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Washington Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle on 2018; free agent market this winter + more...

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Nationals’ closer Sean Doolittle expects to be 100% heading into Spring Training after he missed significant time on the Disabled List last summer with an injured foot...

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Before Sean Doolittle suffered a stress reaction in his left foot before the All-Star Break last summer, which ended up costing him over two months on the Disabled List, the Nationals’ 32-year-old closer put up a 1.45 ERA, 1.98 FIP, three walks (0.72 K/9), 49 Ks (11.81 K/9), and a .134/.167/.220 line against in 37 1⁄3 innings pitched.

Doolittle returned from the DL stint in early September, posting a 2.35 ERA, a 1.47 FIP, three walks (3.52 BB/9), 11 Ks (12.91 K/9), and a .143/.226/.179 line against in 7 2⁄3 innings in the final month of the season.

Doolittle earned 25 saves (in 26 opportunities) in 2018, leading all National League relievers in opponents’ on-base percentage (.178), in opponents’ slugging percentage (.213), in WHIP (0.60), and in Save% (96.2%), with the 25 saves the seventh-most among NL relievers.

Looking back on his season this winter, Doolittle said, it was, “kind of a mixed bag.”

“I’m really happy with how I pitched when I was healthy, but going into the season, like my biggest goal was to pitch a full season, and I didn’t get to do that again, and this was I think really the first time that I had an extended stay [on the DL] for something that wasn’t an arm issue.”

“So, like in a way that was good,” he added, “... but in a way it also made it more frustrating that I couldn’t be out there because of kind of something that was really random and I don’t know really why it cropped up in the first place.

“Like I said, I was happy with how I pitched, but I still feel like I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish because I wasn’t able to stay healthy for the full season.”

Back on October 29th, the Nationals exercised a club option that will pay the reliever $6M in 2019, and there’s another club option (worth $6.5M) for the 2020 campaign if GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in Washington’s front office decide to keep the reliever in the nation’s capital for another season.

Doolittle said in early December he was confident the injury issue was behind him.

“It’s been full-go,” he said of his preparation for the upcoming season, “and it’s been going really well. It’s been kind of business as usual, so I’ve been really happy with how my foot and the rest of my body has been feeling.”

In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier this week, the reliever said he’ll be ready to go at the start of Spring Training.

“Yes. Yes. I’ll be 100% on Day 1 of camp,” Doolittle told the show’s hosts. “I’m really happy with how things have progressed throughout the offseason. My foot is feeling really good and the throwing is going really well. I’m excited with where I’m at right now physically and I’m looking to forward to getting back at it.”

While the Nationals have been active in the free agent and trade markets this winter, adding two right-handed relievers, Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal, to the bullpen, two catchers to roster (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes), two starters to the rotation (Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez), and a second baseman (Brian Dozier) to the mix, there has been a lot of discussion once again about the number of players who remain unsigned with just weeks to go before the start of Spring Training.

In his interview with Paulsen and Rouhier, Doolittle offered his thoughts on the slow-moving free agent market, the way the current CBA has affected free agency, and more.

“I think it’s scary, man,” Doolittle said. “I definitely think it’s something that we’ve obviously been keeping a close eye on over the last few years. The way that there are so many teams out there right now — there’s more teams heading into Spring Training that are competing for the first draft pick in the draft next season than there are [teams] that are trying to make a run at the World Series.

“I do think it’s fair [to say], if I’m trying to be objective here, that the Nationals are one of the few teams in baseball that year in and year out spends money and makes moves and tries to get better every offseason. Obviously there’s still hope that they re-sign the big guy [Bryce Harper], but even looking at what we’ve done this offseason, we’ve made a lot of moves to improve the club, and I know I’m very grateful, the guys in the clubhouse are very grateful that this is a team that tries to win year in and year out, but as we see these new revenue streams that are being created in baseball for these clubs, the TV deals, the national TV deals, sponsorships with Disney and a lot of corporate ad money coming in, it’s a $10B a year industry and the players, as the product, we think that maybe we’re being — I don’t know, maybe like taken for granted a little bit? But when you have this many really good players still left unsigned this close to Spring Training, again, I mean, last year obviously that was the case and everybody was saying, ‘Well we’re waiting to spend next year on free agents to see how next year’s offseason shakes out,’ and it’s been actually even slower than last year’s was.

“It’s concerning. I think it’s something that’s risking the integrity of the game when you don’t have teams trying to win day in and day out, trying to put their best version on the field every night, it’s concerning.

“We’re three years out from the bargaining agreement expiring and hopefully we can start to have some productive discussions on how we can fix it.”

Check out the Doolittle’s full interview with Grant and Danny here: