Everyone has an opinion on the Washington Nationals’ search for back-end relief help this winter.
Tuesday morning, former Nats’ GM Jim Bowden wrote (in giving Washington a C+ grade for their work this winter) that the Nationals, “... fought hard to sign one of the four best free-agent closers on the market ([Aroldis] Chapman, [Kenley] Jansen, Greg Holland and Mark Melancon) but whiffed on all of them,” adding that the Nats, “... have some work to do to improve their bullpen between now and Opening Day if they're going to hold off the Mets in the NL East.”
Tuesday afternoon, in an MLB Network Radio interview, Nationals’ first baseman Ryan Zimmerman too talked about the Nats’ bullpen, offering his thoughts on the in-house options available if General Manager Mike Rizzo and Co. in the front office can’t find the closer they’ve been after, and why it’s important to have that lockdown pitcher at the back end of the pen.
Earlier this offseason (at NatsFest in mid-December) Zimmerman was asked just how important it is to have a dominant closer.
“100%. That’s why those guys are making $16M now,” Zimmerman said. “Because first of all, there aren’t many of them and it completely changes the game.
“When you have a guy that’s — no one is 100%, obviously — but when you have guys that are about as close as it gets to 100%, that’s huge, cause if you win the whole game, if you do things right the entire game and get to those eighth and ninth innings — you’re going to have blown stuff every now and then, nobody is perfect — but if it starts to happen a lot, it gets frustrating because you’ve won the entire game and then you can’t close it out, so to answer your question, yeah, it completely changes the game, and every team would love to have one.
“It’s just a matter of whether it makes sense economic-wise and we’ve got some young guys too, who — you never know if they’re going to kind of groom into that, so we’ll see what happens, but it’s a luxury for sure.”
Zimmerman, now 32, went on at length in yesterday’s MLB Network Radio interview when he was once again asked about the importance of having a shutdown reliever and big arm at the back of the bullpen, whether it ends up being an in-house or another option.
Zimmerman on closer "Definitely part of team that 'who knows what will happen?' If nothing happens,I'm confident in guys we have" #Nationals— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) February 7, 2017
“You’re looking sort of how baseball has adapted or changed over the last, I guess -- five years,” Zimmerman said.
“Everyone says it started when the Royals did that in the World Series run that they had, but you’re also seeing that those last three outs are the hardest outs to get and we had Melancon for the second half of last year and he did a great job for us.
“It’s tough to lock those guys up. You’ve got to pay them $15-$20M a year now if you want one of the top three or four guys. That’s hard to do for any team.
“I think Shawn Kelley has a lot of experience and did a good job last year when he closed it down a little bit.
“You’ve got a guy like [Blake] Treinen or even a guy like Koda Glover who have the stuff to do it, but the ninth inning is a different animal.
“You can have the best stuff on the planet, but I’m a big believer that closers are mentally tough and at the same time they can forget things from night to night.
“It’s hard to kind of find a guy that has that stuff and that mindset.
“If nothing happens, I feel confident with the guys we have. I think Shawn Kelley is very experienced and you know what you’re going to get from him every single night. The two young guys have electric stuff and, who knows, if they come to camp and kind of get into that mold, you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s definitely a part of our team that’s kind of, ‘Who knows what’s going to happen?’
“But if we can give them the lead in the ninth inning no matter who’s out there you feel pretty comfortable if you can continually do that every night.”