Acquiring both Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Oakland A’s in advance of this past Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline paved the way for the last-minute trade with the Minnesota Twins that landed closer Brandon Kintzler.
At least according to what Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning.
Even after bolstering the Nats’ beleaguered relief corps with yet another trade with the A’s, Rizzo wanted to land another reliever before the deadline passed.
“I know I wanted to make one more move,” Rizzo told the Junkies, “but I thought it really put us in a good position and gave us a little bit of added leverage when we did the Doolittle/Madson deal early, because now we weren’t ‘desperate’ to make a deal at the deadline, and that’s never a good position to be in.
“So, part of the strategy of jumping out early was — I think that prices are better early than they are at the deadline oftentimes, and when you get a deal you can do at the deadline, I think it’s sometimes — depending on supply and demand, you can pay extra for it.”
In order to land their three late-inning arms, Rizzo traded Blake Treinen and prospects Jesus Luzardo (LHP) and Sheldon Neuse (IF) to the Athletics, and Tyler Watson (LHP) to the Twins.
“Looking back at what we gave up for two quality relievers — what was it, ten days before the deadline — was much, much easier for us to absorb then it would have been if these two guys were on the market at the trade deadline,” Rizzo explained, “... so we felt that we gave ourselves some leverage.
“We weren’t in a position that we had to do a deal,” Rizzo said of the subsequent trade for Kintzler.
“I wanted to make a deal, I wanted to get another quality arm at the back end there, be it an eighth or ninth inning guy, and our staff did a terrific job of unearthing some guys that maybe weren’t on a lot of people’s radar, as Brandon wasn’t, he wasn’t attached to really anybody.”
Dusty Baker seemed genuinely excited with the new weapons Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office provided when he talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Brad Lidge about the trades made to bolster the bullpen on Wednesday afternoon.
“I had talked to [A’s skipper] Bob Melvin, I talked to [Angels’ manager] Mike Scioscia, who had played against them on the other team,” Baker said, “and they told me I was getting a couple quality guys as well as quality pitchers and players.”
He also got advice from his fellow managers about how to use his new relievers.
“They had told me that Madson feels actually better in the eighth than in the ninth and Doolittle feels better in the ninth, and I was told that [Doolittle’s] got a lot of ‘guts’... and the thing about it is that we’ve got to watch them, and that’s why I think Kintzler is going to be a big part of this, because I was just told not to try to use those guys more than a couple days in a row and then give them a day off because, in the case of Doolittle, he’s had shoulder problems on and off, and in the case of Madson, he’s had [Tommy John surgery], so we have to be careful with them.
“We were trying to load our bullpen up, we were trying to make some deals, we were trying to make some major deals, but everybody at that point knowing you’re in need and they want to kind of rob you, rob your minor league system.
“Mike Rizzo did a wonderful job of trying and succeeding the best we could without giving up half of our minor leagues.”
Both Baker and Rizzo were asked, in their respective interviews on Wednesday, how they would use their new bullpen arms, though neither was ready to commit to any specific roles for anyone yet.
“I think that what we’ve accomplished ... is I think we’ve shortened the game up,” Rizzo told The Sports Junkies.
“Now we can go in seven, eight, and nine with three quality, true professionals that have done it at the highest-leverage innings you can get.
“I think that we’re going to take the next 30-40 days to figure out which is the best rotation at the back end of those games. All three are capable of doing it. They’ve all done it. Sean is 4 for 4 for us right now, and Madson has been terrific in the eighth inning, and Kintzler is 28 for 32 with Minnesota so we’ve got a lot of options.
“I don’t think that any one of these people have an ego that say I can only pitch ‘X inning’ and that’s great. You see in playoff baseball, the [Andrew] Millers of the world that pitch if the leverage inning is the sixth and seventh inning, in the playoffs Miller is going two innings, and so there are guys that are going to go multiple outs and multiple innings, and once you get to playoff baseball, all bets are off, and you put your ego in the back seat and you’re trying to do what’s best for the team.”
Baker’s stated preference, as he’s said previously, is to have designated roles, but with no clear-cut choice for closer between the three, he said he’s happy to mix and match and find the right formula.
“I’d rather have somebody I could name, but if you don’t, then the next best choice is to be nimble. I was also told that there are certain guys that Doolittle shouldn’t face if they are extreme fastball hitters, and there are some guys that Madson shouldn’t face, but this is no different than what I’ve done all year.
“From the very, very beginning it’s been mix and match, and I really don’t like bullpen by committee.
“The committee is getting smaller by the choices that we’ve made, but when we traded Treinen, what was big was to get Kintzler, a guy that can throw up a double play. You need that double play guy at some point in time, you bring him in bases loaded, boom, he can throw you a ground ball and whether it turns into a double play, he’s done his job.”
Whatever Baker ends up doing with his new arms, Rizzo said, he’s excited about the options he’s given his manager at the back of the bullpen.
“We’ve got two strikeout guys in Doolittle and Madson, and we’ve got a ground ball guy in Kintzler, there’s different looks, everybody is not a clone that just comes out and blows 95-96 and we’ve got guys who can do different roles.”
Added to the mix with what they already have on the roster, the Nats have, it seems, rebuilt their relief corps midseason, addressing a pressing need without trading away any of their top prospects.
“[Joe] Blanton seems like he’s coming around,” Baker said. “[Matt] Albers has been outstanding all year long. Grace, Matt Grace, a guy in our bullpen that throws ground balls, left-handed. [Enny] Romero is getting his secondary pitches over, and [Oliver] Perez has rejuvenated himself and is having a very, very, very good year, and a very dependable left-hander out of the bullpen.”
Will it be enough to get them over the hump if they hold on and get to the postseason again?
[ed. note - “Of course, after adding a few relievers, the Nationals lost Enny Romero for at least a while with a left forearm strain. Sammy Solis, who was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday, is likely to come back up according to Dusty Baker.”]