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Washington Nationals’ bullpen rumors: Will the Nats add Craig Kimbrel to the mix?

The rumors are out there. Will the Nationals bolster their bullpen with the addition of a high-end closer like Craig Kimbrel?

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Acquired from the Oakland A’s along with right-hander Ryan Madson as part of Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo’s attempt to rebuild the Nats’ bullpen in-season at the non-waiver deadline in 2017, left-hander Sean Doolittle talked in the winter after his first half-season in D.C. about how well the relievers in the ‘pen got along down the stretch that year.

Madson, Doolittle, and Brandon Kintzler all joined the bullpen that July, and helped to turn things around after the in-house options struggled to lock down the late-innings in a fairly rough first half for the Nationals’ relief corps.

Why did it work so well with the new relievers, and how did they gel so quickly?

“I think we’re all at a point in our careers where we really just want to win and we didn’t care who pitched in what role or what title was attached to them, what inning a guy was pitching in,” Doolittle explained.

“We kind of set a lot of the personal stuff aside as far who was getting the holds and the saves. We just wanted to win.

Madson, having won a couple World Series, and Kintzler never having been to the playoffs, and for me it had been a while since I’d been to the playoffs as well, so we just wanted to win. And I think when you get guys that fully buy in like that and put that personal [stuff] aside, you can accomplish some really cool stuff as a group.”

Will the reliever, who had his $6M club option for 2019 exercised by the Nationals early this winter, (and who has another club option for 2020 in his contract at $6.5M), have the same mindset, and accept a set-up, or maybe co-closer role, if the Nationals bring in another high-end reliever (like Craig Kimbrel) as part of a powerhouse bullpen that gives manager Davey Martinez multiple late-game options.

There is plenty of chatter about the Nationals’ interest in the right-hander, and ESPN’s Keith Law reported on Sunday that he’d heard the talks were “... further down the road,” than was previously thought.

MASN’s Pete Kerzel reported on Sunday night that sources told him the Nationals’ front office would like to add Kimbrel, but, “... such a move would require ownership approval because a contract would eclipse the luxury tax threshold,” and so far, “... ownership is unwilling to exceed the luxury tax for a third consecutive season, the sources said.”

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal broke down the luxury tax threshold concerns involved with a potential signing in his article, which mentioned the Nats’ interest in Kimbrel on Saturday.

Citing’s estimate of a $201.47M luxury tax payroll for the ‘19 Nationals, Rosenthal wrote that any deal for Kimbrel would push the Nationals over MLB’s threshold ($206M in 2019) for the third straight season, “requiring them to pay a 50 percent penalty for every dollar they spend up to $226 million, and even more if they go higher,” not to mention the fact that since Kimbrel received a qualifying offer from the Boston Red Sox, the Nats would also lose their 3rd and 6th Round picks after already having given up their 2nd and 5th Round picks (and $1M in International draft space) when they signed Patrick Corbin, (who received a qualifying offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks), to a 6-year/$140M deal back in December.

Will ownership give the okay on a bullpen addition, assuming that the reporting on the front office wanting it pending their approval is correct?

Will Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office try to create a serious powerhouse bullpen by adding Kimbrel?