The Washington Nationals have hit the ground running this offseason. Acquiring righty Kyle Barraclough from the Miami Marlins and signing former St. Louis Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, they’ve added two arms who will bolster their bullpen. With that said, the two righties have to be the start, not the end, of a busy offseason for general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals.
Last season, the Nationals disappointed going 82-80 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Now, the attention shifts to Bryce Harper‘s free agency. Will he re-sign with the team he grew up with, or head elsewhere? Regardless of whether the perennial All-Star outfielder stays put, or puts up a tent in another city, the Nationals have a number of pressing needs.
One of those needs is bullpen aid, which Barraclough and Rosenthal can provide. While he posted a career-worst 4.20 ERA to go along with a 1.33 WHIP in 2018, Barraclough has showcased the ability to be a reliable reliever in years past. From 2015-17, he recorded ERAs at, or below, three and totaled an impressive 113 strikeouts in 72.2 innings pitched in 2016. In his six seasons with the Cardinals, Rosenthal was depicted as one of the best closers in Major League Baseball. He recorded 45-plus saves in 2014 and 2015, owns a career 2.99 ERA, and is a former All-Star Game participant. At the same time, there are some red flags with the two righties.
Barraclough tends to put runners on base often and has been shaky in the save situations he’s inherited (Barraclough is 11-27 in save situations for his career). Meanwhile, Rosenthal didn’t pitch last season as he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but the Nationals were still willing to grant him a one-year, $6 million deal.The @Nationals made a pair of savvy acquisitions in getting Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal. But as @RPStratakos writes, those moves must be the beginning, not the end, to the offseason ahead.Click To Tweet
Going into 2018, the Nationals had a deep bullpen. With Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, and Shawn Kelley, among others, in place, first-year manager Dave Martinez had a number of backend relievers who he could lean on in the late innings. But their pen didn’t perform up to par, and management traded away Madson, Kintzler, and Kelley in the summer; only Doolittle remains from that core of veteran relievers.
Barraclough and Rosenthal help give the Nationals depth, but they will still have to add more relievers. Doolittle is one of the best closers in the sport, and there’s no reason for the Nationals to mess with the lefty anchoring the ninth inning. Righty Justin Miller was also impressive in select spots last season. Targeting backend relievers such as Joe Kelly, Joakim Soria, David Robertson, and/or re-signing Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland would be viable options. While Herrera recorded an unimpressive 4.34 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in the 21 appearances he made with the Nationals, he arrived in June fresh off an elbow scare and suffered a season-ending foot injury in an August 26 matchup against the New York Mets. When healthy, he’s a proven commodity.
Adding at least two more setup men is a necessity for the Nationals, but they also need a left-hander, or two, to balance out their pen. Someone along the lines of Tony Sipp or Jerry Blevins would fit the bill. But no matter how great your bullpen is, you need a steady and consistent starting rotation for it to be fully effective.
While Max Scherzer is one of the five best pitchers in the sport, Stephen Strasburg, when healthy, is a potent force, and Tanner Roark has started 30-plus games in four of the last five seasons, there is uncertainty in the Nationals starting rotation. For starters, can Strasburg pitch 30 games? Will Roark ever resemble the steady force he once was? Can Joe Ross and Erick Fedde step up and prove themselves capable of starting every fifth day? For the well-being of their pitching staff the Nationals have to add a middle-to-top-of-the-rotation starter. J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, or Anibal Sanchez would be sensible signings.
In the field, one could argue the Nationals would be wise to pursue a free agent second baseman. While they could look to bring back Daniel Murphy after trading him to the Chicago Cubs in August, there hasn’t been an indication that such a pursuit is being considered. Howie Kendrick‘s future is uncertain after rupturing his Achilles, and Wilmer Difo has been an enigma at the plate in his three seasons in the big leagues. A pursuit of Josh Harrison, Jed Lowrie, or even DJ LeMahieu would add stability to the middle infield position.
Behind the plate, the Nationals have been a revolving door. Over the last two years, Matt Wieters (an unrestricted free agent), Pedro Severino, and Spencer Kieboom have seen extended playing time, but they’ve all been underwhelming behind the plate and in the batter’s box. Perhaps a short-term deal for Jonathan Lucroy or Brian McCann is considered?
It’s unlikely that the Nationals will fill all the holes on their roster from top-to-bottom, but if they can, at the very least, bolster their pitching staff, a return to the playoffs is feasible. With the addition of a proven starter, the Nationals will have one of the best rotations in the sport yet again, and with a deep pen, they will have cured the Achilles heel of their ballclub from 2018. Plus, with the likes of Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, and Victor Robles in their everyday order, the Nationals will have the makings of a productive and well-rounded offensive attack.
The Nationals surrendered international slot money to acquire Barraclough which, considering the state of their pen and the fact that they spend little to no money on international players, is worth the price. For Rosenthal, they surrendered $6 million. That figure could mean that Rosenthal is the Nationals premier free agent pitching signing. Or that they’re willing to spend money freely due to Harper’s potential departure. Perhaps, it means nothing. But the fact that the Nationals gave Rosenthal that amount of money before November (the Nationals agreed to a deal with Rosenthal on Wednesday, October 31, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale) after missing an entire season to a significant elbow injury is interesting, to say the least.
Adding Barraclough and Rosenthal is a plausible start for Rizzo and company. But they have to be the start of a more productive offseason for the Washington Nationals.