Washington Nationals trade options for closer

washington nationals

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals have seen eight pitchers finish a game for them this season. Where can they find a closer to define their bullpen?

The Washington Nationals have seemingly been in a perpetual need for bullpen help in their recent run of success. Their future solution at closer, Drew Storen, struggled when the team displaced him in the role in spite of success, and the team has been seeking ever since.

In point, they traded for Mark Melancon last year at the trade deadline, trading away one of their more electric young relievers in Felipe Rivero. This followed 2015, when they traded for Jonathan Papelbon at the trade deadline, creating nearly as many issues as solutions at the back of the bullpen.

The Nationals spend all offseason in heavy pursuit of the three primary relief names on the market – Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. They ended up scrambling to grab Matt Albers and Joe Nathan in the free agent market along with trading for Enny Romero from the Tampa Bay Rays to lengthen the bullpen.

In-house options

The Washington Nationals went through a long battle in spring for the closer spot, and came out of it without a definitive guy. Blake Treinen got the first shot at the role, and he’s posted a 7.71 ERA on the season and is struggling to control the ball.

Shawn Kelley was the odds-on favorite to win the job with his experience and success in his background, but he has been injured and missed time as well as struggling himself to a 6.57 ERA, though he’s posting much better peripheral numbers with 2.5 K/BB and 10.9 K/9.

The other candidate in spring for the job was young fireballer Koda Glover, who had been tremendous across three minor league levels in 2016 before making his major league debut last season. Glover has thrown well so far this season, but he seems to have difficulty gaining the favor of veteran manager Dusty Baker.

The guy who has recently picked up some saves has been Matt Albers, who is pitching tremendously so far with a 1.15 ERA over 16 appearances, though a sub-par strikeout rate and a FIP almost two runs higher than his ERA says perhaps he’s due to see some struggles himself soon.

The Nationals do have reliever Austin Adams tearing up AAA Syracuse this season, but after overcoming a pretty horrific shoulder injury and fighting his way back to make the Cleveland Indians team last season, Adams is now out with an undisclosed injury, so he won’t be called up any time soon. Adams has posted a 1.42 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 19 innings for Syracuse, with a 17/31 BB/K ratio.

With that look in house, let’s start the look around the majors to see what could be available…

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Tony Watson, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Right now, the Nationals would certainly like to have Felipe Rivero back (0.82 ERA, 4/23 BB/K over 22 IP), the Pirates are probably not going to be eager to move the 25-year-old that they immediately called a “steal” when they got him for Melancon last summer.

Watson has been closing since Melancon left after being one of the better relievers in the game for multiple seasons before that. He’s continued that performance this year, though more with a weak contact approach than the same dominance as previous. His stuff hasn’t taken a significant step back to lead to any major worries there, however.

The Pirates could also be a spot where the Nationals would choose to address their center field concerns if they were really wanting to go all-in on the 2017 season. Of course, the major name there would be Andrew McCutchen.

The Pirates were reportedly rebuffed in a McCutchen deal this winter when they asked for Victor Robles. As McCutchen has opened the season with some struggles offensively again, it could be a situation where the price would come down significantly.

The Pirates always enjoy getting an elite fastball arm into their system, and a guy like Erick Fedde could headline a deal. With Carter Kieboom, Juan Soto and Sheldon Neuse all three showing well this year for scouts and improving their trade stock, it’s very feasible that any one of them could be a significant piece in a deal as well. I could certainly see a deal for Watson being something like Neuse and another piece or a deal for both Watson and McCutchen being centered around Kieboom or Soto as the key piece.

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David Robertson, RHP, Chicago White Sox

After seemingly emptying the team’s top pitching prospects in their trade this winter with the White Sox, the Washington Nationals have now seen their acquisition in that deal, outfielder Adam Eaton, lost for the season to injury.

That could leave the team somewhat snake bit to call White Sox GM Rick Hahn, but the White Sox present an opportunity to possibly not only get a closer with experience, but even to add in a second reliever as needed with a fairly elite group of bullpen pitchers in Chicago currently (third best bullpen ERA in all of baseball in 2017).

Robertson would be the primary target, and the White Sox are another team that asked about Robles only to be rebuffed, though they were also known to be interested in Neuse and minor league righty Austin Voth, who has not had a great start to his 2017, but has a solid 4+ pitch mix that would work at the back of a rotation.

An interesting thing to note with a White Sox deal is that the White Sox could spike up their end of the deal to get a better prospect as Hahn has stated that their rebuild is targeting quality over quantity, so if Robertson alone wasn’t going to bring back Carter Kieboom or Juan Soto (whomever was the major desire), to get that one guy, the White Sox could add Anthony Swarzak, Michael Ynoa or Tommy Kahnle to sweeten the deal and lengthen the Nationals bullpen, all of whom would be an upgrade to the middle relief options in Washington (outside of Glover).

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Kelvin Herrera, RHP, or Joakim Soria, RHP, Kansas City Royals

The Royals are struggling mightily in the last season with the core of the team that helped them to win the 2015 World Series and make back-to-back World Series. Before they lose many of those players in the offseason to free agency, they may decide in July to jump start their rebuild by trading off players.

The prime piece in such a fire sale would be Kelvin Herrera, the reliever who was the key middle relief cog of the World Series teams and took over as closer last season. His stuff is certainly worthy of a late inning role, but he is still just 27 and has one year of arbitration left, so the Royals could ask for a premium on him. Whether Washington sees that premium as worth it or not is to be seen.

If they choose to go another direction, they could stay on the same phone call, as the Royals also have a former elite closer working as their primary setup man, Joakim Soria. Soria was originally a rule 5 pick by the Royals that took over the closing job that season and was the Royals closer before he had Tommy John surgery in 2011. He’s bounced around the league a bit since, but he’s found his way back to Kansas City.

After a solid 2016 with a home run-spiked ERA, Soria has been back to his old tricks, posting a 2.04 ERA in 17 2/3 innings so far this season with a very impressive 8/24 BB/K ratio. He’s even got a 1.68 WHIP, so his excellent ERA is even UN-lucky!

Soria is signed through 2018 with a 2019 option and that could provide some excess value of security to the Nationals as well in a deal, though he is 33.

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Brandon Maurer, RHP, San Diego Padres

While the Padres may be destined for the 2018 #1 overall selection in the MLB draft, they have a bullpen of arms that could interest teams at the deadline and add to the rebuild that the Padres are going through currently.

Closer Brandon Maurer has an ERA that would scare away many right now at 6.75, but his 2.54 FIP should indicate just how much that number is driven by some odd bad luck for Maurer. His peripherals have looked good as he’s thrown 16 innings, with a 2/20 BB/K ratio.

The Padres also have three lefties that could be of interest to the Nationals in trade. The best performer for sure has been Brad Hand, but the Padres also have Jose Torres and Ryan Buchter who could provide value to the Nats bullpen.

With Carter Capps working his way back to the majors on a rehab assignment currently and some very high-end relief prospects like Phil Maton in AAA ready to bump up, the Padres could be ready to move guys in order to create space.

The big difference between the Padres and other trade partners mentioned here is that the Padres will be highly intrigued by the Nationals depth of very interesting international prospects from the last two years that are still working their way through rookie ball, but are the type of high-ceiling type of players that the Padres tend to like to target in deals.

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Oakland Athletics

The Athletics entered the season with multiple pitchers that they felt comfortable trusting in the ninth inning, and they do have three guys who all have extended major league closing experience that could be of interest.

More from Call to the Pen

The Athletics have made a number of deals with the Washington Nationals, including small deals like last year’s deal for lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski as a rental piece for the Nationals bullpen to the 2011 blockbuster that brought lefty Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals.

Which of Santiago Casilla, Ryan Madson or Sean Doolittle the team would prefer will be interesting, especially with Doolittle working his way back to health.

Madson is the guy who had the background as an elite closer and performed well in 2016, but he also missed the 2012-2014 seasons after multiple surgeries and injuries over that time frame. He’s also 36 and could be a risk to either lose his effectiveness or get injured again.

Another guy that the Nationals could target would be Liam Hendriks, who has taken very well to a bullpen role after struggling in multiple organizations as a starter. This season, he’s posted a 5/19 BB/K over 18 1/3 innings thus far.

There are certainly other teams that could emerge, but is there any other team we could have added in here? Perhaps a trade match that you think is perfect? Comment below!

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