in the fire," Rizzo said. "I wouldn't describe 'close' as the term I would use, but we keep our nose to the grindstone, we keep trying to do some good things to improve the club."
So, Rizzo was asked, were the reports of a deal with Kelley inaccurate?
"We have not completed a deal with Kelley, no," he responded.
Twenty-four hours later, however, the Nationals have reportedly inked the seven-year veteran:
Rizzo has also fielded questions about Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen this week, with rumors this winter that he's trying to trade both of his late-inning arms after Papelbon's late-season altercation with Bryce Harper and subsequent suspension and Storen's late-season meltdown following Papelbon's acquisition.
In an MLB Network Radio interview on Monday, the Nats' GM reiterated that he was okay with the idea of both Papelbon and Storen being in the bullpen in 2016.
"My glass is always half full," Rizzo said. "We had the sixth best bullpen in the National League last year, as bad as it ended for us, we still had a solid above-league-average bullpen throughout the season, so we have two quality pitchers at the back of the game, Papelbon and Drew Storen and they both have one year of control left, they'll both be free agents after the season and I expect both of them to come in professionally and hungry and ready to perform to their capabilities. If they perform to their capabilities, I think they're as good as any eighth and ninth inning guys in the league."
"They're both highly-talented, extremely competitive, very good relief pitchers and if that's your eighth inning and ninth inning guys, we feel comfortable with that," Rizzo told reporters on Monday.
He noted then that they were hearing from some teams with interest in Papelbon and he said on Tuesday that they talked about Storen as well.
"Drew Storen's name has been mentioned around the league," Rizzo said, "and we've fielded several calls for Drew and several of our other bullpen pieces too."
A reporter asked tonight if there was a noticeable change in the market for Papelbon and Storen over the last few days at the Winter Meetings?
"I think it's been consistent," Rizzo said. "There is a market for relievers. As we've seen with the free agent signings, the reliever market is booming and there are a lot of teams looking for relief pitching."
Are the Nationals continuing to look?
MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported on Tuesday that they had at least talked with the Pittsburgh Pirates about closer Mark Melancon, though he noted that a source told him "... nothing is serious in the talks."
New manager Dusty Baker told reporters on Tuesday that he was okay with the idea of going into the season with Papelbon as his closer when he was asked if he had any concerns about the possible distraction of having the contentious reliever in his bullpen?
"I don't see it as a distraction," Baker said. "How am I going to foresee a distraction in advance? I've got to wait until I get there first. I don't even know Papelbon.
"I mean, right now Papelbon is my closer. I'm not one to foresee problems before they become a problem."