It’s still early in the hot stove season, but the free agent and trade market will start to take clearer shape beginning next week. Other than trying to improve at second base, the Nationals aren’t necessarily pressed to make any moves. General Manager Mike Rizzo has said he is open to tweaking the bench and bullpen. Adding a reliever, maybe a veteran one, is perhaps the most prudent move.
According to people who have spoken with the Nationals over the last few weeks, the team is focused mostly on their current players (extensions, potential trades, etc.) and not as interested in free agency. The Nationals could always nab a reliever in a multi-player trade involving any of their players with one year left of control.
More relievers could appear on the market next week. Tuesday is the deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and a few relievers may shake loose from other teams. Front offices can then fully evaluate the entire landscape of available arms. The Nationals have intriguing choices with two relievers, Tyler Clippard — who is projected to make more than $9 million in his final year of arbitration next season, an expensive price for a setup man — and Ross Detwiler — who is projected to make more than $3 million in his final year of arbitration next season but has seen his role diminish throughout last season.
If the Nationals decide to add a reliever through free agency to fill the void left by Rafael Soriano, the following are a few names to keep in mind: Jason Motte, Francisco Rodriguez, Casey Janssen, Pat Neshek, Sergio Romo and Luke Gregerson are all versatile right-handers who are capable of setting up and closing, perhaps as insurance for Drew Storen.
Rodriguez pitched some as a setup man in 2013 but is the most experienced closer of the bunch and is being pitched as a closer by his agent Scott Boras, who represents several Nationals players. Rodriguez will be 33 in January and has lost a tick on his fastball, but he saved 44 games for the Brewers last season and is walking fewer batters than his all-star seasons with the Angels. He did give up 14 home runs, mostly in the second half, and although he could work in Washington, his performance last season may make him too pricey for the Nationals.
Romo lost his closer’s role with the Giants during the season but was effective as a setup man in the second half, finishing with a 3.72 ERA and strong 0.948 WHIP. Neshek served as a setup man for the Cardinals last season, posting a 1.87 ERA and 0.787 WHIP while filling in as closer for a stretch. The performances of both would likely command nice multi-year contracts this winter.
Gregerson is the best of the remaining names and would immediately boost the Nationals bullpen. He has been one of the best setup men in baseball over the past few years and has picked up a handful of saves along the way. He has a 2.47 ERA and has averaged 66 innings per year over the past four seasons and he will likely command a sizable contract.
Janssen saved 81 games for the Blue Jays over the past season, posting a 2.94 ERA. He battled injury and illness and faded in the second half. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but he is a control pitcher; he has a career 2.2 walk per nine-inning rate, including a 1.4 BB/9 mark last season. Motte saved 42 games for the Cardinals in 2012 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013. He returned last season, logging only 25 innings but hitting 97 mph late in the season. Both players could fit in the Nationals’ bullpen, and the team has shown some interest in them but the level is unclear.
>>> In an unrelated note, the Nationals are among “several” teams that have checked in about free agent second baseman/shortstop Adsrubal Cabrera, according to a person familiar with the situation. It is unclear how interested the Nationals are in Cabrera, who played well in Washington following his acquisition at the trade deadline but still had offensive and defensive limitations.
In the next few weeks, teams pursuing Cabrera will likely make harder pushes. Teams desperate for shortstops — such as both New York teams — could be competition for the Nationals, and the Athletics have also reportedly shown interest. The Nationals could also pursue two other infielders who fit what they’re looking for. With Ian Desmond’s future in Washington beyond 2015 unclear for now, the Nationals would be wise to find an infielder who can man second base in 2015 and, if Desmond departs via free agency, also handle shortstop in 2016.
A couple of players who may fit the Nationals’ needs are Jed Lowrie, who was with the Athletics last season, and Stephen Drew, who struggled immensely with the Red Sox and Yankees after signing late. Lowrie played shortstop last season, but at this stage of his career he could be best suited for second, where he has played some in the past.
Drew played mostly second base for the Yankees, his first major league stint at the position. Drew, according to a person familiar with the situation, could be interested in a short-term deal, perhaps a one-year contract that would allow him to reestablish his value. Drew is considered a strong defensive shortstop. Rizzo is familiar with Drew; he was with the Diamondbacks in 2004 when they selected the infielder in the first round of that year’s draft.