The Washington Nationals’ bullpen is almost in its finished form — the team has its closer (Sean Doolittle), its setup man (Ryan Madson), and some middle relief in Koda Glover and Enny Romero. However, by losing new additions Matt Albers and potentially Brandon Kintzler, the Nats are going to need a reliever for seventh-inning by next year, as well as another for the middle innings.
Moreover, the team never really carried a long reliever throughout 2017, which could be useful, especially given that the team’s starting pitching next year looks like it could be an issue out of the gate with no clear fifth starter and a return to the mean from Gio Gonzalez.
With that in mind, here are three relievers the team should target in free-agency.
Brandon Morrow, RHP
Morrow first broke into the majors in 2009 with Seattle, but struggled with injuries for nearly the entirety of his career, including forearm, oblique, and nerve ailments, as well as contracting Valley Fever at one point.
However, he finally found consistency in his age-33 season with the Dodgers, proving to be a valuable arm for the team both down the stretch and in the playoffs. Over the 2017 season, Morrow touched 100 MPH at times, throwing strikes at an absurd rate, pitching to a 2.06 ERA, 1.55 FIP, and was good for 1.7 fWAR over 45 games.
Morrow’s age and injury concerns are the only things that should prevent him from being the Nats’ number one target for their bullpen this offseason — he could be a clutch seventh-inning pitcher, and a setup man or even a closer if Doolittle or Madson need a night off.
With that said, his crazy good performance in the postseason, in which he pitched in 14 games and only allowed two runs excepting a 4-run outing after trotting out of the pen for the fifth day straight in the World Series, Morrow’s value may be sky-high — so high that he may earn the coveted three-year deal for a reliever.
This is an odd situation — Morrow is obviously someone that has it while still healthy, but having to commit to the age 35 or 36 season of someone who has struggled with injuries is a tough commitment for the Nats, and might push him to someone more desperate for relief help (Rockies, Cubs, etc.)
Deal prediction: Three years, $25 million.
Greg Holland, RHP
Here’s the thing about Greg Holland: He came into Colorado on a one-year deal to rebuild his value, and he was a huge question mark. He was coming off of missing an entire season due to Tommy John surgery, but in the past, when he was healthy, he was dominant. And from April to June of last season, the Rockies got the latter part. If you got to the ninth down a run against the Rockies, you may as well have packed your bags and headed for the bus.
Suddenly, in June, his command began to slip away from him and he began to walk a lot of batters. In July, he started serving up home runs, even when he wasn’t at Coors. In August, those two issues converged, and Holland imploded. He got his feet back under him somewhat in September, before promptly serving up two runs on three hits in 2⁄3 of an inning in the NL Wild Card Game.
Holland’s value was rebuilt in one way, as he proved that he was back and ready to go after surgery. It was diminished in another, as he looked mortal for the first time in his career. Many have suggested a multi-year, $50-60 million deal could be in the cards for Holland. However, with such a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, and a much more consistent Wade Davis on the market, it’s quite possible Holland is left on the sidelines until February, and will need a deal.
That’s when the Nats could swoop in for him. If it was that late in the offseason, Holland would simply be looking for a contract and would not care about closing, which is great for Washington, because they do not need a closer, but they do need a middle-innings reliever, and Holland could be that guy. Plus, with another season gone, his price tag could be close to where it was last year, around $16 million with bonuses. Also, one X-factor that could push him eastward from Denver: He’s a Boras client.
Deal Prediction: 1 year, $12 million
Brandon Kintzler, RHP
This one doesn’t need explaining: The Nats brought in Kintzler from Minnesota at the buzzer of the trade deadline. He loved the Nats. The Nats loved him. He was consistent. He fit in well with the team.
Yes, those are things that could be said about the two previous relievers and their respective teams (both were new to their teams this year). However, it should be noted that the team who previously employed a free-agent always has a leg up; it wouldn’t be surprising to see Morrow return to Los Angeles and Holland go back to Colorado.
However, if the Nats do have one new draw since Kintzler hit the open market, it’s that they replaced pitching coach Mike Maddux with ground ball machine Derek Lilliquist, and Kintzler is a self-proclaimed ground-ball-thrower.
Kintzler also didn’t get the national exposure of the World Series, nor did he close games in Washington. Which is to say the following: The Nats and the Twins know him best, and he has a carved out role already in Washington. Moreover, after such a tumultuous offseason, Mike Rizzo probably does have some concerns about continuity in the clubhouse.
The Twins were also big fans of Kintzler, though — a reunion between the two sides wouldn’t be shocking.
Deal Prediction: 2 years, $14 million