Craig Stammen was non-tendered the other day. Like most of the little moves the Nats make it hardly seems consequential. Stammen had been a solid, middle innings reliver but was never quite a shutdown guy (walked too many and was too hittable for that) so he never graduated to late inning work. Last year he got injured tearing his forearm flexors and he never got back during the season. This season he'll be 32 and he would have been a free agent after the year. The Nats might have figured it was better to move on from Stammen now and continue to try to develop some other, younger, arms who might be with the team for a while.
Of course this undersells what Stammen actually did over his time with the Nats. He didn't just eat up some middle innings. No reliever on the team, not even Clippard, threw more innings for the Nats from 2012-2014. In fact not a single pitcher who didn't start a game from 2012-2014 pitched more innings than Craig's 242. Second closest was Adam Ottavino at 222 about 10% less. That's a big gap. He probably appeared for multiple innings more than any one during that time, certainly more than any NL relief pitcher.
He was not a shut down guy, true, but he could get a strikeout when needed and rarely gave up the home run (16 in 250+ innings as a reliever). That meant that he kept the team in games and that bears out if I peruse the fancy stats. He didn't let many inherited runners score. He often left the team in a better position to win when he left the game. He didn't just pitch in easy situations, putting the team in better situation when considering the importance of when he was pitching. He was not the best, but we was better than most.
After you get through the "great young arm we're moving to be a closer" types, Stammen was almost the ideal middle relief pitcher. Add him to an equally effective Tyler Clippard in the set-up role and you had a quiet but extremely competent bullpen for close games. It wasn't "You aren't scoring on us after the 6th!" like the Royals and others may have had over the years. But it was "you aren't likely to come back enough to win this game" and it showed.
Who takes over these roles? Last year, with Clippard gone and Stammen out, the Nats tried Blake Treinen who was good... except when it mattered. He turned in an extremely "un-clutch" year, pitching worse when it mattered. To a lesser degree the same happened with Casey Janssen. Aaron Barrett wasn't nearly as bad but did nothing to turn around the image of failure he first left Nats fans with in the 2014 playoffs. Matt Grace was disappointing in a short run, as was Sammy Solis. AJ Cole is not a reliever. Matt Thorton, who was actually good, is gone into free agency.
This was just one season worth of pitching. It may have been just an off year or a few bad games for a couple of these guys. Don't be surprised if the Nats try a couple of these arms in important situations again, but the Nats may have stumbled onto their middle relief guys at the end of last year in Rafael Martin and Felipe Rivero. Felipe will probably be limited to a lot of lefty heavy work, so that leaves Martin, who had a bad first impression but was much much better in September to get first crack at being the "new Stammen". It's not a bad plan to start the year and it may work. But given the situation the Nats saw last year and the limited data on Martin, I think I'd feel best if old Stammen, all of 2 months older than Martin mind you, was taking that first crack.
Of course, given that he hasn't pitched since April, the Nats know the injury situation with Stammen far better than I do. I'll have to trust that is what drove the decision to non-tender, not his likely cost (probably near 2.5 million) or the fact they were likely to head to arbitration with him. One hopes that they wouldn't let a reliable arm walk to save a few dollars, especially after last year.
Given that trust, we just have to wish Stammen well and hope he surprises and does well at his next stop too, where ever that may be. (Don't be surprised if he tries to hook up with the Reds)
Of course this is all just a prelude to the bigger question that is what happens with the back end of the pen. Which is anyone's guess because man, the Nats created a mess there, didn't they?