If there is one big question mark when it comes to the 2017 Washington Nationals, it’s the closer’s role.
After some high profile swings and misses this winter, the Nats’ brass seems resigned to the fact that their next ninth inning arm will come from within the organization.
Dusty Baker, in discussing how things might shake out last week, told reporters that Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Koda Glover are all in the mix (with Joe Nathan and others dark horse candidates this Spring), and he made clear that he isn’t planning on going with a closer-by-committee at the back end of the bullpen.
“Most teams like to have one guy,” Baker explained, “because I just noticed that closer-by-committee really doesn’t really work, so I’d like to have my bullpen set up — boom, boom, boom — seventh inning guy, eighth inning guy if possible, that’s the way the game has gone.
“The days of Rollie Fingers going three innings and Dave Righetti going 3 1⁄3, those days are gone, they’re not conditioned to do that.”
Baker was asked if there was any point when he thought the Nationals would land the bona fide closer they were after this winter?
“Yeah, I mean, I made two or three calls at the request of the organization,” Baker said.
“Mike [Rizzo] made two or three calls, had personal meetings with agents and players and for whatever reason on a few of them, we were outbid, because everybody has a budget and there are some people that might like the West Coast, or some people that might want to be closer to home in Florida or somewhere, there are all kinds of variables that go into signing a player or they might have wanted five years and we might have wanted to give them three. It’s very tough to negotiate in these modern times.”
So are the Nationals still talking trades? There were reports earlier this month that theu were still talking to the Chicago White Sox about David Robertson, or to the Tampa Bay Rays about right-hander Alex Colome, who has been a rumored target all winter.
Are Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office still looking?
“We haven’t touched base in the trade market for closers in quite some time, so that answers that part of the question,” Rizzo said in a Sirius/XM Fantasy Baseball interview with Craig Mish and Jim Bowden this morning.
“As we go into the beginning of Spring Training, we have several candidates that we think can pitch the ninth inning,” Rizzo continued.
“Dusty [Baker] is going to answer that question. He’s going to pick the guy that he thinks can handle the situation the best.
“But I think you’ve got all the cast of characters... that are going to compete to pitch those back end of the games, and we think the guy is in camp that can do that. Be it Kelley or Treinen, both those guys have really good stuff. They lack the experience of closing out games in the big leagues, but the stuff, the command, the attitude is all there and we’ll see what transpires in Spring Training and going into the beginning of the season.”
Will it be Kelley or Treinen or Glover... or someone else? Baker and his coaches will have a difficult job this Spring, figuring out how the back end of the bullpen will line up, but as of now it appears the answer for the Nationals will be an in-house option.
“We’ve got high expectations and we really like the players that are in camp right now that are going to compete for the back end of the bullpen job,” Rizzo continued.
“We certainly have players that have the stuff to do it -- the mental capacity and the make-up to do it, the experience level is the one thing they’re lacking.
“We’re going to go into camp and we think that our ninth inning performer is on the roster right now, they’re in camp right now.
“We were the No. 2 bullpen in all of baseball last year. We lost Mark Melancon, but we think that we have enough depth to cover the back end of the games and to be an efficient bullpen that can compete and propel us into games late in October and November.”
RANDOM BULLPEN NOTE:
Dusty Baker shared an anecdote about reliever Enny Romero earlier this week when he was discussing the Nationals’ relievers in camp this Spring.
Baker was asked about Romero, the hard-throwing 26-year-old left-hander the Nats acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this month.
“He has an electric arm,” Baker said after watching Romero throw an early Spring bullpen session.
“I heard he was a guy that we had coveted before we got [Felipe] Rivero,” Baker said, referring to the 2014 trade that sent Nathan Karns to the Rays in return for Rivero (who was subsequently traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Mark Melancon last July), Jose Lobaton and outfielder Drew Vettleson.
“[The Rays] wouldn’t give us Romero, I heard,” Baker said.
“I wasn’t here, but I heard that we wanted Romero first and then Rivero second, and they didn’t want to give up Romero and they ended up trading us Rivero.”
Now the Nationals got Romero, who brings a high-90s fastball, cutter and slider to the mix in the bullpen, though control is an issue for the lefty.