Mike Rizzo discussed the possibility of the Washington Nationals starting the 2017 campaign without an established closer when he spoke to reporters at the Winter Meetings in early December.
This was, of course, after the Nats tried to sign Mark Melancon (who signed with the Giants instead), reportedly tried to trade for Wade Davis (who was dealt to the Cubs) and expressed interest in Aroldis Chapman (who inked a deal with the Yankees), and before the rumored pursuit of Kenley Jansen (who returned to the Dodgers).
“We have several internal options,” Rizzo said. “You know all the names. There are good options available. Guys that are one year further experienced from last year and guys that have the skill set, the stuff and the make-up to do it, so we’re confident that we can cobble together a bullpen that helps us compete.”
“Who knows if we have him in-house or not,” Dusty Baker said, when the manager discussed the possibilities.
“Most guys don’t come out of college or the minor leagues as a closer. They evolve into it and we say, ‘[Voila], we’ve got a closer. That’s how it happens.”
“I think we have a couple guys that have what it takes to finish the ninth inning,” Mike Maddux added when the Nationals’ Pitching Coach too discussed late-inning options.
He talked about Blake Treinen and Shawn Kelley as possibilities. Sammy Solis and Koda Glover both talked about being willing to do whatever they’re asked to do whether it’s closing out games or anything else.
“I’ll do whatever they want me to do,” Solis said. “I like my position as a guy that can come in for a hitter or go three innings if you need it. Being a closer would be a little different, because that wouldn’t really be an option. I wouldn’t be closing the sixth, seventh, eighth into the ninth. It’s up to them. I’m open to anything. I’m definitely open to having a discussion about it at least, we’ll see what kind of moves they make the rest of the offseason, but I’m open to the fact that maybe we need a closer and I can step up and do it.”
“If they throw me in that role, am I ready for it? Yeah. I’m ready for it,” Glover said.
“But if they don’t want to do that and they want to go with somebody else, I’m perfectly fine with another role too.”
Count Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell among those who don’t think letting the closer situation sort itself out is the best approach for the Nationals, considering their postseason aspirations in the next few seasons.
Though there are still roles to fill on the bench, Boswell wrote in a chat with readers this afternoon that, “Closer is THE issue.”
Heading into the 2016 campaign, Boswell noted, the Nationals “were actually better at closer” than they are now, even though Jonathan Papelbon was the closer then.
“Right now, the Nats have no proven and healthy closer,” Boswell continued (all caps emphasis by the WaPost reporter.):
“Until someone PROVES that they can close, I have a rule of thumb about whether to go into a season TRUSTING that they will be able to do it their first time out of the box. My rule: NEVER trust’em. No matter how good their stuff or how they ‘project’. Until they have proved they can handle the mental and psychological pressure, don’t go into a season with multiple guys, saying blithely, ‘Oh we’ll figure it out on the fly. One of ‘em will earn it.’”
“This does not look like a ‘finished bullpen’ to me,” Boswell continued, “not for a 90-plus win team.”
How you fix it, however, is unclear to Boswell, with the high-end free agent closers off the market and most of the “prime trade candidates” dealt, though David Robertson (White Sox) and Alex Colome (Rays) have been mentioned as potential targets.
But, Boswell adds, “the Nats are not longer loaded with prospects to trade,” after they traded Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to Chicago for Adam Eaton.
Rizzo told reporters last month that he still thinks the Nationals have the prospects to deal for a closer if the right deal is there.
“I think we do,” Rizzo said. “We have a really fertile minor league system that people have asked for throughout the winter so far.”
“I think Rizzo is working on this plenty,” Boswell added.
“But it's tough. I don't see any brilliant moves. But Mike often pulls rabbits out of hats.
“Let me just say that Rizzo doesn't think small. You can come to him with a BIG multi-piece trade and he'll consider it. And a closer could come out of that, or come after it when the dust settles. I guess I just have that ‘it's too quiet out there’ feeling about the Nats right now. They know their window is open in '17-'18, especially after adding Eaton and getting rid of pitchers who might have been [important] in '18 and after. You don't do Eaton and then STOP. Or at least that shouldn't be the idea. They should have payroll available after their off-season moves and deletions.“
Will Rizzo find a late-inning arm this winter? Will the Nats risk going into the season and letting things sort themselves out? Will they be back in the market for a closer again in July if they do?