Posted on January 27, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
So far this offseason, the Washington Nationals have acquired their center fielder of the future in Adam Eaton, moved Trea Turner back to shortstop, filled their void behind the plate with Derek Norris, and solidified their bench with Stephen Drew. But there’s one thing they haven’t done this winter, and that’s brought in a closer. The Nationals have tried but been unsuccessful in signing or trading for a closer, and time is slowly running out to do so.
To be fair, the Nationals have made an honest effort to acquire a closer. They expressed interest in Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen, and they reportedly made an $80 million offer for Jansen, the last of the three to sign. Yet, the Nationals couldn’t land one of the three elite closers on the market this winter. Washington then made an effort to sign Greg Holland, a once elite close who missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. However, Holland ended up signing with the Rockies earlier this week, leaving the Nationals without an established closer.
As it stands, the top relievers in Washington’s bullpen are Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen. Both are coming off excellent seasons, but have a combined 12 career saves, with seven of those coming from Kelley last season between the time Jonathan Papelbon lost his job as the closer and the team acquiring Melancon.
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In theory, the Nationals could begin the 2017 season with either Kelley or Treinen as the primary closer. Lefty Sammy Solis would provide another solid setup man, and the team is also high on prospect Koda Glover, who they hope will become a steady contributor out of the bullpen this year. For a lot of teams, that would be an acceptable bullpen configuration. But can a team with World Series aspirations really be content with what the Nationals currently have in their bullpen?
The problem is that there are no more bonafide closers left on the free agent market. Remaining free agents like Sergio Romo, Joe Blanton, and Boone Logan could all help to strengthen Washington’s bullpen, but none would necessarily be the closer the team needs. Moreover, there are reports that the Nationals are uninterested in spending money to sign second- or third-tier relievers.
This leaves the trade market as the only viable place to find a closer before the start of the season. David Robertson of the White Sox and Alex Colome of the Rays are two closers who have been discussed as trade options this winter. The Rays don’t appear to be in a rush to trade Colome, although the White Sox would theoretically be open to trading Robertson after the fire sale they’ve conducted this winter. After being trade partners in the Eaton deal, the Nats and White Sox could get together again on a Robertson trade. However, the Nationals are reportedly hesitant to give up more of their prospects in a trade, even if it means adding a frontline closer like Robertson.
As it stands, it appears increasingly likely that the Nationals will fill the closer’s job from within. It’s possible they have enough quality in their bullpen to get away with such a move. But with baseball coming off a postseason in 2016 largely defined by relief pitching, the Nationals would be taking a substantial risk if they don’t do anything to improve their bullpen between now and the start of the season.