Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Monday, November 27, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

I guessed that nothing would happen as by the time I wrote this up it was mid December and both Melancon and Jansen were signed. I didn't see a clear trade partner as everyone left was too expensive or not going to go for who the Nats had left to trade (this was post the Eaton trade). I figured they'd wait out the Greg Holland market to see if they could get him on their standard "low market, with deferred money" deal and if not just sign someone but not make them closer.  It would just be to fill out the bullpen. That is what ended up happening as they signed Blanton as the off-season  closed out.

I was pretty fine with this. I understood the risk - that the Nats were basically where they were in 2016 when Papelbon was out and the bullpen failed except now they were trying it with an Kelley who would be less reliable because of injury. But I figured the Nats were too good for it to really matter and as long as they went out again and got a dominant closer if they needed it things would be fine. Well they never did get that dominant arm, but they did get three good ones and things were mostly fine. They performed well in the playoffs and the biggest failures in the pivotal Game 5 in relief were Max Scherzer and a Sammy Solis who should have never been in the game at that point.

Basically this was my best Svengali position discussion, but to be fair a lot of the market shook out before I wrote it up. I could nail all of these is I waited until March. 

My OOB idea was to draft a closer for 2017 in 2017 like they ended up doing for Storen. Apparently my choice wasn't even good enough to be drafted (I don't get it but I don't try to) Nats went SP SP first two rounds.

Presumed Plan : Doolittle, Madson, Romero, hopefully Glover. Solis? Kelly? Probably another arm for depth.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : They didn't trade for two guys under contract for 2018 just to trade them away... I don't think. Doolittle and Madson were good, so of course they get to hold down the 8th and 9th.  If you've got two guys you feel you can count on, that's a start. You can work with that and the Nats have a couple arms in Glover and Romero, that they'd like to see if they could be special. That means using these guys in the 7th and later and thus you don't really need to go out and get that late inning guy.

Still this isn't a deep pen for the 98th season in a row so chances are they will sign a cheap arm or two at the end of the FA period to give them some of that depth.Glover and Kelly are injury returns. Solis still hasn't proven anything. You can't roll with just these guys alone.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  Madson himself is an injury risk given his finger injury and then performance in the playoffs. Doolittle is an injury risk because he seems to get injured often. (His 51 IP this past season was most since 2014). That means with Glover that 3 of your top 4 relief arms are injury risks and your fourth, Enny Romero, is a Treinen-esque guy who keeps getting sold but the league never seems to buy.

After that it's mop-up / Loogy guys like Solis and Grace and a Shawn Kelley who may never be good again.  I'm not sure what isn't a problem with this pen.

My take :What we have here is a pen with its head cut off. It needs a dominant closer to set everyone in place. Madson/Doolittle in 7th/8th. Maybe Romero/Glover working into those roles. Letting Solis/Grace focus on Loogy stuff. Letting Kelly focus on his last chance. Instead everyone is pushed up. It'll work ok... until it doesn't. It's basically a key injury away from another terrible situation.

The Nats are better off than last year. You'd rather have talent that may get injured then healthy guys that may be talented. But still the Nats don't need just a couple nobodies to fill out the pen. They need either a dominant guy to stick in the 8th/9th role or a couple of solid arms to give them flexibility. 

Out of the box suggestion :
Make Joe Ross a reliever when he returns from injury. The arm is a ticking time bomb so don't try to coax it back into starting form. Let him air it out as a reliever. I recommended this approach way back when with Christian Garcia. They didn't do it and no one got anything from their attempt at making him a starter. This is different. Ross is coming back from injury but the point is the same. Clock's ticking and you can't be sentimental. Get him healthy and get him throwing two pitches as best he can.


bsimon24 said...

I like the OOTB suggestion.... just that I don't understand what Ross' best pitches are. Does he have a wipe-out anything??

cass said...


That would be the Tyson Family Slider.

He's already a two-pitch pitcher basically, which is what Harper was referring to. Tried to work in a change to help as a starter, but Harper was suggesting just letting him throw the sinker and slider in relief. Solid idea, I think.

You do risk loosing a valuable starting pitcher that way though.

Anonymous said...

Read an article suggesting Nats go after Shaw from Cleveland, which would add a durable, reliable arm. But I'm assuming the Nats won't spend that kind of money (5M per year for a setup guy). Guess I'm curious about their fiscal approach on relievers. Except for a pretty large contract offered to Melancon, they like to do it on the cheap. Does that rule out most quality relievers?

Chas R said...

@Anon 11:16- that Nats don't like handing out big $ to RPs because they tend to be highly unreliable one year to the next, and honestly are somewhat fungible- you can take flyer on a guy and he could very well end up to be a solid RP (see Albers and Romero)

blovy8 said...

The recent history with Kelley is pretty significant too. It's not just the money, but the years. Don't we still believe these guys are frangible?

KO said...

They did draft Seth Romero last year in the first round. Any chance he makes the bullpen this year? There were rumors they were considering it last year.

DezoPenguin said...

Harper, one thing I'm curious about is your definition of a "dominant closer," that you mentioned twice. Clearly Kintzler, Madson, and Doolittle aren't it, but what is, and how many of them are out there to be gotten by anyone? Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and Andrew Miller are pretty obviously dominant, but they're anchoring the 'pens of defending division champs and aren't on the market. Davis seems the best of the FA class, but he comes with some red flags following his 2017, where he was good but not unbeatable, and isn't likely to be worth the contract he'll command (nor is "new closer" the place the Nats should be spending those resources). Who else would you include as "dominant," and where would the Nats acquire such a person?

(FWIW, I agree with the "make Ross a reliever" sentiment. His two-pitch makeup seems better-suited to that role and deciding to go in that direction also means that Rizzo won't be viewing the fifth starter role as a stopgap until Ross returns.)

Harper said...

bsimon/cass - cass hits it on the slider. Honestly nearly every pitcher has a pitch or two better than the rest. It's hard not to have an out pitch to go to. Now is it a "wipeout" pitch, like 100% effective first go round? I don't know. But I'd like to see if it would be if he focused.

not too worried about losing a quality pitcher

Anon @11:16 - like Chas said they don't spend too much money on relievers, though 5M a year (on a short deal) might be doable. That's probably the top of what they'd like to give anyone that wasn't a proven elite closer

blovy8 - the problem isn't the ease of finding a replacement but the timing of it. Figure you need a good handful of appearances to start judging - that's gonna be like a month if it's obvious. Then you factor in trying other guys that may not work and having multiple spots and the obvious injury risk with all pitchers...

That's the mistake teams make - they understand you can replace these guys but they don't get that it may take 2 months to find one replacement and you will probably need 3 by that time.

KO - not impossible but I wouldn't count on it. Look for him in Hagerstown to start year (my guess) so he'd have to burn through that and Harrisburg to have a chance. Things weren't great last year and it's only getting harder so hoping for that is a little too much. I'd look more to 2019 as a reasonable best case.

Dezo - fair question. I guess I don't have a hard & fast rule but I'd say at least 2 yrs of SVs under his belt with an ERA much better than ave and lots of Ks. (noting one injury can undo all of this. see Melancon, Mark (SF)) So I'd say - Miller, Chapman, Davis, Jansen, Kimbrel, and Cody Allen? Maybe Britton or Familia if you want to stretch it. In terms of availability that's a NO NO YES NO NO and NO with a "Maybe, but not to Nats" and "Maybe, but not to Nats" for the stretch guys.

Do they overpay for Davis? Probably not but there's no denying he's belongs up there. It's hard to see when guys like Jansen separate themselves into HOF type numbers. It's a move I can see but I bet they try something else bc that's the way they roll.

They could pay for Holland, who fails my test bc of his recent injury history, but I doubt that given his aforementioned recent injury history.

Given the above they probably have to dig into the tradable guys who are one season in and could join these ranks with a great 2018. Iglesias, Hand, Knebel, Rivero. I don't like Knebel, and do like Felipe and Raisel but they are FAs after 2021 so costly.

So I think that leaves the Nats trading for Brad Hand (in the offseason where his price will be "cheapest"). The other option - is to completely roll the dice with an Addison Reed. It would be an interesting move but Reed falls short of "dominant" to me.

Short of all this is - you are right. There are not a lot of available elite closers out there. Next season will probably be deeper with Allen, Miller, Kimbrel, Familia, and Britton all (possibly) hitting market and Iglesias/Rivero another yr closer to FA and entering prime trade time. For now Hand might be the best and only move if you aren't paying for Davis

KW said...

The scuttlebutt, egged on by guys like Keith Law and others, that Seth Romero could be in an MLB bullpen by the 2017 playoffs was one of the biggest loads of cr@p spread in recent times. Considering how long it took Romero to actually make it on the field, he was obviously out of shape, adding more concern to an already-concerning pick. He's trade-eligible in December, and I hope the Nats include him in a deal.

Only a few "elite" closers stay elite for long. And when they start to struggle, like Britton did, you wonder if the warranty is about to expire. (Balto should have moved him at the trade deadline.) The Nats dodged a bullet by coming up short on Melancon. People howled for a half a season about them not signing Holland, only to see Holland fade badly and worryingly in the second half. I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot-pole.

Doolittle certainly looked "elite" in the playoffs. Madson was dominant with the Nats in the regular season after the trade but seemed to fade a bit by the playoffs. They're both injury risks, but then again, aren't they all? Davis certainly is. I don't think the risk/reward value is there for the Nats to pursue him.

The reliever value is much more in middle relievers, including Albers, but not including Kintzler. There are a number of really good setup guys out there, like Reed, Swarzak, Shaw, Cishek, Tommy Hunter, Neshek. Morrow may be overpriced considering his injury risk. But with so many guys out there like this, I don't see (over)paying the big price that the Pads keep demanding for Hand. Raisel does intrigue me, though, particularly since he wouldn't have to come in as the closer for the stretch. That was my concern with him at the trade deadline: throwing a guy with no experience with a good team into the playoff fire.

But who are we kidding, Ohtani's going to be closing for the Nats, right?

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper (and everyone): alright. here’s an idea. The Rays are shopping both Colome and Odirizzi, according to Tampa Bay media. How about we offer a blockbuster of Soto-centered package (with some combo of Fedde/Severino/Kieboom depending on how they twist arms). Before people throw a fit over losing a kieboom or Soto whom folks are convinced will become Rendon and Harper (its entirely possible neither will be a solid starter..kieboom in particular sounds like he has “maybe one all star appearance” ceiling).... and to be clear, Colome isn’t a FA until 2021 and Odirizzi isn’t until 2020. Those two is a HAUL that would really extend the winning window beyond next year into the 2020-ish. We’re talking about a young legit closer who isn’t shut down, but is excellent, and allows Maddon and Doolittle to slot into a dominant back end, and then a mid rotation starter (note: who has had recent injury issues) but ranges from Number 3 type at best and number 4 at absolute worst (in the AL EAST). I bet in the NL East, health permitting, he’s basically another Roark....a pretty consistent sub 4 ERA guy. Admitedly, this deal really counts on Robles being a stud. Between Soto, taylor, and Robles, the Nats can’t afford to trade the beast and hang onto the mediocrity. This trade is predicated on Robles being the beast and Soto not becoming an MVP level bat. The Nats would know better than me. The rays *might* turn down Soto and Fedde for colome and odirizzi. But I don’t think the Rays turn down Soto+Fedde+Kieboom for Colome+Odirizzi. (Nats might not do it either). Thoughts?

PotomacFan said...

@KW: Yep, Ohtani is going to be #3 starter, the closer on off days, and bat clean up for the Nats.

DezoPenguin said...

@BxJaycobb: I certainly agree that that's a trade worth pursuing. Odorizzi and Colome exactly match up with what the Nats need: a solid mid-rotation starter and quality right-handed relief pitching (with closing experience, if needed). The Nats and Rays have managed numerous trades before, so there's not that Angelos problem there would be with the Orioles. I'm not sure if Soto, Fedde, AND Kieboom is the right price (Kieboom especially: with Eaton in the fold long-term and Robles around, the Nats OF situation can stand to lose Soto more than the MI situation can stand to lose Kieboom), but clearly this is something worth going after.

In terms of FAs, I think Davis would be a gross overpayment (and yeah, he's the only one worth actually going after among the "top tier" talent--Holland's second-half slide just makes him too risky), but Tommy Hunter would be worth pursuing, as would a reunion with Matt "the only reason the first-half 2017 bullpen didn't completely implode" Albers.

I've read that AJ Cole is out of options? If so, that pretty makes him the long man/spot starter. Doolittle, Madson, Romero, and Solis are more or less locks. That leaves two spots available, and Colome and one of the FA guys would fill those nicely. Grace then becomes the backup lefty if Romero or Solis falter or someone gets hurt, and Glover is waiting in the wings if and when he comes back from injury.

KW said...

There are seven in a bullpen in the regular season. We've got Doolittle, Madson, Romero, Solis, Kelley, Glover, Grace, and Cole. That's eight, before you talk about adding anyone else. I believe Romero, Solis, Grace, and Cole are all out of options. I would prefer to add another middle man or two, but it's probably going to involve trading/releasing one or two guys from the current crew.

I can't see Colome being worth to the Nats the high price in trade return he'd command. I think the Nats would have gotten last year if he'd been available at a reasonable price. If the Nats go all in with a trade this offseason, I'd say it would be for a #3 starter. I also don't see the Rays giving up Odorizzi and Colome while they still consider themselves contenders. I doubt they're trading Archer, either, even though he's been rumored to be on the move for three years now!

Harper said...

"The rays *might* turn down Soto and Fedde for colome and odirizzi. But I don’t think the Rays turn down Soto+Fedde+Kieboom for Colome+Odirizzi. (Nats might not do it either). Thoughts?"

I think they would reject the first, wouldn't turn down the second so the best deal would be Soto, Fedde, unprotected Joan Baez, and someone else at bottom of Nats 20. Or Soto, Fedde, Steveson, and a A-ball throw in.

PF - Why did they hire a manager when Ohtani could have done it?

Dezo / KW - Yep that is technically the situation right now, options too. I assume though at least one of those arms will be injured going into Opening Day. I think if they add a reliever in a trade (which I think is more likely) they will send one of these guys (Grace or Cole likely) in the return. If they sign a reliever for some reason - and can't work a trade - I'd expect Grace to be odd man out.See if he passes through waivers.

JW said...

The Rays are my secondary team, so I try to follow them when I can. The Rays really need to decide whether they are trying to contend or just completely re-build. Since they can't seem to make up their minds on that, Odo makes more sense as a trade candidate than Archer given that the organization feels that they probably have middle of the order level guys in Faria and Snell, and then Honeywell who they really like ready to come up and give it a shot. All three of those guys will cost less than the arb eligible Odo. If they go full rebuild then moving Archer makes the most sense, but otherwise they need to keep the ace.

I'm not actually sold that Odo would be more effective than Roark for the Nats. He'd probably be the Nats 4 or 5, and I'm not sure the Nats should give up what he would cost for that role.

BxJaycobb said...

I agree with your thinking. Except the question I ask isn’t so much “where does Odo rank as a starter?/how does this fill out the nats depth for the next few years?” so much as “would i prefer this pitcher to start a playoff game over Gio Gonzalez? And the answer in this case is a clear Yes, in my view—based on watching both pitchers quite a bit. Their numbers over last handful of years have been vaguely comparable and Gio is pitching in the worst hitting division in baseball and Odo the best hitting division. Odo seems entirely capable of turning in a quality start in a game 3/4 of an NLDS. Gio at this point does not. For that reason he helps the team in the most important way possible.

KW said...

I just have a hard time seeing Odo being enough of an upgrade for the Nats to be worth the trade chips it would take to get him. He's kind of in the same boat in my mind with Manaea as guys who flashed a year or two ago but struggled in 2017. You would be gambling that the upside is still there. Plus with Odo, you'd only be getting two years of team control.

I DO think the Nats need a starter upgrade over trying to make do with Fedde/Cole/Ross whenever he's back. I imagine Rizzo is still wondering if a trade is out there that would make more sense that the free agent options, all whom have some significant risk attached.