If you stayed up to watch the entirety of Wednesday’s game, perhaps the only drama in the late innings was to see whether or not Trea Turner would get another at-bat, and with it a chance for a second consecutive cycle. The accomplishment is laughably improbable; the career record for cycles is three, set by four players. The only player to match the feat since World War 2 is Adrian Beltre.
Think about Jayson Werth for a second.
As a Nats fan who loves to worry, is he on your list of concerns? The bullpen, the defense, Trea’s hamstring… Werth doesn’t register, right?
Well, he shouldn’t. Just in case you were thinking about it.
Now, there is a reason or two to worry about Werth. But let me explain why even those shouldn’t concern you. Please, remain calm for the duration of the article.
If you’re reading this, you’re surely aware that the Nationals’ bullpen has been very bad this year. To put it empirically, Nats relievers have allowed 18 runs in 20 1/3 innings this year, or a 7.98 ERA. That’s awful!
The Nationals announced today that Blake Treinen will start the season as the closer, ending months of speculation that began right as the Nationals were eliminated in the NLDS last October. Their failed runs at the elite free agent closers showed a commitment to shoring up what has been a weak spot in the franchise’s history, but they came up empty.
Of the three reported finalists for the spot — Treinen, Koda Glover, and Shawn Kelley — all had their flaws. Glover is a rookie with a career 5.09 MLB ERA. Kelley has had two Tommy John surgeries and may not pitch back-to-back days. Treinen has had struggles with lefties and command, though he made strides in both areas last year. But the fact that this decision was so close implies something else: These players are not far apart, talent-wise. And because of that, it doesn’t really matter who the closer is.
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The Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes wrote a nice piece yesterday about the difficult bullpen choice the Nationals will have to make as Spring Training winds down. She notes that the team already has five spots locked down for guys on MLB contracts (Joe Blanton, Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley) or established contributors (Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis). That means if the Nats want a long man, either hotshot rookie Koda Glover or fireballing lefty Enny Romero will be left out — which would almost surely mean a new team for Romero, who is out of options. Janes also quotes Dusty Baker as saying the Nationals need a long man and Mike Rizzo as saying they don’t.
It’s an informative article, but it fails to answer its titular question: Do the Nats need a long man?
Did you hear the news? The Nationals have agreed with Matt Wieters on what is essentially a one-year, $10.5 million deal with an identical player option for next year. A quick bit of analysis: It’s good. For Mike Rizzo, it’s found money; it didn’t seem like ownership was going to spend that money anywhere else this offseason, and now he gets another asset. For Ted Lerner, it’s a likely upgrade at catcher and a chance to stick it to Peter Angelos and the Orioles. For the team, it’s a better bat and better defender behind the dish (though seemingly a worse pitch framer) instead of hoping for a bounce-back from literally the worst hitter in baseball last year.
But this piece won’t be an analysis of Wieters’ merits as a player. Instead, I want to look at the many doors this move has opened for the Nationals. With a surplus of catching, the team has myriad options on how to move forward.
January is typically the doldrums of the MLB offseason. Never mind that it is just a few days until the two-year anniversary of the Nationals’ signing of Max Scherzer: At this point in the offseason, most teams have made their moves and are filling their teams out around the edges. The Nationals have surely already made their biggest move in offloading several top prospects for Adam Eaton.
As a college student home for Thanksgiving break, I have plenty of free time. And when I have plenty of free time in the offseason, I write about roster building. Borrowing an idea from Ryan Sullivan, AKA The Nats GM, I decided to do my own mock offseason, conducting trades and making signings to build a better 2017 Nationals team.