Washington Nationals: Which Closers Are A Good Fit?
The Washington Nationals were unable to re-sign free agent closer Mark Melancon, who joined the San Francisco Giants on a four-year deal Monday afternoon. Who are the other options available on the market?
Heading into the Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals were expected to be making headlines with blockbuster trades and record signings. There’s still plenty of time for all that to happen, but so far Washington has stood pat while their former closer inked a contract with San Francisco.
Mark Melancon signed a four-year deal worth $62 million, according to several reports. This leaves only two widely coveted closers left on the free agent market. Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen will likely garner contracts of even greater value than Melancon’s, the only question that remains is whether or not they’ll be willing to write the check.
With so many ninth inning catastrophes over the past few seasons, it isn’t difficult to see why the Nats would be so intent in signing one of the more elite closers on the market. The reliever market doesn’t end at Chapman and Jansen, however, as there are several options both through free agency and trade that the team could consider.
The Nationals have a top-heavy farm system that features several promising stars but not much depth. With the team in talks with the Pirates and White Sox for Andrew McCutchen and Chris Sale, it is unknown whether any of these prospects will be available in a trade for a reliever. As it stands now, however, Washington has the flexibility to do just about anything.
The most highly coveted closer on the market, Aroldis Chapman presents an interesting dilemma for his prospective buyers.
On one hand, Chapman is one of the most dominant hurlers in all of baseball. Since making his Major League debut with the Reds in 2010, Chapman’s 15.2 K/9 is the highest mark of any pitcher to throw more than 52 innings. He consistently hits triple digits with his fastball and showed a willingness to throw multiple innings at a time this past postseason.
The reliable production will come at a hefty price. Chapman is seeking a deal upwards of $100 million this offseason, a number that would shatter the record for the highest paid reliever in MLB history. Couple that with the Cuban native’s history with domestic violence issues, and there are plenty of reasons to steer clear.
The Nationals have shown the willingness to pay relievers in the past. They signed former closer Rafael Soriano to a $28 million deal over two years prior to the 2013 season and paid Jonathan Papelbon $11 million last season alone. Adding the left-handed Chapman to the mix of right-handed relievers would help balance out the team’s bullpen.
Chapman is clearly the class of this year’s group of free agent relievers, but is he worth the price?
Kenley Jansen hasn’t made as many as many headlines as Chapman over the years, but the former Dodger has been just as effective over his career. He’s posted a 2.20 ERA while accumulating a Dodger-record 189 saves in the seven years he spent with the team. Last season, Jansen earned the first All-Star selection of his career, finishing the year with a 1.83 ERA and staggering WHIP of 0.67.
At 29 years old, Jansen is expected to sign a contract in the range of $80 million. The Marlins are reportedly mulling giving him a five-year deal, meaning the Nats will at least have to match that if they’re going to land him.
Jansen relies primarily on three different pitches, highlighted by a nasty cutter that averages 93 mph. He may not light up the radar gun like Chapman, but the fact that he doesn’t rely as heavily on pure velocity should actually appeal to some teams who are concerned about Chapman’s ability to continue throwing as hard as he does over the rest of his career.
Washington is known to be interested in Jansen, just as they are with Chapman and were with Melancon. Jansen should be cheaper and a safer bet than Chapman, however, making him a very viable target for the team to sign.
Beyond the big three free agent closers, there is a clear drop-off among available players. However, the Royals’ Wade Davis is right up there with the other elite closers and the team is actively weighing offers for the two-time All-Star.
Davis just wrapped up an injury-riddled 2016 campaign in which he accrued a 1.87 ERA across 45 appearances. A forearm strain forced him to the Disabled List on two separate occasions, but when healthy he’s one of the best closers in baseball. Over the past three years, Davis’ 1.18 ERA is the lowest mark among pitchers who relieved at least 80% of the games they appeared in.
The biggest caveat to Davis’ value is that he only has one year remaining on his contract before hitting free agency. Whoever acquires him will have to pay his pricey $10 million salary for 2017 while also having to give up a decent set of prospects.
Davis would provide a temporary stopgap for the Nats at the closer role just as Melancon did, but the team appears to be more interested in finding a more permanent replacement. Davis’ injury concerns are real, and while he has a proven postseason track record and provide a good veteran presence, the Nats would be better suited allocating their prospects somewhere else.
Perhaps the most intriguing option on the free agent market, Greg Holland has received interest from several teams across the league this offseason. Holland missed the entire 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was one of the best relievers in baseball from 2011 to 2014.
The former Royals reliever eclipsed 60 innings in four straight seasons and has a career K/9 of 12.1. He uses a fastball/slider combination while occasionally mixing in a curveball and splitter. His fastball did average 96 mph before going under the needle, but it would be pretty reasonable to expect him to lose a little bit in the recovery process.
Holland was the team’s primary closer in 2013 and 2014, playing an integral part in the team’s running at the American League pennant in 2014. He has World Series experience and at only 31 years old, still has plenty of years ahead of him.
The Nats already have a set-up man in Shawn Kelley who’s received two Tommy John surgeries in his career, and the team hasn’t shown any hesitance in signing pitchers who underwent the surgery before. Holland would be a much cheaper option than either Chapman or Jansen, making him much more enticing.
One name flying under the radar this winter is that of former Diamondback and Red Sox reliever Brad Ziegler. The 37-year old right hander throws sidearm and averages in the mid-80s, but he’s been fairly consistent over the course of his career.
Ziegler has appeared in at least 64 games every season since 2009. He didn’t step into the closer role for Arizona until 2015, and then went back to set-up duties once being traded to Boston at last year’s trade deadline.
Being as old as he is, Ziegler won’t be seeking any expensive, long-term deal. In fact, the Nats would be able to afford signing both him and Holland if they choose to do so. That may even be a better option than going after one of the big-time closers. The duo would form a formidable back-end of the bullpen alongside Kelley while pushing both Sammy Solis and Blake Treinen into less stressful roles.
The Nats aren’t going to be staying quiet at the Winter Meetings much longer. The team understands that upgrades are going to need to be made if they’re planning on advancing past the Division Series anytime soon. Any of these relievers would provide an upgrade over their current situation, while helping cement them as serious title contenders.
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