Nationals Baseball: Relief Pitchers - Targets

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Relief Pitchers - Targets

There is really no need to go into why the Nats need relief pitching but just in case you are curious :  They do have the worst ERA in the majors at 5.20 a good distance from the second worst (DET) at 5.04. Opponents are hitting them the hardest with an opposing OPS of .818, worst in the majors. They've blown 14 saves, which is a lot*, though not worst. This isn't a fluke. This isn't just timing or perception. The bullpen is terrible. It HAS to be addressed.

But who? Rizzo prefers guys who can be long term answers with cost control. The Lerners really prefer cost control. But both showed with the trade for Melancon and Papelbon, that they are willing to go for what they think might be the right short term answer, if it's available. What do we see this year?

Long-term answers, cost controlled
Roberto Osuna & Raisel Iglesias - both these guys are currently closers with solid stats both this year and in 2015/16. Both are controlled through 2020. Both are younger, Iglesias at 27 and Osuna a baby at 22. Osuna is CHEAP only costing 600K right now, while Iglesias, a foreign signing, is a reasonable 5 million or so a year for the next three years. These are ideal targets. That means of course that they will be expensive to get. It's hard to see Robles not being involved here, although if they like Soto a lot (and some do) it could start with him. "Start" is the key word here, though. Any deal centered around something less is you being a homer. It's hard to see Rizzo give up on a bat prospect for an arm so I don't see either of these things happening, but it's at least out there.

Long-term answer, expensive
Mark Melancon - this was the guy the Nats wanted to keep but couldn't as he fled to SF for a more traditional deal. He's hurt. He's not pitching all that well. He's not young (32). And he's expensive (43 mill still owed after this year) But he is a "proven closer" and the Nats have a psychological need as much as a talent one. Still I re-read that last sentence and think the Nats are only in on this if San Fran is giving him away.

Long-term middle relief help, cost controlled
Brad Hand & Arodys Vizcaino & Ryan Butcher - Here we start getting into more likely targets. The first two guys are a couple years into the majors (27 and 26 respectively), with good stats this year, inexpensive (around 1.5M) and controlled through 2019.  Brad Hand is the hotness because everyone knows the Padres will deal, however you do have to consider he was no good as recently as 2015.  Vizcaino is more reliable but is dealing with a finger issue at the moment. Plus it's unlikely the Braves would trade the Nats a long term piece. Ryan Butcher is an intriguing fellow, with big strikeout potential, a nothing contract (600K), and the longest control of anyone - through 2021. He's also 30, wild, and has limited experience. He's the gamble of the three. Hand will probably get bid up to be more expensive than he's worth so I see the Nats bowing out of that race. I see Butcher as a maybe but he's a 3rd arm dealt for.

Potential long-term middle relief, reasonable
Sean Doolittle - Doolittle is pretty much his own case. He is good, and he has been good. But he's not like these guys as he's under a real contract that will pay him real money. It's only 2.7 mill this year, but it jumps up to 4.4 next and is in the 6 million range in 2019 and 2020. The good news for the Nats is 2019 is a team option, and 2020 might be (mutual if certain things hit). He's had a little injury history but all in all everything here seems acceptable for how the Nats deal. The control, the talent, the injury history keeping trade cost lower than it might be, the fact that he's an A... I like the chances of Doolittle ending up a Nat. 

Not just this year - the young and usually cheaper
Justin Wilson & AJ Ramos & David Phelps - These are the guys who the Nats would have control of through next season. Wilson is having the best year but in general has been merely ok. He's a better choice than Phelps, who is around the same cost and age but less successful. Still decent mind you so not a terrible target, but you'd rather have Wilson. Ramos has the better history and is a closer though he's about three times as expensive (6.6M to around 2.6M for the other guys) and is nothing special this year. We're into short term guys at this point so intra-division deals are more possible. Ramos or Phelps would make decent "other arms" to pick up but I feel Ramos will cost a little more than Nats willing to pay giving his closer history. Wilson is a strong possibility

Not just this year - the old and expensive, closer edition
David Robertson & Jim Johnson - These guys fall under ths same category but are on two ends of the spectrum.  Robertson is established, having a good year, is younger in this group (32) and has a fairly decent history if you can ignore last year. Johnson is a 34 year old guy filling a role. The target seems obvious, as you can see Johnson age into ineffectiveness next year, but cost matters. Johnson is a 5 million guy next year. Robertson a 13 million one. That number is going to be hard for the Nats to swallow. Still I think they might as I think that they can get Robertson for a reasonable trade deal and he checks off everything they need. Johnson is only an emergency trade target as he's not going to solidify much and you'd be giving the Braves something.

Not just this year - the old and expensive, middle relief edition
Brad Ziegler & Ryan Madson & Jerry Blevins - Blevins is a great LOOGY and isn't old (33) but nothing more. The Nats probably need more flexibility than he can give them. Plus they burnt that bridge when they traded him away in one of the rare Rizzo losses just because he had the audacity to take them through arbitration. Plus I don't see the Mets dealing with the Nats. Ryan Madson is a great arm, even at 36, but to get him you'd have to swallow a nearly 8 million dollar salary next year (and whatever is left on this year). Even though the Nats have been paying more for middle relief that still seems high for them.  Brad Ziegler is even more expensive (9 mill next year), older (37), and frankly is skating by on luck so I hope they don't trade for him despite possibly the strongest recent history of anyone in all these lists. Age conquers all. I can see the Nats making a Madson or Zeigler deal only if salary is eaten on the other end.

The rentals
Pat Neshek & Tony Watson & Addison Reed & Joe Smith & Juan Nicasio - I don't care about age as much when we're dealing with guys who will be FAs at the end of the year but it matters a little I guess. Neshek is old (36), Joe Smith and Tony Watson more middling (33, 32) and Nicasio and Reed are on the younger side (30, 28).  Reed would honestly be a great get. He's consistently been a very good reliever for a while now. Even factoring in the largest contract here (nearly 8 million this year) I think it's worth it. Problem is it's the Mets and again I don't see that happening. Failing that, Neshek is having the best year but is the next most expensive at 6.5 million. Watson is still good but seems to be on a down turn and is over 5.5 million. Nicasio has a spotty history but we're getting more toward salaries that even the Nats can just ignore (or get the other team to easily eat) at 3.7 for the year. And that leads us to probably the best bargain of the group Joe Smith. I know I said I don't think TOR will sell and I don't, but trading a "FA to be" is different. Joe Smith isn't going to set the world on fire, but he's exactly the type of reliable veteran presence the Nats need. The problem is he's dealing with shoulder inflammation. But the way I see it is that that only makes him more affordable. Since the Nats need to fill up the pen with new blood it makes him the perfect 3rd arm gamble.

Conclusions : So today I think the Nats end up with Robertson, Doolittle, and Joe Smith. Note that this changes daily but I think they CAN get Robertson (unlike Osuna or Iglesias) without giving up too much and he gives them exactly what they need at the back of the pen. Doolittle just makes too much sense with his talent, affordable deal and lots of team control potential. Smith fits in as a third arm to throw in the mix for little to get as much stability through new faces as they can get. Though honestly this spot could be anyone I named above. In my mind it would be the cheapest 3rd arm they can get who is above average this year and not expensive.

This makes two guesses in a row involving Doolittle so I guess I see him as the most likely get.

*NL blown saves leaders - 1st ATL, 2nd  3-way tie PHI MIA WSN, 3rd 2-way tie NYM MIL.  NL EAST FOREVER


Fries said...

I would love to snag him, but Doolittle has tons of buzz right now. I'm not so sure the Nats will end up being able to afford him come trade deadline. It's the A's, so they're going to be looking for a lot in terms of prospects. Maybe not Robles, but I have to think they will be asking for Fedde

Ole PBN said...

I'd like the Doolittle signing as well. Price is reasonable. Plus it would reunite him with an old UVA teammate in Zimm. Get it done.

Harper said...

Fries - Beane and Rizzo seem to operate on the same wavelength so I give the Nats a little more of an edge here than other teams. They both seem to recognize the utility of the back end of the roster and which guys (Krol, Shrock, Milone) are the types to make it there.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper: question. I would hazard a prediction that the Nats are first team to lead a division at the AS break with a 5+ pen ERA in a LONG time. I wonder just how long....I bet it might be only time this century....

Rob said...

I would be ecstatic if the Nats get those 3 arms. I'm a pessimist though and only see them getting one, middling-type arm.

Anonymous said...

There just isn't a relief pitcher available (or quasi-available) who's worth Robles in a trade. He's a barely-20 y.o. speed and defense guy at an up-the-middle position OPSing 900+ in high-A ball (and not in an inflated stats league like you sometimes see out west). And his hitting numbers consistent with his past performance. He's a stud top-5 prospect in baseball by pretty much all accounts. He's not in AA yet (although he probably should be), and he very well could be exposed there. So he has some risk attached to him, but he's a premier prospect even accounting for that risk. You don't trade that type of prospect for relief pitchers because relief pitchers are inconsistent and they break.

I wouldn't trade 2017 Robles for a rental like 2016 Chapman or someone on a good contract like 2016 Andrew Miller even though those guys are world beaters and have been super consistent as relief pitchers. A prospect like Robles ought to fetch someone like Kimbrel circa a few years ago before he signed his extension: absolutely dominant and cost-controlled for a few years.

Such a guy is simply not on the market this year. Osuna comes the closest, but he doesn't have the absurd Chapman/Miller/Kimbrel K numbers you want from the very best relief pitchers (non-Rivera category). He's getting closer to their level of dominance this year, but he's not there yet. If the Jays are interested in Soto and would start the Osuna conversation there, I would be supportive. Of course it would be "Soto plus" and the plus matters, but Osuna is good enough to pry a prospect like Soto (who has very high upside, but a lot more that can make him go bust compared to Robles). Soto would be off the table for me for any other relief pitcher, including Iglesias. I probably would trade 2017 Soto for 2016 Miller and maybe for 2016 Chapman.

I'd be open to dealing Robles (and Soto) for good value in return. Almost all the time, relief pitchers aren't good enough value to get a prospect like Robles.

Harper said...

It's been forever. All the way back to 2016. (Texas had a 5.10 relief ERA last year at the break and were up 5.5 games at the break).

I couldn't exactly search as you wanted - not an easy way to add "lead division" - but looking at "made playoffs" as a proxy - a few AL teams have done it. No NL team has made playoffs with that high an ERA while leading division mid-season though 2000 Cardinals come close. They sported a 4.97 relief ERA and an 8 game lead at the break.

Concievably though there could be a couple teams with an ERA over 5.00 that barely lead a bad division at the half that fell out of the playoffs in the 2nd half.

Harper said...

Anon - don't disagree. Robles has become a Top 10 prospect and that's the type that more a part of say... a trade for Sale then Osuna. (NOT saying Sale is being traded just trying to come up with an example)

BxJaycobb said...

Thanks @Harper. Also: I'm sure this won't happen. But let's just play GM for a sec. I think looking at Nats roster there is a legitimate case to be made to go truly all in for a title in next couple/few years. As in......what would the Jays say for Robles, Soto, and + for Osuna and Stroman? Or same for Fulmer and Wilson of Tigers (this would be an even more intense/steep offer from Nats.) IOW basically figure.....when Robles and Soto come up, Stras and Scherzer will be old and post peak, and Harper, Murphy, etc will be gone. So let's use those chips to make this team as strong as humanly possible in next few years.

Alex Freeman said...

I think the sooner people realize that the playoffs are at least 60% luck the better. I hate this idea of go all-in, giving up valuable prospects now to make the team very good this year and next. They're going to the playoffs this year and I'd bet on them making it again next year, so by trading top prospects for more strong players for this year and next you're throwing away the possibility of making the playoffs post-Harper/Murphy years in exchange for a what? 6% increase in chances of winning a playoff series? Doesn't make much sense to me.

To anyone who says that luck isn't a huge factor in the playoffs, please explain to me how the 2014 Giants won the WS. Or the 2012 Giants for that matter. You're taking an 162 game season and having it all depend on a 5 or 7 game series. Obviously the impact of variance is huge. I can only recall 2 times in recent memory that the best team in baseball won the World Series (last year's Cubs and the 2013 Red Sox). So the smart way to manage a team is maximize the number of years your team makes the postseason then cross your fingers that your Cy Young starter doesn't have one bad day that costs your entire season. The playoffs are a crapshoot. Don't throw all the chips on the table for a chance to win an extra $5

KW said...

Melancon has a full no-trade so would have to be personally "bought out" in addition to what is traded to the Giants. Right now, he's not worth whatever that would be. Grant Brisbee had a piece a couple of months ago about just how screwed, because of such contracts, the Giants are even if they wanted to dump guys and start a rebuild.

1natsfan said...

Sorry to go off topic here but did anyone see the All Star Game last night? It has been pretty bad in the past but this year set an all time high for garbage. Interviewing players during innings while on the field--I know it's an expedition game but come on. I didn't get to see the pitch that Murphy hit for a single because the stupid commercials went too long and the telecast couldn't care less if you saw it or not. Not so psyched about the ASG being in DC next year if this is going to be the norm from here on out. Just ridiculous.

Fries said...


I have to disagree. The fact that it's an exhibition game is the whole reason I loved the ASG. Joe Buck and Harper chatting while he's watching Martinez pitch, Cruz snapping a photo with Jim West, Scherzer literally throwing as hard as he can for 15 pitches, that's what makes the ASG so much fun. The fact that it doesn't count for anything anymore makes it so much more entertaining.

You're watching a single game with some of the league's best players and they're out there having fun which is entirely what Bryce has been talking about the last few years. Baseball needs games like last night

JE34 said...

@Bx - I could see Rizzo going for something more creative like you suggest, especially with the growing uncertainty in the back of the pen.

@Fries - I agree with your perspective on the ASG, to a point. It's great to see matchups like with Max in the first inning... it's great to see top-shelf players having fun and enjoying/respecting the moment. It would be nice if the Fox network didn't trot out personalities who degrade the experience so.

Does anyone actually like the sound of Joe Buck's half-shouting monotone? I find him extraordinarily irritating. Marty Brennaman is a fine broadcaster, does games for Fox and is 10x the quality. Why assault the eardrums of America with Joe Buck? Make it stop, TV!

Does anyone want to see or hear from Alex Rodriguez, about anything, ever? His on-field interviews between innings were inane, serving only to remind the viewing public that they're right to hate A-Rod.

Fox broadcasts bring out the curmudgeon in me, to be sure, but I can't possibly be alone in these sentiments. Can I?

Anonymous said...

Getting 3 (decent) arms would be impressive. And then who goes from the pen?? Blanton, Solis, and ....???

BxJaycobb said...

My only complaint was the amount of strikeouts made the game boring. Honestly the in game interviews didn't bother me at all. Less boring than the game itself with all the Ks. Also there's no rhythm when u sub out all the best players after like 4 innings.

BxJaycobb said...

Alex Freeman: yeah I think it's roughly 50-60% luck....that's about right. But I also think that you sort of need to get to a given level of competence to truly have a chance to go deep in the playoffs. Like for example, a garbage team like the Padres simply would not win a series. And I think super glaring flaws are exposed MORE in the I think that we don't even have a 50% shot to win each series if we don't have a competent bullpen and competent 4th starter.

ssln said...

Sounds like you went to too many all you can eat buffets on you trip. You want three pitchers. Maybe you should put yourself in the position of GM on the teams trading those pitchers and see what you would expect back in return. Just be reasonable but remember there will be other suitors for each pitcher. If they do what you say, our farm system will be devastated...unless Robles can play two positions at the same time.
Get Wilson from the Tigers and see if Doolittle can be had for quantity rather than quality. Bring up Fedde and Jackson and see if either can catch lightening in a bottle.
If that doesn't work than just pray for lots of rain and work Wilson until his arm falls off.