While the relief corps was a significant issue the Washington Nationals had to overcome on their way to last season’s World Series win, GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the front office in D.C. worked hard to address that weakness this winter, after addressing it at the trade deadline last July.
Rizzo added reliever Will Harris to the mix with Sean Doolittle at the back of the bullpen, re-signed Daniel Hudson after the veteran hit the free agent market, then traded for relievers Kyle Finnegan and Ryne Harper, giving manager Davey Martinez multiple options as they try to put together a relief corps for the 2020 campaign.
Rizzo talked at WinterFest in early January, after signing Harris to a 3-year/$24M deal and bringing Hudson back on a 2-year/$11M deal, about being comfortable giving the veteran relievers multi-year deals.
“I’ve known them both for a long time,” the GM said. “Will Harris’s track record is second to none, and Hudson is a guy that we threw in the fire early, often, daily, once we got him, and his makeup passed the test for us, we want that type of player in the clubhouse, so we made it a point to get him back, because we needed his presence back, and we wanted to upgrade ourselves at the back end of the bullpen. That’s not to say at the trade deadline we’re not going to do the exact same thing again and improve ourselves in the bullpen or [with] a position player, that’s what we do. We budget for it, we plan for it, and I think most successful teams you see do that, and we like the team we have.”
Martinez, who’s entering his third season on the bench in Washington, D.C., talked this week about the mix of relievers at Spring Training in West Palm Beach, FL this year, and sounded genuinely excited about the options he has as he tries to put together the Opening Day ‘pen this Spring.
“We added a couple good pieces,” the manager said.
“We get Hudson back, we had Doolittle, we added Will Harris, which — those guys are going to be our three constants at the back end of the bullpen, but with that being said, you’ve got [Tanner] Rainey, who has pitched in the playoffs now and in the World Series for us, he’s got a little bit underneath his belt. You’ve got [Wander] Suero who, I thought, did a really good job for us, ate a lot of innings for us, and you’ve got two guys that we traded for, that were hurt, that got hurt, [Roenis] Elías got hurt and [Hunter] Strickland was hurt before we got him, so he had to get built back up and he’s healthy now.
“I’m looking forward to watching those two guys pitch to their capabilities, because we know that Strickland was a closer at one point, and from what I’ve seen so far he’s really throwing the ball well early in camp, so I’m looking forward to watching both those guys pitch.”
Even with an eight-man bullpen this season (now that the regular season rosters have been expanded to 26 players), the Nationals have a crowded relief corps, with only a couple spots up for grabs this Spring, provided everyone is able to get through the next month-plus healthy, and one of the two starters who are out of options (Austin Voth or Joe Ross) are likely to end up in the bullpen on Opening Day, with the other filling out the fifth spot in the club’s starting rotation.
So with Doolittle in the closer’s role, Harris and Hudson setting him up, Rainey, Suero, Elías, and Strickland likely to claim spots this Spring there aren’t too many questions to answer in the next few weeks, which is a welcome change for the Nationals.