Washington Nationals: Who Should Close?
Each week, District on Deck’s staff writer Matt Weyrich discusses the biggest question surrounding the Washington Nationals. This week? Who should handle ninth-inning duties?
In case you haven’t heard, the Washington Nationals don’t have a closer. Contenders across baseball have paid top dollar this offseason for dominant relief arms, but the Nats have been on the outside looking in.
Aroldis Chapman signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees. The Dodgers retained Kenley Jansen at the price of five years and $80 million. Washington lost Mark Melancon to the Giants, who nabbed him for four years and $62 million. On the trade market, Wade Davis cost the Cubs 24-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler, who has a career .762 OPS over three seasons and is under team control until 2021.
Top-tier closers haven’t been the only relievers getting paid. Brad Ziegler agreed to terms with the Marlins for two years, $16 million. The Rockies secured lefty Mike Dunn for three years and $19 million. Joaquin Benoit will be making $7.5 million from the Phillies for his services next season.
Meanwhile, the Nats have remained quiet. The most intriguing arm left in free agency is Greg Holland, who is returning from Tommy John surgery but was one of the best closers in the game from 2011 to 2014. His fastball velocity has dropped significantly, however, which may scare the Nats away from handing him a deal.
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As it stands right now, the Nats’ bullpen will consist of Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis, Oliver Perez, Trevor Gott, Koda Glover and most likely either Rafael Martin or Matt Grace. While none of those names stands out as lock-down closer, it is the core group of relievers that finished second in all of baseball with a 3.37 ERA.
Kelley appears to be the first choice among fans to take over the job. At 32-years-old, he’s the one of the oldest of the group and has the most experience in save situations. However, Kelley struggled at times when pitching on consecutive days, leading me to consider another option.
Last year, Treinen had a breakout season. He posted a 2.28 ERA with a respectable 8.5 K/9 over 73 appearances. What’s most impressive about him was his ability to force weak contact.
According to Fangraphs, Treinen’s 27.8 percent soft hit rate was the third highest in the National League among pitchers with at least 60 innings. His groundball rate of 65.9 percent was the highest.
As far as in-house options go, Treinen is the best candidate. Before guys like Jansen and Melancon were considered some of the best closers in baseball, they were just set-up men like Treinen looking for the chance to prove themselves. Treinen has showed the Nats that he deserves that chance, and it’s something they would be foolish not to consider.