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Wholesale bullpen changes at Trade Deadline: Washington Nationals bring in three relievers

While the Nationals were playing out a thriller against the Braves, their general manager was making several moves to fix the team’s bullpen...

Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

The Washington Nationals finally broke their silence in the trade market with around two hours until today’s MLB trade deadline by adding a trio of relievers.

First, news broke that the Nationals had acquired Daniel Hudson from the Toronto Blue Jays, per Scott Mitchell of TSN. Then within a matter of minutes, the Nats agreed to a deal for Roenis Elías from the Seattle Mariners, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

But Mike Rizzo wasn’t done there. Things suddenly got very weird as he finished off his work on the bullpen with the addition of former-nemesis, Hunter Strickland, also from the Mariners, according to Mark Feinsand of

Hudson is a player that Rizzo has coveted for some time. The Nats were hoping to acquire the right-hander while he was a prospect with the Chicago White Sox back in 2010 in exchange for Adam Dunn.

Though he’s now a reliever, Hudson does still show some of the promise he had as a starting pitching prospect. He boasts a fastball sits in the mid-90s, a high-80s slider as well as a lesser-used changeup that has played solidly in 2019.

This season with the Blue Jays, he owns a 3.00 ERA with eight holds and a pair of saves as one of their primary setup men. He’s also striking out exactly a batter per inning this season, but has had some control issues, posting a 4.3 BB/9.

Hudson should slide into middle-relief, with the possibility to pitch late innings if the setup men are overworked, potentially providing some consistency in a role that has lacked it so far this year.

Hudson is only under contract for the rest of the 2019 season, so all it took to acquire him as a rental was young right-handed pitching prospect Kyle Johnston.

Johnston was the 27th ranked prospect in the Nats’ system, according to MLB Pipeline.

The righty has always had good stuff since being drafted in 2017, but is still working on harnessing it with iffy command to this point as a professional.

If Johnston can continue to improve his command, as he did last season, then he will turn out to be a good get for the Blue Jays, but one that the Nationals can afford to lose.

Meanwhile, Elías is an addition that could raise some eyebrows as a potential steal.

In his first season as a full-time reliever, Elías secured the Mariners’ closer role after Strickland went down hurt and Anthony Swarzak was traded. Since then, he’s recorded 14 saves in 16 opportunities, putting him on the map as a trade candidate.

In his 47 innings this season, the left-hander is sporting an unremarkable 4.40 ERA with an ERA+ at an even 100. Though he doesn’t strike out many — holding an 8.6 K/9 — his fastball-changeup combination should get better as he gets more familiar with his new role.

Elías actually has reverse splits so far this season, so is likely coming over a late-inning reliever rather than a lefty-specialist. Lefties are slashing .353/.441/.549 off of Elias this season, compared to a .182/.238/.341 line for right-handers.

Though the BABIPs suggest that both of those lines are due for correction, it will be interesting to bear in mind depending on how Dave Martinez decides to use him.

Given that he still has two and a half years of control, the cost to acquire Elias was reasonable.

The main piece was Taylor Guilbeau, a lefty reliever whose velocity and performance has ticked up since a move to the bullpen. He was a fast-rising prospect and was recently promoted to Triple-A, looking like he could be a key piece in the bullpen down the road.

They also sent Elvis Alvarado to Seattle, a pitcher who was recently converted from the outfield, but is yet to make it out of rookie ball, so he’s difficult to project just yet.

Finally, Strickland comes over to D.C. with the reputation as a pantomime villain. The righty was just activated from the IL on Sunday after missing most of the season with a lat strain.

Many Nationals fans will remember the bombs he gave up to a certain former outfielder, but since his postseason meltdown, he’s actually been a surprisingly solid reliever.

Prior to this season, Strickland has posted a 2.91 ERA with 19 saves in short spells as the Giants’ closer, including a respectable 8.4 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. But in an injury-prone 2019, he currently has an 8.10 ERA in just four appearances.

Though Strickland was throwing gas — occasionally touching 100mph — when he faced the Nats in the playoffs, his fastball is now averaging 95.6mph so far this season.

Like Elías, Strickland is also under control for two and half seasons, so if he can live up to his impressive stuff, he could become a nice pickup for the Nationals.

Left-handed reliever, Aaron Fletcher, the Nats’ 21st ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, was the price.

After starting in Single-A with the Hagerstown Suns, across three levels, he’s produced a 1.79 ERA and much like Guilbeau was rising fast in the farm system.

But with Strickland soon to be on the roster, circle those five games with the Philadelphia Phillies in September for Hunter Strickland-Bryce Harper matchups. Things could get very tasty.

One of the main concerns for the Nationals’ front office during this whole process was trying to stay under the luxury tax. With Hudson’s $1.5 million one-year deal, Elías’s $940k arbitration deal, and Strickland’s $1.3 million, they should do that easily.

When those numbers are pro-rated out, the Nationals only add around $1.3 million in terms of annual average value to their luxury tax figure this year. Plenty of breathing room.

The Nats also started juggling some of their roster around to make room for their three new pitchers.

As the Nats officially confirmed the trades, they announced that they had designated Javy Guerra and Michael Blazek for assignment, as well as transferring Jonny Venters to the 60-day IL.

That created the three required spaces on the 40-man roster and two spaces on the active roster, leaving one more move to be made before the team’s next game on Friday.

The only pitchers on the team with options remaining are Erick Fedde, Joe Ross, Wander Suero, and Tanner Rainey. That means the Nats will need to either option one of them, place someone on the 10-day IL, or DFA another player to make room.

Yes, it took a little longer than fans were hoped for, which is even more frustrating while the team was losing winnable games in the process. However, the front office went to work today and got plenty of business done in an effort to fix its Achilles heel in the bullpen.

If these acquisitions can perform up to expectations, the Nationals are going to be a dangerous team to watch as the postseason race rapidly heats up.