Thursday, February 7, 2013

Spring storylines: Revamped bullpen

USA Today Sports Images
Drew Storen will have to pitch in a setup role for new closer Rafael Soriano.
As the final countdown to spring training arrives, we're counting down the five biggest storylines facing the Nationals in Viera. We start today with spring storyline No. 5: The new-look bullpen...

The Nationals had one of baseball's best bullpens last season, a deep, talented and balanced group that featured two capable closers, one of the best left-handers in the game, a couple up-and-coming right-handers, a veteran lefty and a reliable long man. And general manager Mike Rizzo had the ability to keep that entire unit intact, if he was willing to spend the money necessary to retain everyone.

Rizzo, though, didn't feel like his three lefties (Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny) were worth the contracts each stood to receive either via free agency or arbitration. So all three were left to sign elsewhere, creating an obvious dearth of southpaws in this team's bullpen.

Rizzo did make overtures to a few other available left-handers on the market, most notably J.P. Howell, but in the end decided none were worth it and so instead spent his money on the one thing the Nationals didn't seem to need: Another closer.

Last month's signing of Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal -- that number is a bit misleading because half of his salary is deferred way down the road -- took everyone by surprise, headlined by the man who suddenly lost his job pitching in the ninth inning.

"It kind of caught me off guard, but there is no doubt that he is going to make the team better, you can't argue with that," Drew Storen said. "It makes the team better, so that's what I'm concerned about. It doesn't make my job any different. I've still got to control what I can control and get guys out; it doesn't matter what inning it is."

The Soriano signing does give the Nationals as good of a late-inning trio as you'll find in the majors, with Storen and Tyler Clippard setting up the new closer, but it also creates an entirely new dynamic in what had been a close-knit and highly successful bullpen.

That dynamic is changed not only with the addition of Soriano but with the departures of Burnett, Gonzalez and Gorzelanny. All were well-liked, not to mention effective pitchers, and their absence will be noticeable this spring.

What will also be noticeable is the complete lack of a traditional left-handed reliever in the group. Zach Duke does return after a strong year at Class AAA Syracuse followed by a solid September in Washington, but he'll serve as Davey Johnson's long man and emergency starter, not a late-inning specialist who is brought in to face the opponent's top left-handed slugger in key spots.

Assuming Duke makes the Opening Day roster, there's probably only one relief spot up for grabs this spring. That spot could be filled by a number of candidates.

There's right-hander Christian Garcia, who dazzled during his September call-up and earned a spot on the postseason roster. The Nationals do intend to stretch Garcia out this spring and potentially send him to Syracuse as a starter, but he could still make the big-league roster as a reliever.

There's left-hander Bill Bray, a former first-round draft pick of the Expos who made his big-league debut for the Nationals in 2006 before being dealt to Cincinnati in the blockbuster, eight-player trade that brought Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to D.C. Signed to a minor-league contract this winter, Bray will be given a real shot to make the Opening Day roster and serve as that all-important lefty specialist.

And, not to be forgotten, there's still right-hander Henry Rodriguez, whose electric stuff still makes scouts drool but who has yet to show any consistency at the big-league level and who is coming off surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. As was the case last year, Rodriguez is out of minor-league options. So he must either make the big-league roster, be exposed to waivers or land back on the disabled list.

No matter who wins that seventh and final spot, the Nationals know they'll open the season with one of the sport's best bullpens once again. It's just going to look considerably different than the relief corps we saw last year.

And it's going to require a couple of guys with track records as closers to accept lesser roles.

"If we can add another piece to the puzzle that is going to help us get where we want to be," Clippard said, "if we're sitting here on November 1st with the trophy for the World Series, then no one is going to be complaining about anything. That's what we're striving for."

92 comments:

Unknown said...

If this pen reduces clips innings then yeah. But they will need a lefty specialist against the togh lefty hitters in the NL east like freeman, Howard, Heyward, Davis, Utley, McCann, Stanton, etc. Nats better hope bray works or hey will have to get a Loogie at the deadline.

sm13 said...

This story is a good bookend to the issue of whether Nats starters will go deeper into games. A bullen this deep gives Davey the freedom to go get his starters at virtually any time with the confidence that his bullpen can finish out the game. When you look at it, we have two closers -- Soriano and Storen --, three eighth inning guys -- Storen, Clippard, and Mattheus --, three seventh inning guys -- Clippard, Mattheus, and Stammen -- , plus Duke, Bray, and Garcia (or, Henry). The ability to play mix and match with this group is limitless. Few managers have this sort of luxury. It will make decisions about pulling a starter that much easier, as he won't have to use the same relievers game in and game out.

DaveB said...

So ... Soriano as the closer; Storen/Clippard as the A/B 8th inning guys; Mattheus/Stammen as the A/B 7th inning; Duke as long reliever; HRod or Bray or Garcia as the addl "as needed" plug in?

NatsJack in Florida said...

When did Stanton start batting left handed?

Rabbit34 said...

Njack....On January 17 he switched.

DaveB said...

Rabbit ... Actually I think it was Novemeber 19th when the trade with Toronto turned his world upside down.

Joe Seamhead said...

They should make him bat LH just to even the playing field. The guy is a beast!
Seriously, I overall like this pen. My biggest question mark is actually the one accepted LH reliever, that being Zack Duke. I just see Zack as a guy that will get crushed his second time through a quality ML batting order.I sure hope I'm wrong because they have pretty much anointed him as the long relief guy.

JD said...


I think Storen will close some. I think Davie likes to use 2 bullpen 'teams'. I don't think it's critical to have a LOOGY when most of the relievers have strong results against lefties.

3on2out said...

sm13:

I think you nailed it. I was trying to make this point yesterday about Davey's ability to mix and match. He can use his bench to pinch hit when the time is right and not factor in pulling the starter. With this bullpen there is no reason to extend them. As soon as there is a hint of a struggle...3rd time thru the order? Why bother? He has an absolute kick-ass bullpen...any one of the many pieces can shut the door. Davey doesn't give the tiniest of damns about getting his starters complete games. As a matter of fact, average innings per start may increase very little. Keep those arrows in the quiver...innings not pitched in June may be of some utility in October!

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

"Clippard said "If we're sitting here on November 1st with the trophy for the World Series, then no one is going to be complaining about anything.'"

Obviously, he doesn't read the comments.

Or does he mean "This had better work."?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

DaveB said...
Rabbit ... Actually I think it was Novemeber 19th when the trade with Toronto turned his world upside down.

February 07, 2013 8:28 AM


Good one!

SCNatsFan said...

It will be cool that, if need be in the sixth inning, we can bring a closer in... and still have two left for later in the game.

Checked all the spelling on this too.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

I'm guessing that if Henry isn't PFB this spring, he's gone, so in the alternative, if he does make the roster, if the bone chips really were the only problem, then you have four closers, Mattheus, Stammen, and a long lefty Duke.

That would be PFB.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Sec3, Henry will be PFB like he was last Spring Training. His problem is when game pressure is added he starts unraveling like a cheap suit.

I think Henry makes the Opening Day roster unless Rizzo signs Vazquez.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

from the last thread: "Aces had most clients in Mitchell Report, now most in Biogenesis"

The Commissioner's office doesn't have any authority over agents, I think, and probably not much leverage beyond hounding (or should I say bird-dogging?) their client players.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

"[Henry's] problem is when game pressure is added he starts unraveling like a cheap suit."

Which is a problem with confidence and/or focus. Here's hoping he can find both, for everybody's sake but the hitters'.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Unless it's genetic, in which case he probably won't.

JaneB said...

I really, really hope Henry is PFB this spring and beyond. It would be so good for all of us if somehow the surgery took away all the bad joojoo along with the bone spurs so he can be the GOOD scary pitcher he has sometimes shown himself to be. But the best 25 go north, and if he can't be PFB by then, then I'm not scared to see him in some one else's bull pen. Though, I guess I wold be scared for the various body parts of our guys standing in the batters box.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

I see the biggest MLB story other than Biogenesis as Bourn and Lohse are unsigned as of February 1st.

I still think Bourn goes to Texas and they are just waiting Boras out.

Lohse has nowhere to go.

Tcostant said...

Ironicly he could have all three (Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny) for what he'll pay Soriano for one year.

I'm not sure that is better, so my only conclussions is that Rizzo was down Storen, big time, as a closer.

Theophilus T. S. said...

" Which is a problem with confidence and/or focus. Here's hoping he [Rodriguez] can find both, for everybody's sake but the hitters."

The most serious bone chips were, and remain, in his head.

NCNatsie said...

Tcos: True, but he wouldn't have had roster spots for all of them

Theo: It's possible the chips in the elbow were causing, or at least contributing to, the head problems. I sure would lose confidence on the mound if my pitching arm hurt like hell every time I threw, wouldn't you?

Tcostant said...

Some randowm thoughts on other stuff:

- Bourn is almost a done deal to the Mets; they have offered 3 years and may do a 4th just to get the deal done. Not may other options.

- Just a guess here, by 1 year for Lohse with the Cards.

- My hope for Gio, if he his guilty (I think he is), he should show up at Spring training, say he made a horriable mistake and tell the fans how sorry he is and that it will never happen again. Serve his 50 games and be loved again.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Lohse's most serious problem is that no one thinks he's safe for more than a two-year deal, and two years of his services do not outweigh the loss of the draft pick. If teams saw Lohse as a three- or four-year contributor, the calculus might change. Even if by waiting Boras out a team was able to squeeze Lohse down to one year at the major league minimum (highly improbable), they'd never recoup the lost signing pool money, let alone the pick, no matter how much money they save by signing him at a bargain basement price.

We could be looking at a situation where no one signs Lohse until a quasi contender decides in the middle of the summer that signing him guarantees they make the playoffs.

Under the CBA, does there ever come a time (next year?) at which Lohse no longer costs a pick? Or is he going to be compelled to crawl back to the Cardinals and offer to work for peanuts?

Theophilus T. S. said...

NCNatsie --

People have got to stop making excuses for Rodriguez, just like Rizzo has got to stop screwing up the roster just because he loves the "potential" and doesn't want to fess up to a mistake. Rodriguez has been a head case ever since he got here. And, as evidenced by the way Oakland burned up his options, he was a headcase there as well. He couldn't pitch well enough to stay in the big leagues there, either, healthy elbow or not.

Oakland might not have gotten much (one year of Willingham) in exchange but fleecing Rizzo by sticking him with the As headcase is an exploit Beane will be telling his cronies in the nursing home long into his dotage.

Tcostant said...

Theo I don't see a free agent waiting until a later date address at all. I would think that once the draft took place a pick would no longer apply; but I don't see that anywhere:

http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/2011_CBA.pdf

UnkyD said...

I'm totally in the tank for PFBRod...

SCNatsFan said...

Theo I disagree; although he appears to be a head case moving Willingham for HRod wasn't getting fleeced, it was trading a player who wasn't really going to be useful to the Nats (at that point they were going nowhere) for a potential great arm. I'm sure Rizzo was thinking this guy might turn out like Ryan when he got his act together. I'm not down on Rizzo for getting him, I'm down on him for sticking with him.

upperdeck4 said...

I'm pollyanish, I know, but I still have faith in Henry. I still cannot forget his performance in the last home game of 2011 against Atl. That inning was the most devastating performance by a reliever that I have seen. Just keep that game in your head Henry.

upperdeck4 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sjm308 said...

Willingham has stayed around longer than I thought he would and he was a good teammate but not only was he NOT the kind of player Rizzo wanted to build around, he kept Morse from playing as well. Riggleman was never going to give Morse a sniff with a veteran like Willingham here. The fact that Rizzo gambled on HRod can be debated but moving Willingham was a good move for many reasons.

Personally, I am not as far gone as Unkyd but I do hope HRod can turn it around just because it would help our lads in their march toward the WS.

Go Nats!!

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Theo is right, its the bone chip in his head and its fixable if he has sought help for it but if he hasn't, I don't see improvement. I hope he has fixed the issue. Pressure related issues in sports has ended many careers before.

This is Henry's last chance I believe. Hiding him with DL stints can only carry you so far.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Earlier I tweeted that Lucas Giolito was throwing off a mound. My bad. His exact quote was "I'm good to go and ready to throw off a mound".

I did not ask him if he had thrown off one yet but it sure sounds like he's close if he hasn't.

JD said...


I don't see how Henry makes the team. Even if we don't need a LOOGY I still feel that Bray has a leg up for the last spot.

JD said...


NatsJack,

Didn't he have his TJ surgery in August? That would be an awfully quick recovery. I didn't expect him back until around August if at all this year.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

JD, I just don't see Rizzo DFA'ing him. If he can't trade him, I think he makes the team because he has Bray on a MiLB deal.

I think the leash is short on Henry and Bray becomes the heir apparent.

Theophilus T. S. said...

"the bone chip in his head [is] . . . fixable if he has sought help for it . . .."

This is at least his sixth trip through the major leagues and every year there've been pitching coaches, veteran pitchers, catchers, interpreters and professional amateur psychologists like Johnson who've been trying to, or at least available to, fix whatever malady afflicts him. Probably professional psychologists, too.

When I say a headcase, I don't know if, necessarily, a particular neurosis or pathology is impairing his performance. It is clear, however, that he is resistant to being taught how pitch. It may be as simple as "one finger, fastball; two fingers, slider; three fingers, change" exhausts his ability to process information. Whatever it is, he's got to go. The idea of a "good Henry" is as mythical as a unicorn.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Think how you would feel if you were Bill Bray and someone told you your spot on the roster was subordinate to management's continued tolerance of a player whose idea of pitching is playing handball with the backstop.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsJack in Florida said...
Earlier I tweeted that Lucas Giolito was throwing off a mound. My bad. His exact quote was "I'm good to go and ready to throw off a mound".

I did not ask him if he had thrown off one yet but it sure sounds like he's close if he hasn't.
February 07, 2013 12:10 PM


He's on a soft toss program right now and on the JZim/Stras protocol which means mid-July for him to head to A ball.

NatsJack in Florida said...

He's been rehabbing for almost 2 months already. and has been soft tossing. I posted a pic on twitter of him showing the scar.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Would be nice to be able to focus on Giolito's progress rather than agonize/fantasize about Rodriguez. Contra the case w/ Strasburg the "mainstream media" aren't doing much of a job of following him even tho I think he's almost as important to the future of the franchise.

Theophilus T. S. said...

GhostSM -- by "A ball" do you mean Potomac or Hagerstown? Potomac seems a bit advanced for someone coming off surgery. Where do people expect Jordan to start this year?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Lucas will most likely throw some rehab starts in the GCL if they are still in session when he's ready. Then maybe a start or 2 at the end of Hagerstowns season.

SCNatsFan said...

I don't think it matters much with HRod - Rizzo and Johnson know we are too close to be giving a roster spot away with so few spots available. If HRod can pitch he'll make the roster, if not he will be dealt for Cutter Dykstra's twin brother. He won't be rehabbing his head in MLB this year, at least not in DC.

With as much talent as we have and players being pushed I'm still amazed Tracy got extended. I like the guy and hope he produces like he did before he got injured but he has to be smiling he has a roster spot on the best team in baseball right now.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Thanks NatsJack, that's what I see also. GCL then to Hagerstown but I think he will get in 4 to 6 starts if his progression in the GCL is good.

If Giolito does good in Hagerstown he could be an alternate in the AFL.

NatsJack in Florida said...

So Fangraphs rates Rizzo's trade for Span as the best deal made this off season. As we all say,, "In Rizzo We Trust".

JD said...

'So Fangraphs rates Rizzo's trade for Span as the best deal made this off season. As we all say,, "In Rizzo We Trust".'

Not according to Peric,

JD said...


Giolito isn't turning 19 until July. I think Hagerstown might be a stretch especially coming off the TJ. I think more likely GCL and Auburn.

JD said...


As a frame of reference the Pirates drafted Jameson Taillon 2nd overall to Bryce Harper in 2010 ; he is now 21 years old and is still a year away from the bigs at least.

I think Giolito is 4 years away from the show if all goes well; in 4 years he will be 22.

Tcostant said...

Must read:

http://mlb.si.com/2013/02/07/winter-report-card-washington-nationals/?sct=uk_t11_a5

Scooter said...

Thanks, Tcostant. I love his description of several lefties as "upright and still unsigned." That really does seem to be how it works, once the offseason reaches a certain point.

Tcostant said...

Enjoy Stras while we have him, because no way will Rizzo pay him the kind of money that he will command on the open market. Look at this:

http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/02/07/felix-hernandez-mariners-on-verge-of-a-175-million-contract-extension/

Michael S said...

OK I give up. What is PFB

MicheleS said...

Tcostant. There is one thing you need to consider with Stras. Mark Lerner has been to every start (minors, majors, rehab, etc) that Stras has made. HE LOVES him and god know Boras will have a 60 page presentation on this so Lerner will be backing up the armored car.

MicheleS said...

PFB = Pretty Frickin Bueno per McCatty.

baseballswami said...

"Outsiders" seem to see the lack of a pure lefty specialist as a weakness in our pen. I don't think our organization is in lock -step with that kind of system at all. I don't think they like the idea of a pitcher who only throws to one guy. I think their plan is to have bullpen guys whose specialty is getting lefties out as well as righties -- that doesn't have to mean they are left handed themselves, though. Once again, the Nats organization goes their own way. I like it. But when you hear analysis of our team, you will often hear those things presented as negatives.Same deal with puling pitchers for a pinch hitter - you will hear that the starters can't go deep into games. Inside the box thinking versus outside the box thinking.

Tcostant said...

Michele you might be right, I will enjoy him now and be plesently surprised if he signs after his free agent years. By that time the going rate will be 7 years / $200 million.

Pilchard said...

Strasburg will not be FA eligible until 2017. If (really big "if) he stays healthy and puts in 4 more solid seasons as starter, SS will get a massive contract along the lines of the rumored King Felix deal (and deservedly so).

That is a long way off and a lot needs to happen including Strasburg dominating for 4 more years, which also would likely mean that the Nats dominate as a franchise. So, lets enjoy the next 4 years before worrying about SS breaking the bank in 2017.

Michael S said...

Thanks michelle

Scooter said...

Remember, Tcostant: just because something's never been done doesn't mean it never will be done. Until this offseason, Mike Rizzo had never traded a 6'9" right-hander who went to college in Kentucky. He finally saw a need to, so now he has.

So, even though the team has never spent $200 million to re-sign a 2-time Cy Young winner and World Serious MVP, it might just be that the time was never right.

Like you, I'm just going to relax and enjoy it.

Tony said...

Strasburg hasn't even started going deep into games yet and already people are worried about him going deep into his contract. First things first, people.

Faraz Shaikh said...

btw did you know the day Ted Lerner was born was the last day this city saw a team in a world series game?

slidell2 said...

Ted is only 80?

Pilchard said...

Ted Lerner is 87. Born October 15, 1925.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Can somebody link to the glossary for Michael? I can't from here--tech. issues.

Section 222 said...

More info on PFP and other terms of art used by frequent commenters on this blog can be found on in the NIDO Spreadsheet/Glossary

Seems like some frequently referred to PED references might be a helpful addition if a knowledgable source has the time and inclination...

UnkyD said...

"The idea of a "good Henry" is as mythical as a unicorn. "
------------------
Not quite, tcostant..... I SEEN good Henry. Unicorn, not so much.... :)

UnkyD said...

Sorry! Should have been aimed at Theo....

John C. said...

@Faraz: The Senators also went to the World Series in 1933, losing to the Giants in five games. At 8 years old, Ted Lerner may well have attended some of those games :)

Faraz Shaikh said...

John C, how did I miss that?
you are right. I forgot about 1933.

Let's put Ted in a out of town private school for that year.

Faraz Shaikh said...

for laughs: http://amzn.to/11R6zHY

Tony said...

Real baseball fans don't need some stupid spreadsheet to know what Pitchers Fielding Practice is.

Section 222 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NCNatsie said...

LOL, Tony. Do we need to put that on the NIDO?

NCNatsie said...

Speaking of the NIDO glossary, I know the Shark is Roger Bernadina, but I don't know why he is called that? So far, it doesn't seem to be in the glossary. Can someone explain for the masses?

Faraz Shaikh said...

some non-NI blogger came up with that I think.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Faraz Shaikh said...

Sharkadina!

Faraz Shaikh said...

You owe me one Sofa.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

Thanks, FS. Hard to do links from the phone.

Faraz Shaikh said...

Haha, no problem. Ctrl+u, Ctrl+c, Ctrl+v does the trick, with a Ctrl+f and some backspace in there.

Bet it would have been easier to write my own Href function.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

NIDO with glossary, how-to lists, and Spring Training calendar

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

The code is simple enough, if I don't accidentally get spaces in there screwing it up.

Faraz Shaikh said...

I think you had missed the '.' after www.

Learning HTML is not on top of my list but it is on the list. Some day though.

Faraz Shaikh said...

On Felix extension, absurd amount of money I would not spend on anyone besides Mays, johnson, Williams, and Cobb.

It seems like elite players these days are taking some kind of revenge for that reverse clause owners had over all players in the past.

Sec. 3, My Sofa said...

This site doesn't allow us to do much; you could learn the couple of codes it does allow in five minutes.

peric said...

I think Giolito is soft-tossing 30 feet according to his tweets.

Not off of the mound yet.

peric said...

"Outsiders" seem to see the lack of a pure lefty specialist as a weakness in our pen.

Bill Bray plus perhaps Patrick McCoy and perhaps Abed should do the trick. Plus? Zach Duke. That should be plenty.

natsfan1a said...

I must need some real baseball, because when I followed the link from Faraz, my first thought was "that's kind of awesome." My second thought was, "I need one of those." Truth be told, I am something of a kitchen gadget fan as well.

On another note, the NIDO has a how-to item on the HTML codes that this site will allow.

Faraz Shaikh said...

1a, just read some of the reviews. Hilarious!

Sofa, I think I already know those codes.

Faraz Shaikh said...

five-year, $135.5MM for Felix. That's better than a seven year commitment I think.

sjm308 said...

Terps

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