Can we dispense with the “Washington Nationals didn’t realize the bullpen would be a problem when everyone else did!” narrative? Please?
GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the Nats’ front office went after a number of high-end arms this winter, so they pretty clearly recognized a need, though they fell short of landing their top two targets, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen.
The Nationals reportedly made a four-year offer for less than $60M to Melancon, who was acquired at last summer’s trade deadline and then opted for free agency, but he took a 4-year/$62M from the San Francisco Giants, and the Nats reportedly made an impressive pitch for Jansen’s services before he returned to LA, at least according to Jansen’s agent, Adam Katz (via Joel Sherman on Twitter):
“The Nationals’ presentation was exceptional and generous and for more money. They conducted recruitment of this player in a high caliber professional way. Kenley and I were very impressed. At the end of the day Kenley loves Los Angeles, his Dodger family, the fans here and although money was a factor, it wasn’t the most important thing.”
Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga wrote this week that what was rumored at the time was true, and the Nationals did continue to search for relief help after their top targets signed elsewhere.
“[A]ccording to people with knowledge of the situation, the Nats don’t have David Robertson of the White Sox because, when an offseason trade was in place, the club’s ownership balked. The Nats don’t have Greg Holland, the former closer for the Royals coming back from injury, because when a deal was in place, the Lerner family wouldn’t approve it. Holland now has a 1.14 ERA and has saved all 23 of his opportunities for Colorado, which leads the NL West.”
[ed. note - “That rumored David Robertson deal, according to a report from Bob Nightengale earlier this month, would have sent 19-year-old left-hander Jesus Luzardo and hard-hitting infielder Drew Ward to the White Sox, “... but the deal got hung up over money.”]
So, for a variety of reasons, the Nationals didn’t land any of the high-end arms they were after this winter, and as Rizzo explained earlier this season, they turned to in-house options to fill the closer’s role at that point.
“We felt that ever since early in the offseason when we didn’t get one of the big three closers,” Rizzo said in an MLB Network Radio interview in March.
“So we feel that he’s here, we’ll figure out which one it is.”
That hasn’t worked out, of course, with Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, Matt Albers (at times) and Koda Glover all trying to fill the closer’s role with Glover having the most success so far, though he’s struggled and is currently on his second DL stint of the season, and the Nationals are once again/still in the market for relief help, and not just for a closer, according to a report from Fanrag’s Jon Heyman this week.
Heyman recounted all the chatter from above about missing out on Jansen, Melancon, Robertson, and Holland, and he quotes a “Nats person” who tells him, “... we don’t need just one big reliever, we need two.”
Erick Fedde could help. He switched from starting to relief working at Double-A and was recently promoted to the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate.
Joe Blanton’s been a disappointment, but if he’s not done and can come anything close to what he was in LA last season, he could add something.
If Sammy Solis, who’s on a rehab assignment, can return to full strength, he’s another arm that could help the Nationals.
“We’re trying to find ways to remedy it,” Rizzo told 106.7 the Fan’s The Sports Junkies this week.
“We’re trying to fix things from internally, of course we’re looking outwardly, and it’s something that was not unexpected. We saw this coming into the season, we tried to make some moves in the offseason. We tried to acquire some of the elite closers, we didn’t get them, and so now we have to keep looking.”
Rizzo did, however, push back on the reports of the Nats’ ownership blocking moves.
“All the media hype about ownership not allowing us to do things and that type of thing, this roster, this organization is constructed by me,” he stated firmly.
“Everything lays at my front door. And we’re working on it. It’s a difficult thing to do, to improve yourself during the season, and especially when you’re one of the lead dogs.
“Because when you’re leading nobody wants to help you, everybody wants to hurt you and take from you, and that’s just the way this game is and that’s what I love about it.”