Project Bullpen: Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo has acknowledged that several injuries and the failure to backfill the openings created by them were a big issue in 2015 when the likes of Craig Stammen and then David Carpenter went down. Of course, that assessment of what went wrong came towards the end of the season.
Going into 2015, however, Rizzo discussed the bullpen depth after the Nationals traded Tyler Clippard and told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier that he had confidence that some of young relievers could step up to meet the challenge of taking on bigger roles.
"It's going to be difficult to fill Tyler Clippard's performance in the eighth inning," he admitted.
"But we certainly have candidates to backfill 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."
They didn't just lose Clippard last winter though, and with Rafael Soriano and Ross Detwiler departing via free agency and trade, respectively, there were significant holes to fill.
Casey Janssen was signed to a relatively cheap free agent deal. During the season, the Nats added former New York Yankees' right-hander David Carpenter to the late-inning mix along with Treinen, Barrett, Drew Storen, another former Yankee, Matt Thornton, and Tanner Roark, who was pushed out of the rotation by the Max Scherzer signing.
In his assessment of what went wrong this past season in a recent MLB Network Radio interview, now-former Nats' pitching coach Steve McCatty acknowledged that injuries were an issue for the bullpen.
"We weren't able to get settled down after trading Clippard, getting Janssen to come in and then out of Spring Training he was hurt for the first month and a half and then we had Stammen get hurt within the first two weeks, so that was a big blow to the bullpen and we were never able to get that seventh and eighth inning spot to be on a consistent basis."
Aaron Barrett ended up getting injured as well and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him out till at least late 2016. Treinen struggled with lefties all season (.336/.425/.509 line against vs LHBs vs .184/.276/.216 vs RHBs) and was sent down for a time. Drew Storen initially responded well to the trade deadline acquisition of veteran closer Jonathan Papelbon but imploded after that and eventually suffered a self-inflicted, season-ending injury.
Papelbon's season ended with a suspension following the well-publicized dugout altercation with National League MVP Bryce Harper.
The various struggles, departures and injury issues leave the Nationals once again looking to rebuild the bullpen again this winter.
"I think it's a point of focus for us," Rizzo told MLB Network hosts Harold Reynolds and Matt Vasgersian in a recent interview.
"We need to upgrade the bullpen. We like [Papelbon] and [Storen] at the back end of the bullpen. They're both under contract and unless something happens where we get a real baseball deal to move one of them they're going to be in the back end of the bullpen, but we still need to upgrade the bullpen. We need to get deeper. We need to have a more veteran presence. We need to have a greater skill set to get out both right-handers and left-handers and we're going to be active in that market, be it the trade market or the free agent market, because we think it's a point of emphasis for us."
The Nationals are reportedly in the mix for one veteran reliever who is reportedly close to making a decision about where he'll be pitching in 2016:
Expectation in the industry is that Darren O'Day lands a 4-yr deal at slightly under Andrew Miller money. Maybe $32-34M.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 3, 2015
Leaders for O’Day remain WAS, LAD, ATL, BAL. Sense in industry is that he wants to stay on east coast. Wife works in Fox News D.C. Bureau.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 4, 2015
O'Day, who turned 33 in October, put up a 1.52 ERA, a 2.49 FIP, 14 walks (1.93 BB/9) and 82 Ks (11.30 K/9) in 65 ⅓ innings pitched in his fourth season in Baltimore in 2015, finishing the year at a career-high 1.8 fWAR.
Will O'Day opt to move south to the Orioles' regional rivals? Will the Nationals trade Papelbon or Storen as many are predicting? Will they pursue Cincinnati Reds' closer Aroldis Chapman again if he's going to be dealt? Would they consider making a play for New York lefty Andrew Miller if the Yankees will trade him (even though GM Brian Cashman said recently they're likely going to keep him)?
In addition to Felipe Rivero, who impressed in his rookie campaign, and Treinen, there are a number of hard throwing right-handers (Erik Davis, Abel De Los Santos, Taylor Hill, Taylor Jordan and Rafael Martin) and left-handers (Matt Grace, Nick Lee and Sammy Solis) on the 40-Man roster who could find themselves in bullpen roles, but all of those options are unproven and there's a decided lack of veteran-y experience among those options. Will the Nats try to bring Matt Thornton back? Tyler Clippard's a free agent...?
Will Rizzo and Co. get it right this winter and give new manager Dusty Baker the arms he needs? There's a lot of work to do again this time around and the Hot Stove is heating up with the Winter Meetings just days away...