Washington Nationals Agree to One-Year Deal with Joe Blanton

The Washington Nationals have come to terms on a one-year contract with Joe Blanton. Where does the veteran right-hander fit into the bullpen picture?

The Washington Nationals have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with free agent relief pitcher Joe Blanton, according to the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the contract is for $4 million, with another $1 million possible through incentives. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post adds that $3 million of the salary will be deferred.

The 36-year-old Blanton is coming off a strong regular season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander posted a 2.48 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 3.08 K/BB ratio. He was a workhorse out of the bullpen, logging 80 innings in 75 appearances. He also produced a career-best 158 ERA+.

It was the second consecutive impressive campaign for Blanton since taking a year off in 2014 and reinventing himself as a reliever. In 2015, he made 36 appearances (32 in relief) for the Royals and Pirates, putting up a 2.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 4.94 K/BB over 76 frames. After 10 seasons as a largely mediocre starter (4.51 ERA from 2004-13), it appeared Blanton had a new lease on life.

Why did he have to wait until after the start of Spring Training to sign a new deal? Were teams perhaps a bit gun-shy after Blanton’s horrendous showing in the 2016 postseason? After tossing five scoreless innings in the NLDS (opposite his new team), he imploded against the Cubs in the NLCS. Blanton took two losses in the series, allowing seven runs – including three home runs – in three frames. While it might be unfair to hold such a small sample size against a veteran hurler, October moments always tend to stay fresh in people’s minds, for good or ill.

The Nationals needed to address their bullpen this offseason, and they hadn’t really done so until this signing. Mark Melancon should have been a strong candidate to retain as closer, but he inked a big four-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. Washington signed Joe Nathan to a minor league contract, but at 42 years old and after two Tommy John surgeries, just making the roster is a long shot.

Right now, the ninth inning is still pretty much up in the air in the nation’s capital. Is Blanton a candidate for that role? Probably not: He has primarily been a setup man or middle reliever during the past two seasons, with only two career saves under his belt. Shawn Kelley will likely get the first crack at holding down the job, but Blanton still figures to become fairly important in the later innings.

Blake Treinen and Koda Glover should also play key parts in the bullpen, along with lefties Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez. The Nationals have clear World Series title hopes for 2017, but their relief corps will need to prove itself before we decide just how realistic those goals are.

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