Nats Bullpen Woes Could Continue Past 2015
As of Wednesday night, the Nats have used 19 non-position player relief pitchers (8 of which are rookies) this season, a far cry from the 2012-14 seasons where the Nats averaged about 14 relievers (3 of which were rookies) each season. After being ranked 6th in baseball in most "shutdown" appearances (when a reliever accumulates 0.06 or greater in Win Probability Added in one game) and 8th in baseball in least "meltdown" appearances (when a reliever’s WPA is -0.06 or worse in a game) from 2012-14, the Nats are 19th in "shutdowns" and 22nd in "meltdowns" this season.
What went wrong? More like what didn't go wrong? There were early season injuries (Craig Stammen and Casey Janssen), mid-season injuries (David Carpenter), and late season injuries (Aaron Barrett). Drew Storen was filthy in the first half but his second half ERA is almost 4 runs higher than his first half ERA. Tanner Roark and Felipe Rivero have shown flashes of brilliance at times, but have shown flashes of extreme inconsistency at others. The acquisition ofJonathan Papelbon was supposed to shore up the 8th inning because nobody emerged from the glut of supposed set-up talent to get the game to the 9th between Janssen, Barrett, andBlake Treinen, and then Drew Storen all of a sudden turned into a pumpkin at midnight. Matt Thornton stopped striking guys out, and the Nats struggled through Xavier Cedeno, Matt Grace, Felipe Rivero, and Sammy Solis before settling on Rivero the second time around as the second lefty out of the pen.
So basically: Not Great, Bob.
We can all agree that this year's bullpen has been one giant gut punch, so I decided to take a look at who will be back next year. And all I could come up with for sure is Jonathan Papelbon.
I'm betting that the Nats will give Drew Storen the change of scenery that he desires, even though it would be a pain to replace him (despite all of the bad memories, he's still the second best reliever on the team by a wide margin). Barrett will all but certainly miss the entire 2016 season due to his exploding elbow, The Nats will gladly add a few thousand dollars to Casey Janssen's $1.5 million buyout to put him on a plane to Antarctica, and I doubt they will re-sign soon-to-be 39 year old Thornton, who is also a free agent after the season and has lost velocity on his heater this year.
Blake Treinen is probably the second most likely option to be back, despite an up-and-down season, since he's got a live arm and some level of ML success under his belt. Craig Stammen and David Carpenter will be in the bullpen if they're healthy, but we know that is no guarantee. Stammen could theoretically be a non-tender candidate if his arm isn't responding to rehab the way the team desires, as he's required to be offered at least $1.8 million in his fourth year of arbitration (80% of his $2.25 million salary in 2015).
Felipe Rivero is an interesting case, as I could see them not wanting to "waste" his precious left arm as a reliever, but given the rest of the options, they'll likely slot him into the Matt Thornton bullpen role. Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole fall under the same boat, as they could find their way onto the roster as relievers if they don't win starting spots in Spring Training.
It's unlikely that Matt Grace, Taylor Hill, or Rafael Martin will all of a sudden be good ML relievers, and the likes of Erik Davis and Sammy Solis are far from slam dunks to stay healthy. I like Abel De Los Santos as a potential option, and top prospects with big arms but durability concerns like Reynaldo Lopez and Jefry Rodriguez could always sneak in as well, but I wouldn't count on it.
Most likely the Nats are going to have to bring in a decent bit of outside help to shore up the bullpen, with names like Joaquin Benoit, Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria, Santiago Casilla, Darren O'Day, Ryan Webb, Oliver Perez, J.P. Howell, Antonio Bastardo, Shawn Kelley, David Hernandez, and Tommy Hunter leading an underwhelming FA class. The Nats have shown the ability in the past to find diamonds in the rough that have excelled in the bullpen, but not in 2015.