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Washington Nationals Rumors: Nationals looking to upgrade relief corps for 2020 campaign

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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters tonight that he’s looking to upgrade the relief corps this winter...

MLB: Winter Meetings Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

After signing Stephen Strasburg to a 7-year/$245M deal, the Washington Nationals have a solid rotation that includes Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez.

Competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, or more likely sharing it over the course of the 2020 campaign: Joe Ross, Austin Voth, and Erick Fedde.

“Our starting rotation is looking pretty good,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters at the Winter Meetings earlier this week. “So let’s keep going from there.”

GM Mike Rizzo apparently agrees with his manager’s assessment of the starting options that are already in the organization.

“I think we have a very good confidence with our starting rotation,” the GM said in his final scheduled meeting of the week in San Diego, CA, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“We think we go deep. We’ve got seven or eight deep in the rotation, which we like. And a couple of them have options, which is important.”

“I think we’re more than satisfied with our rotation,” Rizzo added. “And with the other holes we have to fill, I think that’s less of a priority.”

One hole to fill, or area of need Martinez identified when he talked on Monday was the back end of the bullpen.

“Obviously we have [Sean] Doolittle,” the manager said.

“I like what [Tanner Rainey] did towards the end of the year. He grew a lot and matured a lot. You have [Wander] Suero, who I think did a great job. His ERA doesn’t say that, but he pitched a lot of innings for us, pitched some big innings for us.

“We’ve got [Hunter] Strickland [and Roenis] Elías back. What I would like is hopefully we can find a few ‘back end of the bullpen’ guys to complement Doolittle.”

“I think we can upgrade,” Rizzo said last night. “We feel confident. We’ve done it in the past.

“We’re going to be active in the reliever market still, and there are a lot of relief pitchers that we have targeted that we’ve identified that would be an upgrade for us that would help us.

“We think that we’ve got a lot of options in that part of our roster, and we’ll be looking to upgrade there.”

Another possibility for a reunion? After bringing Strasburg, catcher Yan Gomes, and Howie Kendrick back from their World Series-winning roster, Rizzo said that the team has reached out to reliever Daniel Hudson, who’s a free agent this winter after putting up an impressive 1.44 ERA, a 3.53 FIP, four walks, 23 Ks, and a .200/.237/.356 line against in 24 games and 25 innings pitched after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline.

Rizzo confirmed that the team has reached out to Hudson’s representatives to discuss the possibility of bringing the reliever who closed out Game 7 of the Fall Classic back to D.C.

Knowing Hudson well, after they scouted him before the trade and watched him closely in his time with the Nationals makes the process of evaluating the reliever significantly easier.

“I think we look at the way we scouted him prior to the trade deadline, and what we saw once he was with us I think gives us more than a snapshot,” Rizzo said.

“I think it gives us a longer view with a wider lens of what he will project out to be in the future.” predicted that Hudson would get a 2-year/$12M deal this winter (from the Nationals, actually), after signing a 1-year/$1.5M deal with the LA Angels last winter.

Rizzo also said last night there was a chance that some of the in-house options would improve on their 2019 numbers and boost the bullpen that way.

Suero was used sparingly during the NLDS and World Series, throwing just two innings in the postseason, but he made 78 appearances for the Nationals during the regular season, putting up a 4.54 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 26 walks, and 81 Ks in 71 13 innings pitched, over which he held hitters to a combined .242/.314/.352 line.

“Love Wander Suero,” Rizzo said. “He pitched a lot for us. He was a big part of our bullpen.

“I think he pitched in 70+ games for us, and he’s got a lot of talent. He relies heavily on that cut fastball, but it’s a good cutter. I think he’s going to really focus in on his secondary stuff, and I think once he gets consistency of that changeup and that curveball, I think that will really enhance his role with us. We like him, we think he’s got a big upside for us.”

Elías is another pitcher with huge upside who didn’t get much of a chance to show it during the regular season with the Nationals.

Injured in his first outing with the Nationals, when he ignored his manager’s directive not to swing in a rare at bat, and re-injured in September, Elías came from Seattle in another trade with a 3.64 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 17 walks, 45 Ks, and a .230/.297/.399 line against in 44 games and 47 IP (with a .353/.441/.549 line against vs left-hand hitters and a .182/.238/.341 line against vs right-handed hitters).

The 31-year-old southpaw made just four appearances for the Nationals during the regular season and didn’t pitch during the postseason.

Elías finished the season with a .368/.455/.649 line against vs left-handed hitters on the year and a .181/.235/.333 line against vs right-hand hitters, leaving him at .262/.342/.398 vs LHBs and .244/.318/.399 vs RHBs in his career.

Rizzo said there was obviously room for improvement there in Elías’s numbers against left-handed hitters.

“I think his splits will improve,” he said. “Just because his career splits are much better than his splits were last year. His stuff is good. Again, we didn’t see him pitch much for us, but we’ve seen him in the past. And prior to the trade deadline, he was closing out games for Seattle, and his stuff is good. He’s up to 95-96 with the fastball. He’s got a breaking pitch and a changeup. And again, he never really hit the ground running with us, because of injuries. But we think that he’ll be a reliable guy for us in the future.”

The Nationals are also hoping for more than they got out of right-hander Hunter Strickland after he too was acquired from the Mariners this past July.

Strickland avoided arbitration when he and the Nats agreed on a 1-year/$1.6M deal earlier this month. He’d made just four appearances with the Mariners before the trade, missing significant time with a lat strain.

The right-hander made 24 appearances for the Nationals after the deal, putting up a 5.14 ERA, a 6.31 FIP, eight walks, 15 Ks, and a .247/.326/.494 line against in 21 IP.

Rizzo said that a healthy Strickland could be more effective than the pitcher the Nationals saw in 2019, more like the solid reliever he was for the San Francisco Giants from 2014-18.

“I just think he has to get back to full health,” Rizzo explained. “When we made the trade for him with Seattle he was coming off just a very, very few innings, active innings in the major leagues [last] year. So he was kind of chasing it from the start with us, and I think that he’s an ultra-competitor, and he was ultra-amped up, and I just think he has to be healthy. I think a fresh start with our program, and starting from Day One with us, I think it will really help him. But we’ve seen flashes of really good stuff with this guy. Not only with his days in San Francisco, but some of the outings he had here. The stuff is there, we just have to tweak some of the delivery and some of the mechanics, and I think we’ll have ourselves a really reliable reliever.”

Will the Nationals add the relief help they need while they’re in San Diego? Even if they don’t get something done during the Winter Meetings, Rizzo said they’ve laid the groundwork for potential additions this week.

“We might not necessarily complete another deal in the next day or so,” he said, “... but we feel that we’re in position to improve our roster in a rather quick manner after the Meetings.”