Washington Nationals’ President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo talked back in mid-September 2023, as the regular season wound down, about the work manager Davey Martinez and his staff (and the Nats’ front office) did in assembling their late-inning relief options over the last few years, turning some fringe arms into a serviceable back end of the bullpen relievers.
“We’ve more or less developed the back end of the bullpen really from scratch,” Rizzo said.
“You talk about [Kyle] Finnegan, the way he was obtained,” (signed to a big league deal after seven seasons in the Oakland A’s’ system in which he pitched only in the minors), “… and [Hunter] Harvey, the way he was obtained,” (selected off waivers from the San Francisco Giants, who’d claimed him after eight injury-plagued seasons in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization), and then, “[Jordan] Weems, the way he was obtained.” (signed as a free agent after six years as a pro, first as a catcher and then as a pitcher).
“Those players were developed here at the big league level by our coaches, so we’re proud of that,” Rizzo continued.
Though he viewed the back end of their bullpen as a strength at the end of the ‘23 season, Rizzo talked at the Winter Meetings about shoring up the middle relief options Martinez has to work with in 2024.
The GM in D.C. said the club was in the market for some established relievers this winter, who will give Martinez and Co. more reliable options and, importantly, more innings and outings when asked what the team was looking for this offseason.
“Good, capable, major league relievers that we can count on and not to have such a split with our A-group and our B-group,” he explained. “I think that Davey likes — well, every manager likes — multi-inning pitchers, multi-out pitchers, guys who can go back-to-back-to-back, and that’s difficult to do with young kids, because we don’t want to push those guys three days in a row, so that’s often the conundrum that the managers face, is we wonder why — I wonder why in my GM box — you guys wonder why in the press box — ‘Why in the heck isn’t he getting this guy ready?’ And he has ten answers for why he didn’t get him ready…”
Martinez, in his own press conference at the Winter Meetings, said handling relief pitchers is one of the major everyday tasks big league skippers have to handle these days in a game which has changed dramatically over the past few seasons, leaving them [managers], as the reporter who asked put it, without “the same power they [had] years ago,” since they, “... don’t make the same number of calls they used to.”
“The biggest thing is managing the bullpen. Talking to you guys every day,” Martinez joked with reporters.
“But managing the bullpen. Keeping that bullpen fresh is always — sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night,” he said, “and have to force myself not to pitch somebody because he’s pitched three days in a row.”
One of the early moves the Nationals made this winter is to add veteran right-hander Dylan Floro to the mix at the back end of bullpen, giving Martinez a reliable, veteran arm who can supplement the returning relievers he’s leaned on in the last few seasons.
Floro said he’s willing to work whenever and wherever he’s needed when asked about his role in the ‘24 relief corps, and expects to work in the late innings.
“I’m going to do the same thing I’ve kind of always done in the past,” he said in a Zoom call with reporters in the nation’s capital.
“When my name is called on and I get the opportunity to pitch, I’m going to go out there and help the team as much as I can, so we’re in the win column.”
On Monday, the Nationals announced they’d signed 36-year-old lefty Richard Bleier, who made 27 appearances out of the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox last season, and right-hander Robert Gsellman, 30, the one-time New York Mets’ pitcher, who last appeared in the majors with Chicago in 2022 and has spent the last two years in Japan.
Will the Nationals’ scouts find another diamond in the rough out there this winter?