Last winter’s ultimately fruitless search for a bona fide closer dragged on through the start of Spring Training and into the regular season as the Washington Nationals tried to find an in-house option after coming up empty in their attempts to lure a big free agent to D.C. or find a trade.
Even after they’d acquired a trio of relievers, bringing Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle over from the Oakland A’s in a pre-deadline, and bringing Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins right before the deadline passed, it still wasn’t completely clear which pitcher would handle the ninth inning, though now-former Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker did reach out to colleagues to get a good feel for the new options in the bullpen.
“I had talked to [A’s skipper] Bob Melvin, I talked to [LA Angels’ manager] Mike Scioscia, who had played against them on the other team,” Baker told MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Brad Lidge, “... and they told me I was getting a couple quality guys as well as quality pitchers and players.”
“They had told me that Madson feels actually better in the eighth than in the ninth, and Doolittle feels better in the ninth, and I was told that [Doolittle’s] got a lot of ‘guts’... and the thing about it is that we’ve got to watch them, and that’s why I think Kintzler is going to be a big part of this, because I was just told not to try to use those guys more than a couple days in a row and then give them a day off because, in the case of Doolittle, he’s had shoulder problems on and off, and in the case of Madson, he’s had [Tommy John surgery], so we have to be careful with them.”
Doolittle had already saved a few games for the Nationals, with Madson working the eighth before the deal with the Twins, and with the addition of Kintzler, they had the seventh covered as well.
“Now we can go in seven, eight, and nine with three quality, true professionals that have done it at the highest-leverage innings you can get,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
“We’ve got two strikeout guys in Doolittle and Madson, and we’ve got a ground ball guy in Kintzler, there’s different looks, everybody is not a clone that just comes out and blows 95-96 and we’ve got guys who can do different roles,” Rizzo added.
Doolittle, 31, converted 21 of 22 save opportunities for the Nationals, putting up a 2.40 ERA, eight walks (2.40 BB/9), 31 Ks (9.30 K/9), and a .204/.254/.296 line against in 30 IP after the trade, and he’s under contract for 2018 (at $4.35M) with club options for the 2019 (at $6M) and 2020 ($6.5M) campaigns.
Madson, 37, made 20 appearances total for the Nats, 18 of them scoreless outings, and posted a 1.37 ERA, three walks (1.37 BB/9), 28 Ks (12.81 K/9), and a .186/.240/.243 line against in 19 2⁄3 IP. He’s under contract for $7.5M in 2018, in the final season of the 3-year/$22M free agent deal he signed with the Athletics in 2015.
With the eighth and ninth covered at this point, Rizzo told reporters earlier this month at the General Manager’s Meetings that he didn’t see the Nationals looking for another closer-type this winter, though he didn’t rule anything out.
“I wouldn’t rule it out but we’ve been down this road before,” Rizzo said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes, who noted that the GM laughed and shook his head when the topic was broached again this winter.
“They’re hard to find and it’d be hard to match what our two back-of-the-bullpen guys have done, at least from last season.”
They will, however, likely try to replace what they had in Kintzler, who was described by the GM and Baker as a ground ball/double play arm that complemented what they had in Doolittle and Madson.
With Matt Albers, Joe Blanton, and Kintzler gone (unless he re-signs), Rizzo explained, a right-handed reliever is the likeliest target, though he said both Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover could provide depth (if healthy).
“[We will look for right-handed relievers] because of the uncertainty of Kelley and Glover. We think they’re going to be healthy but we really don’t know,” Rizzo said.
“So [a right-handed reliever] is something we would consider, more so than a left-handed reliever.”
The WaPost reporter went down the list of free agent relievers, noting that right-handers Steve Cishek, Pat Neshek, Juan Nicasio, Addison Reed, Bryan Shaw, and Anthony Swarzak matched the profile the Nats have previously pursued, and they also, Cisek and Shaw, in particular, were at or near the top of the leaderboard (alongside both Albers and Kintzler) in terms of ground ball rate and soft contact percentage, providing what the Nationals had in Kintzler (and before him, Blake Treinen).
MLBTraderumors.com projects that Shaw, 30, who reportedly has two offers already, will get a 3-year/$21M deal, after putting up a 3.52 ERA, 22 walks (2.58 BB/9), 73 Ks (8.57 K/9), a .245/.299/.354 line against, and a 55.9% GB% over 76 2⁄3 IP for Cleveland in 2017.
Neshek, 37, put up a combined 1.59 ERA, a 1.86 FIP, six walks (0.87 BB/9), 69 Ks (9.96 K/9), and a .210/.231/.305 line against in 62 1⁄3 IP for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies. MLBTR projects a 2-year/$12M for the veteran sidewinder, who’d give the Nationals a different look, for sure.
Joining Shaw and Neshek on MLBTR’s list of the Top 50 free agents available this winter are right-handers Wade Davis (projected deal - 4-years/$60M), Greg Holland (4/$50M), Reed (4/$36M), Brandon Morrow (3/$24M), Nicasio (3/$21M), Swarzak (2/$14M), Cisek (2/$14M), Kintzler (2/$14M), and Tommy Hunter (2/$12M).
Will Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office be able to find a fit for the seventh or wherever they decide they need a reliever this winter? And how exactly will first-time manager Dave Martinez handle relievers?
Are any of the aforementioned relief options particularly appealing? Any other suggestions in terms of relievers who could fit the Nationals’ needs? Any trade possibilities?