Washington Nationals Acquire the Bullpen Help They So Desperately Need
Of all the potential deals that were expected to take place around the MLB trade deadline, the Washington Nationals acquisition of a reliever or two seemed among the most inevitable.
Over the weekend, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo and Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane hooked up on a trade that sent two of the A's best relievers, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington in exchange for reliever Blake Treinen and two prospects, left-hander Jesus Luzardo and third baseman Sheldon Neuse.
That Washington was able to acquire two high quality relief arms without giving up any of their top prospects makes this yet another great deal for Rizzo and the Nationals.
In 23 appearances, Doolittle has an ERA of 3.38 with a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 2.35. He has averaged 13.08 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) this season with the left-hander holding lefty batters hitless in 23 plate appearances, with no walks and 12 strikeouts.
Madson saved 30 games for the A's last year while Doolittle was nursing a shoulder strain, and in 40 appearances this year, he has an ERA of 2.06 and a FIP of 2.43, with a K/9 of 8.32 and a BB/9 of 1.37. Batters are hitting just .184 against him.
As for Washington, after letting Mark Melancon sign with the San Francisco Giants in free agency, the Nats were tied to a number of potential closers over the winter, most notably, David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox. Ultimately, they passed on Robertson -- and everybody else, for that matter -- and entered the 2017 season depending on the kids already in their system to get the job done.
That did not go well.
Despite holding a 9.5 game lead in the National League East, Washington's bullpen has been the source of great stress in the nation's capital. They hold MLB's worst ERA among relievers (5.31), and their 14 blown saves are tied for 6th-most in baseball this season. The collective of Koda Glover, Enny Romero, Blake Treinen and Matt Albers all theoretically have the stuff to get it done, but couldn't do it on a consistent basis -- no Nationals reliever has more than 8 saves.
Bullpen problems have been the Nats' bugaboo over the last few years, specifically in the playoffs. They failed to make it out of the National League Division Series in 2012, '14, and '16, due in part to some high profile, late-inning collapses. The addition of Doolittle and Madson gives Washington two experienced relievers who could put the kibosh on that problem.
The Nats have both of their new arrivals beyond this season. Madson is signed through next year at $7.5 million a year, while Doolittle is under team control through 2020.
It's unclear which of these two new additions will close, and it's possible manager Dusty Baker could go with a "closer by committee," with Madson handling duty against right-handers and Doolittle squaring off against lefties. But their addition to the Nats' 'pen solidifies the team's lone major weakness, all without damaging their long-term future.