Earlier the week, news trickled out that the Nationals were interested in free agent closer Grant Balfour, a veteran reliever who could, as General Manager Mike Rizzo likes to say, help strengthen a strength. We explored in this space why Balfour would be a fit for the Nationals. And, given the fact the Baltimore Orioles and Balfour nearly completed a two-year, $15-million deal, the right-handed reliever could come at an affordable price and length of contract.
But, according to the Tampa Bay Times and others, Balfour has agreed to a two-year, $12-million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, a team known for snatching up undervalued talent. That looks like a steal for the Rays, who needed a closer. Their previous two closers, however, are relevant to the Nationals. Rafael Soriano, obviously is in Washington now, but their most recent closer, Fernando Rodney, who has saved 85 games over the past two seasons, fits the same mold of hard-throwing, veteran late-inning reliever as Balfour that piqued the Nationals’ interest.
For the same reasons the Nationals were interested in Balfour, they could also look at Rodney. The two are the same age, but Rodney has nearly 100 more innings (571 1/3 innings) on his arm. Rodney’s high 90s fastball helped him saved 48 games and punch up a 0.60 ERA in his historic 2012 season. The command problems that have plagued him in his career returned some in 2013 when he posted a 3.38 ERA, 37 saves and a 4.9 BB/9 rate. Like Balfour, Rodney strikes out a lot of batters; a 10.1 K/9 rate in two years in Tampa Bay. According to ESPN.com, the Orioles, who nixed Balfour’s deal because of their concerns over his health, are in heavy pursuit of Rodney and the two sides are making progress.
Yet another name to keep in mind, among others, if the Nationals want to poke around at increasing depth in their bullpen, is Joel Hanrahan, a former National who was traded to Pittsburgh in the deal that brought Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to Washington.
Hanrahan, 32, underwent Tommy John surgery last May. As such, he has yet to engage in negotiations with any teams, wanting to rehab more fully first. Hanrahan should be ready to pitch in major league games by mid-to-late April. Most of his trades have worked out, but Rizzo once called trading Hanrahan his biggest regret as general manager. Hanrahan saved 76 games in 2011 and 2012 with Pittsburgh. Owing to health concerns, he could provide a back-of-the-bullpen arm at a relative bargain.
Among other free agent relievers who the Nationals could potentially target for bullpen depth at a bargain with minimal risk: right-handers Mitchell Boggs, Kyle Farnsworth, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Marmol, Pat Neshek, Kevin Gregg, or left-handers Oliver Perez, Michael Gonzalez and Jose Mijares.
–Adam Kilgore contributed.