November 20, 2017

The addition of Doolittle and Madson helps, but Nats need another bullpen piece for championship stability

The Nationals bullpen owns the worst ERA in all of baseball. Photo licensed under Google Commons.

The Washington Nationals, a team with the worst bullpen ERA in the MLB, finally got the relief it needed as general manager Mike Rizzo pulled off a trade to acquire bullpen pitchers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Oakland Athletics. The move dramatically improves the Nationals bullpen from what it was just hours before, however, as reported by Chelsea Janes of the The Washington Post, the Nationals may not be done on the trade market just yet.

Adding Doolittle and Madson takes the Nationals bullpen from really bad to decent, but decent still isn’t good enough.

The Nationals window is closing, with Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy both nearing the end of their respective contracts. It’s time for the Nationals to go for it, and that means making another trade.

Yes, once the Nationals get Koda Glover back from the disabled list, the late inning trio of Glover, Madson and Doolittle could be lights out, but a championship contending team can’t just rely on three arms. Matt Albers has been reliable, or at least reliable relative to the rest of the bullpen, and the hard throwing Enny Romero figures to fit into the mix as well.

But let’s be honest, no matter how fun it is to watch Romero put up triple digits on the radar gun, or no matter how much the team has relied on Matt Albers this season, neither inspire much confidence come a big spot in October. Heck, in the second half opening series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Nationals were relying on Matt Grace and Oliver Perez to get them out of jam.

Glover, Madson and Doolittle alone will not be enough to win the World Series, the Nationals need to find one more arm.

Because the Nationals made a move two weeks ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, the vast majority of bullpen arms that figure to be on the trade market are still available. The Nationals could still pursue White Sox closer David Robertson, Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, Pat Neshek of the Phillies, Raisel Iglesias of the Reds or maybe even a reunion with former National Felipe Rivero, now of the Pirates.

Of the bunch, I’m looking at Neshek as the most likely.

Yes, the Phillies and Nationals are in the same division, but Neshek is merely a rental, and that could alleviate concerns of the Phillies. Neshek was a member of the 2017 All-Star roster, pitching to a 1.21 ERA thus far in 2017. Neshek won’t cost much as he is an impending free agent, and as he won’t be pursued as a closer. A foursome of reliable arms made up of Glover, Neshek, Madson and Doolittle, now I’m feeling a more confident.

After the trade with the Athletics, Robertson, Herrera and Iglesias all will likely outprice what the Nationals will be willing to offer.

The White Sox have said that they want Robles for Robertson, Herrera may cost a similar prospect pool to Robertson, and Iglesias, with his cheap contract with lots of control left — in addition to dominant stuff — make him the least likely of the bunch to end up in Washington.

Rivero is up for arbitration after this season, but his having the best year of his career thus far. The Pirates may be willing to part ways with him, but no rumors have surfaced connecting Rivero to his former team.

The Nationals trade with the Athletics have made this much better, and positioned them for a playoff run. But to become a team that can win the World Series, the front office should not stop making moves yet.

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