Changes in ownership; Changes in strategy? #Nats

Last week, the Washington Nationals managing member of ownership was approved to transfer within the Lerner family. It was voted unanimously by Major League Baseball’s twenty-nine other owners to pass the top spot from the 92-year-old Ted Lerner to his son, Mark Lerner. It did not take long for the 64-year-old to put his first stamp on his tenure in his role as Managing Principal Owner with an early trade for his team to bring Kelvin Herrera in to bolster an already good bullpen. Sure, general manager Mike Rizzo made the trade but ownership certainly approved the deal and the assumption of $4.4 million of salary.

Mark Lerner was diagnosed in January of 2017 with a rare type of cancer called spindle cell sarcoma that attacks connective tissue. The cancer was found in his left leg above the knee, and he lost his leg because of the cancer. Going through that ordeal certainly changes your perspective, and Mark has always been known as a patient and thoughtful man and maybe his outlook has changed to patience with some urgency.

“We have always strived for excellence both on and off the field,” Mark Lerner said. “Our family will continue to put our fans first and do everything possible to bring a World Series trophy to [Washington] D.C.”

You could say getting Kelvin Herrera to Washington, D.C. is a step in the right direction to create a super bullpen. Manager Dave Martinez has reassured everyone that Sean Doolittle is still the team’s closer even though some stats point to Herrera being better. As we know, you need more than one closer.

But what about the divergence for the Nationals allowing general manager Mike Rizzo to make a trade in mid-June and eat $4.4 million of Herrera’s salary? It is certainly a change in what the Nationals have done in the past which in 2015 was a deadline trade for Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies paid most of his remaining contract. Since that point, the Nationals have acquired Mark Melancon at the 2016 trade deadline and the Nationals ate the rest of his salary and last year the Nationals made two trades to acquire Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler to create the super bullpen.

The bullpen will look like:

  1. Sean Doolittle
  2. Kelvin Herrera
  3. Ryan Madson
  4. Brandon Kintzler
  5. Justin Miller
  6. Sammy Solis
  7. Tim Collins or Matt Grace

Most of the Nationals players are thrilled with the Herrera acquisition, but for one player, they will lose their job and get shipped out unless there is a creative roster move. It is becoming clearer that Shawn Kelley is close to having used up his 9 lives. Kelley has a 4.11 ERA and averages a home run surrendered in every 3 appearances.

With Jefry Rodriguez returning tonight for the start and potentially Herrera activated, it will take two roster moves unless Herrera is not activated until tomorrow.  The back of the bullpen could use a fresh arm after the bullpen had to cover 6 2/3 innings yesterday as they finished out the suspended May 15th game and the nightcap.

“You get [Herrara] who’s pitched in every high-leverage role from the 7th inning on,” Doolittle said. “He’s won a World Series. He’s battle-tested. We’re planning on playing some really meaningful games down the stretch and making a run into the playoffs. We’re gonna need some help. I think it’s awesome.”

Doolitle has been better than ever this year and is looking every bit like an All-Star. For the rest of the bullpen, they have had their struggles.

Ryan Madson has a 1.500 WHIP and a 4.38 ERA which is not good by any measure, and if there is something to fix it’s the 8 hits Madson has surrendered on first-pitches in at-bats. That is a .421 BAA, but the key for Madson and any reliever is getting ahead in counts where Madson’s BAA is .186 when he is ahead.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to have a problem with it,” Madson said. “Let the old horse rest a little bit. He can let me pitch every once in a while, and I’ll be fine. All hands on deck, of course, when playoff time comes around. So I don’t see anybody else losing any sleep about it.”

For Justin Miller, he was almost unhittable for his first 8 appearances for the Nationals, and in his last two appearances he has given up earned runs. You have to adjust to adjustments and locate your pitches and get that confidence back.

We highlighted 3 pitches from Miller’s outing on June 15th. One was a “ball” (pitch 2) that was clearly a strike and two pitches that resulted in runs. One of them (pitch 5) was a location miss but (pitch 1) was out of the zone and was still hit. It happens. We have to see if Justin Miller can get back on track.

Brandon Kintzler should be returning soon from the disabled list as he recovers from a forearm strain, and the Nationals will start to look very right-handed. While Doolittle is left-handed, the only other lefty who is sure to be part of the bullpen is Sammy Solis. The Nationals have to decide what to do with their 7th spot in the bullpen which could go to Tim Collins or Matt Grace who are both lefties. In a post-season bullpen where you keep 8 players, there is always room for a future promotion or another acquisition.

Speaking of other acquisitions, it is also quite possible for Mike Rizzo to add to starting rotation depth and to also add a frontline catcher. The rumors have been around for a while. Jon Heyman wrote this earlier in the month:

“The Nats checked in on star Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto a couple weeks back, and word is, they are looking for a “haul,” the type of haul the Nats aren’t willing to surrender. The Nats top two prospects are Juan Soto (now up in the bigs) and Victor Robles, and they’d fit into the Marlins’ needs, which are many.”

We have checked in with our sources who said that the Marlins still want Victor Robles and have not moved off of that target. Is there a middle ground? That is what we are sure Mike Rizzo is hoping for. The other choice is looking at Wilson Ramos or Francisco Cervelli. Ramos certainly knows the staff and would not cost much in terms of prospects.

With last night’s surprise acquisition of Herrera, the Nationals have now shown they won’t wait for the trade deadline and they are open for business.

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