With the non-waiver trade deadline waning down to the final minutes, the Washington Nationals struck a deal with the Minnesota Twins that brought All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler to D.C. in exchange for left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Watson.
Hometown hero Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post first broke the news via Twitter, narrowly beating out usual suspects Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman for bragging rights. Kudos to you, Chelsea.
In addition to Kintzler (who we’ll get to in a minute), the Nationals also acquired relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in a trade with the Oakland A’s two weeks ago as well as utility man Howie Kendrick from the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.
Overall, the Nationals are a better team than they were two weeks ago and have several key players in Stephen Strasburg, Trea Turner, Jayson Werth and Michael Taylor on track to return from injury in the coming weeks.
In order to properly assess how the Nationals fared at this year’s hectic trade deadline, it’s important to first take a look at the things they didn’t do.
The Nationals didn’t acquire a blockbuster-worthy closer that would’ve been a guarantee to lock down the ninth inning. The Baltimore Orioles made Zach Britton “available,” but reports surfaced that the Nats would’ve had to pay two times more than anyone else to get him.
Beyond Britton, there weren’t really any other arms of that pedigree available for trade, as most of them are already playing for contenders. Justin Wilson and Pat Neshek were both hot commodities, but neither was considered a shutdown reliever prior to this season.
The Nationals didn’t part ways with any of their top prospects. It’s now August and Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Erick Fedde and Carter Kieboom are still in Washington’s organization. Writers and fans alike made a big case for Washington to deal one of its best prospects to signal that it’s all in on winning this season.
However, Mike Rizzo and Co. stuck to their game plan, shopping for high value offers that wouldn’t decimate their farm system. The deadline turned out to be a buyer’s market and the Nats were able to hold onto their prized developing players, giving them flexibility in long-term planning.
The Nationals didn’t panic over Joe Ross and Strasburg’s injuries and acquire a starting pitcher. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers made blockbuster deals to acquire Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish, respectively, but the Nats stayed out of the market for starters.
Strasburg isn’t expected to be out long, and while losing Ross for the year certainly hurts, Edwin Jackson has pitched well in his absence and only four starters are needed for the postseason. Washington let New York and Los Angeles dig into their prospect depth and placed its trust in the rotation it already has.
OK, a few things are a little different
The Nationals did gather much better late-inning options than they had before. Kintzler hasn’t been a prolific strikeout artist, but he’s converted 45 saves over the past two seasons and has an ERA+ of 162 this year. It isn’t yet clear if Kintzler will take sole possession of the closer role moving forward, but he’s been very serviceable since taking over the job midway through last year.
Doolittle is absolutely dominant against lefties and can handle the ninth when called upon. While his ERA with the Nats is a 6.00, he’s still 4-for-4 in save opportunities. Madson has already posted five scoreless appearances in as many tries since joining the Nats and is proving to be a reliable eighth-inning option.
Combined, the trio probably isn’t going to be considered among the most feared bullpen groups in the majors. What it can do, however, is transform the bullpen into a serviceable unit that will no longer be a liability to the rest of the team.
The Nationals did shore up their bench depth with the addition of Kendrick. Taylor is currently on a rehab assignment at Single-A Potomac, but Werth and Turner have yet to see any baseball action since hitting the shelf.
Kendrick will provide the Nats with another man to help out both in the outfield and infield until their stars return. Once they do, he can provide a high-average bat off the bench with valuable postseason experience.
What it all means
The Nationals were so predictable at the deadline it hurts. They didn’t acquire any big names, refused to part ways with any top prospects, and even managed to work out another deal with Oakland.
Washington will embark on its final two months of the season a better team than it was before, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been even better if Rizzo played his cards differently.
Big names weren’t on the market, but shelling out an extra prospect or two could’ve landed the Nats someone like Wilson, Neshek or the San Diego Padres’ Brad Hand. Kintzler and Doolittle are very good relievers, but the Nats could’ve done a lot more.
Of course, the Nats still have time to make a deal through waivers. They’ve done it before in separate deals for relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Matt Thornton. However, it appears we have a pretty good idea of what the postseason roster is going to look like.
Whether it will be enough to usurp the Dodgers for the title of best team in baseball, fend off the surging Chicago Cubs, silence the prolific offenses of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, or take down the Milwaukee Brewers in a playoff series remains to be seen.
Kintzler, Doolittle and Madson very well might be the answer at the back end of the bullpen. They just don’t give Washington the immediate satisfaction of knowing that its late-inning issues are behind it. That’s just something that we’re going to have to wait and see.