On Monday, the Nationals traded for Royals closer Kelvin Herrera. This was unusual.
The Royals are bad, yes, and Herrera was expected to be available this year, true. What’s unusual is when this move happened – June 18 – a full six weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline. Moves like this don’t typically happen until July.
Except, you can excuse the Nats for getting things going.
After a torrid May, June hasn’t been as nice to the Nats. They haven’t won a series this month, and while they were able to split the doubleheader played last night against the Yankees, they got swept over the weekend by a Blue Jays team that was eight games under .500. Now, the bullpen hasn’t necessarily been the issue this month: Justin Miller has been surprisingly good! Still, the Nats sit 3.5 back of the Braves for the division lead and tied with the Phillies for the second wild card spot. There is, as they say, room to improve.
Enter Kelvin Herrera. He’s the Royal’s hard-throwing closer, though he’ll likely slot into an eighth inning role for the Nats (sorry, Ryan Madson). He was a part of the Royals late-inning Triumvirate of Death when they made back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014-2015, so we know he can pitch in October. He makes the Nats immediately better.
Brandon Kintzler is on the DL with a forearm issue, but assuming he can come back at some point this season this move gives the Nats something they haven’t had in what feels like forever: bullpen depth.
Herrera’s peripherals are…interesting. His fastball velocity is down about one mile per hour in 2018 versus last year, his K/9 sits under 8, and he’s leaving almost 99% of runners on base (his career LOB%: 78%). On the flip side, he’s issued just two walks all season. We like that. Even if he doesn’t have traditional closer stuff, we don’t need him to. Plus, he was expected to be one of the three best relievers available at the deadline. Now the Nats have him for an extra six weeks as they try to catch and open up a lead over the Braves.
What’s more, the Nats didn’t appear to pay an arm and a leg for him.
According to MLB Pipeline, the Nats sent their 10th- and 11th-ranked prospects, 3B Kelvin Gutierrez and OF Blake Perkins, and RHP Yohanse Morel to the Royals.
Perkins, 21, is hitting .236 with 11 doubles, 1 home run, 21 RBI, 40 walks, and 38 runs scored for Class A. Gutierrez, 23, is hitting .271 with 6 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, 26 RBI, 16 walks, 10 steals, and 36 runs in AA. Morel is a lottery ticket. He’s thrown just 3.1 innings in the Dominican Summer League.
These guys could turn into good players, but it doesn’t really matter. They can’t help the Nats today and losing them doesn’t make them worse five years from now. Rather, the move injects the scuffling Nats with a little bit of life and a little bit of hope.
The game is on.
Fire David Martinez