JP Howell and the Unspoken Option
What if the Nats search for a lefty reliever turned internal. For a couple days now all the writers that cover the Nats have been able to talk about is JP Howell and he, along with former Nats Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez, is one of the last lefty relievers left on the board. After losing Sean Burnett to the Angels the Nats are left with fewer and fewer options for a lefty reliever. Except of course the one option no one is talking about. JP Howell is a fine lefty reliever. For his career as a reliever lefties have hit .241/.323/.351 off of him, but what if I told you that the Nats have in house a pitcher who lefties hit .214/.307/.300 off of.
That pitcher is Ross Detwiler and while it sounds foolish to take a starting pitcher and turn him into a LOOGY consider that righties hit .272/.331/.418 off of Detwiler for his career. Detwiler has been a reliever and a very good one before and just last season he bounced between relieving and starting. If the Nats rotation suffers an injury as it stands then either Zach Duke, Yunesky Maya, or Christian Garcia would be forced into the rotation. Converting Detwiler to primarily a reliever solves both the lefty bullpen issue and the worry about injury to the starting rotation.
This is only a consideration if the Nationals sign an additional starting pitcher. The Nats are not in a position currently to be moving their very fine fifth starter into the bullpen, but what if they were. What if the signing of Dan Haren wasn't a signal that the Nats are out of the starting pitcher market, but only a smoke screen to make other teams think they are. Even beyond Greinke there are pitchers that would help the Nats this season and next. The Nats minor league pitching is not at a point where a one year deal to Dan Haren makes perfect sense. There is no one that they are waiting for in the minors especially with Alex Myers being traded to the Twins for Denard Span.
All the talk from the media about the Nationals the last couple days has been about JP Howell and future arbitration and extension concerns. The Nats look like a team that only needs to finish up negotiations with LaRoche, figure out what to do with Morse, and sign a lefty reliever like JP Howell, but that isn't the only path open to the Nationals. The fact that Detwiler has relieved in the past and has a significant platoon split makes him a good candidate to fill that role, and if the Nats are going to fill that role with Detwiler it means they signed someone else.
No one is looking for the Nats to sign Greinke, but no one was looking for the Angels to sign Pujols or the Tigers to sign Fielder or the Phillies to sign Lee or on and on. Free agents rarely end up where they are rumored to go and when it is down to two teams that is when the third and great mystery team often jumps in. Whether or not the Nationals are a mystery team for Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, or Ryan Dempster will be determined in the coming days, but it isn't a possibility that should be ignored while everyone is assuming the Nats are solely focussed on Adam LaRoche and JP Howell as their only remaining targets.