Many contending teams will be making trades starting today, will the Nationals be one of them?
Last year at this time, the Nationals were not in a hurry to make trades although the need for a lefty man in the bullpen was evident. Then it happened — Jonathan Papelbon was used for three games in a row and crumbled in the late July heat. Some were wondering if he had heat stroke while others wondered if he had an arm injury. If that wasn’t enough with 58 pitches thrown in that 3-day span, Papelbon returned for one more appearance within a 5-day span and threw 18 more pitches on his arm to get up to 76 pitches and took the loss and only his 3rd blown save of the season. If the outing 2-days prior didn’t finish off Papelbon’s career as an elite closer, July 26th of 2016 certainly did. Papelbon would never be given a chance to close a game after that and he appeared for just 2 2/3 innings of relief work and was released in early August, never to pitch again with a relayed message that he was dealing with family issues.
Mike Rizzo had no choice last year but pay dearly for an elite closer as he had to trade Felipe Rivero plus Taylor Hearn for Mark Melancon on July 30th before the trade deadline. Felipe Rivero of course is the top reliever in baseball right now, and the Nationals bullpen is still in a state of flux waiting for some reinforcements in a case of deja vu, here we are again in the same spot even though the route to this point was different from last year.
The Nationals are of course in 1st place in the NL East with a comfortable lead, and at this time Mike Rizzo is not singing the same tune he was last year. Every rival GM knows the Nationals needs bullpen help.
“We’re a good team,” Mike Rizzo said to Buster Olney last week. “The good thing is that we have a good team and we know what our flaws are, they’re pretty clear and we’re going to have a strategy to see if we can improve it.”
Rizzo is trying hard to not look desperate because desperation only drives up the asking price. The market is also void of the elite veteran closers and the only thing on Rizzo’s side is the contending teams are set with their closers even though some could snatch a closer to put in a set-up role. Even Mark Melancon is not considered elite anymore, and that comes after signing that mega $62-million deal with the Giants. Melancon is actually available for trade as is Denard Span, Michael Morse, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt and even Bryce Harper’s plunker — Hunter Strickland according to reports out of San Francisco. Melancon is on the disabled list again and his ERA of 4.35 and that 1.355 WHIP spells D-A-N-G-E-R. Forget what you wish for because it looks like the Nats escaped a disaster not resigning Melancon amidst all of the criticism claiming that Rizzo blew it.
That just goes to, “the best deals are the ones you don’t make”.
“Right now we’re just kind of testing the market,” Rizzo continued. “I’ve talked to a lot of my fellow general managers and just kind of to see where the market is right now.
“It’s no secret that we’re going to be looking for upgrades in the bullpen, and with that said, people aren’t going to want to help us out of the goodness of their heart. We’re going to have to see what deal makes sense for us in the long-term and short-term and see if we can do our part, do my part, to improve the ball club.”
We’ve known the Nats were in need of a closer since week 1 of the season when Blake Treinen just couldn’t handle the pressure, and so has NatsTown. Forgetting all of the pleasantries, when fans run into Rizzo, they have been bold enough to ruin his day by asking him the obvious, “Have you found a closer yet”?
It has been the nagging question since April 6th of this season. We have been compiling names for months and
Mark Melancon was scratched off of the early lists, and we have had two names and really only two names at the top of our list for a long time:
- Raisel Iglesias
- Roberto Osuna
Fast forward a month and everyone is now tying those names to the Nationals. They won’t come cheap, and it is almost a certainty that Victor Robles will be traded unless Mike Rizzo can works some magic. The Reds will make a better trading partner as they have some other players the Nationals could use even though it might seem like overkill.
Detroit Tigers reliever Justin Wilson is another closer, who according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network, the Nationals have scouted.
Mike Rizzo spoke to supply and demand which works in this situation to Rizzo’s favor which we covered in a previous article.
“I think it’s going to be a fluid decision,” Rizzo continued. “We’re going to have to see what’s available and what the cost is, that’s always the issue, and supply and demand at this time of the year is always what it comes down to. We’ve shown that we’ve been willing to pull the trigger and do deals at the last couple of trade deadlines. I don’t see that being any different right now. We have to make good, prudent moves.