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Would O’Day be worth the price tag for Nats?

Nov 23, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

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There’s no question about the Nationals’ most-pressing need this winter: bullpen help. And there’s no question about the best-available reliever on the free-agent market: Darren O’Day.

So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that the Nationals have significant interest in O’Day. (ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick went so far Sunday as to say the Nats have joined the Dodgers at the “top of the Darren O’Day pack.”)

And, according to a source familiar with O’Day’s thinking, the veteran right-hander has mutual interest in the Nationals, owing in part to the fact his wife (Elizabeth Prann) is a Washington-based reporter for Fox News Channel. That fact, of course, also makes Baltimore an attractive place for O’Day to stay, but the Orioles to date have offered no evidence they are making a serious attempt to re-sign him.

The real question, though, is whether the Nationals are willing to make the kind of commitment it’s going to take to land the best reliever on the market. O’Day is expected to receive at least a 3-year deal, with many believing he’ll ultimately command a 4-year contract worth anywhere from $28 million to $36 million.

That’s a hefty price, and not only in dollars. A 4-year commitment to any reliever, let alone one who just turned 33, is a risky proposition, and not the kind of thing the Nats have been willing to do in the past.

Yes, they’ve been willing to spend top dollar on experienced closers — Rafael Soriano got $14 million a year, Jonathan Papelbon is scheduled to make $11 million next year — but neither was acquired with more than two seasons of control guaranteed. Are the Nationals suddenly going to double that commitment in years, especially for a setup man?

They just might. Relievers are notoriously a fickle bunch, with few able to maintain a high level of consistency over multiple years. But O’Day might be one who breaks that mold.

In each of his four seasons with the Orioles, O’Day has made at least 60 appearances with an ERA under 2.30 and a WHIP of 1.00 or lower. He’s the only reliever in baseball to do that. And only two others (Craig Kimbrel and Mark Melancon) have done it three times in those four seasons.

An O’Day acquisition would probably increase speculation that the Nationals are going to trade either Papelbon or Drew Storen (or both). Such a move certainly would give Mike Rizzo the flexibility to deal at least one of the other right-handers, even if he wouldn’t get full value at this point.

But it wouldn’t necessarily force Rizzo’s hand. As we’ve seen in the past, he’s perfectly comfortable loading up at one position and trying to assemble one of the deepest talent pools in baseball. It’s what he did last winter with his rotation. And it’s what he did in 2013-14 with a bullpen that featured Soriano, Storen and Tyler Clippard.

There’s certainly some evidence to suggest a dominant bullpen trio can make a huge difference over the course of a season and especially in October — hello, world champion Kansas City Royals — so perhaps the idea of a Storen-O’Day-Papelbon triumvirate is appealing to Rizzo.

If they go that route, though, the Nationals will be spending a whole lot of money on their bullpen. Those three relievers figure to sport a combined 2016 salary in the range of $28 million. That’s not a traditional allocation of financial resources.

Then again, consider what this team’s biggest problem area was this season, and what a difference a dominant 7-8-9 bullpen combo might have made in the NL East race.

If the Nationals are determined to correct that flaw, O’Day might just be the best available piece, even if the price tag makes them just a bit queasy.

  1. dhamm6500 - Nov 23, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    Just say no.

  2. rgsie - Nov 23, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    Go For It Rizzo. That dice won’t stay hot for long.

  3. derwink - Nov 23, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    I’d be fine with Storen and O’Day. I would not be fine with Papelbon in the mix.

    • letswin3 - Nov 23, 2015 at 3:47 PM

      Yeah, but then you would be left without a trusted closer.

      • larrydeaton1949 - Nov 26, 2015 at 5:04 PM

        “Trusted closer” … trusted in what sense?

      • letswin3 - Nov 29, 2015 at 7:36 PM

        Larry, I’m hoping that you don’t think of Storen as being a trusted closer after his history? Even Rizzo felt compelled to go get Pap to shore up the closer spot … big mistake, as it turns out, but still clearly Rizzo’s impression of Storen was that he was not to be trusted … my opinion only there, since I haven’t read anything ever stated by Rizzo.

  4. dclivejazz - Nov 23, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    Yes. Worth the price. He could help solidify the BP in a big way, especially with Stammen hopefully back.

  5. alexva6 - Nov 23, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    if he performs as he has the last three years, yes.

    will he perform as he has the last three years?, I doubt it.

  6. unkyd59 - Nov 23, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    So, if that’s how much O’Day costs, how much for Chapman, because I’m hunching that Rizzo is gonna find a way to make that trade, and extend him, too… That’s a lot of $$, but it should be well spent… Especially with Stammen back…

    • letswin3 - Nov 23, 2015 at 3:48 PM

      Now yer talkin.

  7. coolhandbane - Nov 23, 2015 at 9:50 AM

    How much would he be and how many years for a potential contract?

  8. mythicalmonkey - Nov 23, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    For that kind of money you could sign Anita O’Day!

    • Doc - Nov 23, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      This musical interlude has been brought to you by mythicalmonkey. Thanks!

      Yes to Anita; no to Darren.

      • letswin3 - Nov 23, 2015 at 4:15 PM

        Any jazz singer who wears over the elbow white gloves in Newport, and decides on a stage name by choosing a pig latin version of money (“dough” can mean money) is cool enough for jazz and a worthy bullpen addition too.

      • sunshinebobby - Nov 23, 2015 at 5:46 PM

        The late Gene Mauch had a real thing for Anita O’Day. This society note is brought to you by Sunshine Bobby’s Escort Service.

  9. Eugene in Oregon - Nov 23, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    With a reliever, even an elite one, isn’t this exactly the situation where the fourth year of the contract would be an appearance-based vesting option? Or something of that sort?

  10. langleyclub - Nov 23, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    Can’t make a 4 year (or even 3 year) commitment to a 33 year-old reliever. He is a finesse pitcher that requires pin point control to consistently get outs. Would anyone be shocked if O’Day lost his effectiveness in 2016 or 2017?

    • Doc - Nov 23, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      Not me langleyclub.

      He’d become dead weight, quicker than you could scat sing ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’.

      • coolhandbane - Nov 23, 2015 at 11:09 AM

        That is a possibility. What alternatives does Rizzo have without decimating our farm system?

    • senators5 - Nov 23, 2015 at 9:01 PM

      Absolutely not. Years ago and do mean years ago I remember listening to a Senators’ submariner, Ted Abernathy, talk about his style of being an underhanded pitcher. Somewhere in the conversation he said the main difference between “normal” throwers and underhanders was that when the “normal” guy started to tire his leg stride would shorten resulting in more pitches up in the strike zone, which would often lead to disaster. He continued that when he started to tire his stride would also shorten resulting in his pitches coming down in the strike zone, which for a submariner was also a cause for disaster. The point of all of this meandering is O Day’s age and his required physical conditioning needs lead me to believe that the money and length of his contract would make his signing problematic at best.. Now, if he could effectively throw a knuckle ball, then we would have a totally different conversation.

      • larrydeaton1949 - Nov 26, 2015 at 5:06 PM

        Great comment. (No sarcasm here.) I actually learned something … which is something that happens about once in every 500 sports related comments.

  11. Doc - Nov 23, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    I like the idea of building a pen from the farm, but that didn’t work out very well last year.

    Man the Nats brought up a lot of guys from Harrisburg and Syracuse and only Rivero took the challenge and really stood out.

    • virginiascopist - Nov 23, 2015 at 11:43 AM

      Agreed. I was hopeful it would work out, but some of them (Martin, Grace) really got exposed. I think it might be best for Rizzo to hit the FA and/or trade market to rebuild the pen.

    • alexva6 - Nov 23, 2015 at 2:48 PM

      true about last year but how much of that will improve with better handling? maybe even better coaching.

      O’Day was picked up on waivers three years ago. guys do improve.

      I’d hate for them to spend big money or top prospects for anything other than a closer.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 23, 2015 at 3:29 PM

        I didn’t realize that about O’Day. In principle, I agree that better handling/coaching would hopefully help the relief corps and am not in favor of spending lots of money and/or prospects in that department. That being said, I trust Rizzo to make the proper decisions in that regard. O’Day is very lucky that he is the class of the FA relief pitchers this year. I would rather Rizzo pay (within reason) for multiple years of his service than meet what are clearly Cincinnati’s outrageous demands for one year of Chapman. The title of “closer” doesn’t impress me. I just want someone to get outs, no matter what inning it is, and not complain/sulk (yes, Drew, I’m talking about you).

      • npb99 - Nov 23, 2015 at 7:03 PM

        Good point on needing to have patience. If we always chase the hot names, we’ll spend a ton on FAs and many of them will be disappointing, especially in the later years of their contracts. We have to be able to get more out of our young players.

  12. naterialguy - Nov 23, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    Every season previously unknown relief pitchers become good to great bullpen pitchers. We have talent we just need to groom it. If you’re going to overpay I say overpay for Arnoldis not O’day.

    • therealjohnc - Nov 23, 2015 at 1:40 PM

      With Chapman you are overpaying in talent; the Reds have been asking for the moon & stars. According to web reports every team that has approached the Reds about Chapman has walked away because the Reds want more (for one year of Chapman) than the Red Sox paid for (three years of) Kimbrel. Chapman will also get paid a large amount in arbitration money this year. After which the team will overpay yet again to hang onto him, or at best will get a comp pick for a QO (if Chapman stays healthy and performs). If Chapman doesn’t stay healthy or perform the prospects are gone and the team gets nothing.

      With O’Day, I’d do three years with a vesting option for a fourth with a buyout provision, something like that. Push comes to shove, I might even guarantee the fourth year, or make it a fairly easy vesting option based on performance. Is it fairly expensive for a relief arm? Yes. But remember that both Storen and Papelbon are one year commitments – almost all of that bullpen money (and the highest two players in terms of AAV) is coming off the books after 2016.

      Having O’Day also gives the flexibility to be covered if the Nationals get a “baseball offer” for either Storen or Papelbon, too.

  13. rabbit433 - Nov 23, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    Let’s just go back to the days when a starter was actually encouraged and expected to pitch a full ballgame?!!! What a concept.

    • virginiascopist - Nov 23, 2015 at 2:28 PM

      Be careful what you wish for. Remember who our new manager is and what he was accused of doing (in the past) to pitchers.

    • Doc - Nov 23, 2015 at 6:08 PM

      Grab your carrots and go back to your hole. You obviously don’t know what goes on with pitching rotations and bullpens these days.

  14. TimDz - Nov 23, 2015 at 3:38 PM

    I have a feeling that Rizzo will do something to surprise us all….I am thinking the back end of Tampa’s bullpen may make sense. I believe the price on Chapman will backfire on Cincinnati and they may get stuck with him at the beginning of the season (then trading him at the deadline, where they won’t get as much). Maybe after hearing enough folks say no to their demands (I am wondering who they want from the Nats….Turner and Difo? maybe…too steep in my opinion), they will come down in price.

    • virginiascopist - Nov 23, 2015 at 3:53 PM

      I absolutely agree about Tampa’s bullpen (the back of it, as you said; don’t particularly want to end up with Cedeno again). Might also check in on Atlanta seeing as how they’re selling off everything that isn’t nailed down. Maybe Jason Grilli.

      And, yes, Cincinnati is going to get stuck with Chapman if they don’t drop their price very soon. Both Boston and Detroit have gone elsewhere to find their closers and if the reports are correct, Miller from the Yankees and Melancon from the Pirates are also available (not to mention our very own Storen and Papelbon).

  15. donniebenth - Nov 23, 2015 at 8:28 PM

    I think Rizzo’s thinking at the deadline was that he didn’t have an eighth inning guy. Paplebum would only pitch the 9th, so Drew went back to being a set up man.

    I’m probably swimming up stream here, but I say sign O’day, return Storen to the closer role and roll with Rivero, Stammen, Burnet (I hope), Treinen, and whoever is throwing flames in Viera.

    You can always get another reliever at the deadline.

    Sign Heyward and maybe Zobrist and potentially trade Esco for prospects while his stock is high.

    I’d take my chances with that group.

  16. Joe Seamhead - Nov 23, 2015 at 9:54 PM

    Rumors are flying that Storen has been traded.

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 23, 2015 at 10:02 PM

      Unsubstantiated at this point.

  17. Drew - Nov 23, 2015 at 11:04 PM

    Speaking of relievers: Did anybody notice on MLBTR that the Mets have named Josh Smoker to their 40-man roster?

    Yes, that Josh Smoker. The Nats’ 2007 draft pick is still kicking around as a lefty reliever and reached AA this year at 26. He apparently will get a shot to make the Mets.

    • ArVAFan - Nov 23, 2015 at 11:12 PM

      Watching flying pigs go by.

  18. jeffreycbullock - Nov 24, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    NO. NO. NO. NO. NO! He is a 33 year old right handed submariner – if lefties haven’t started lighting him up, they will very very soon. Go look it up – if a submariner is effective against lefties, it doesn’t last for long (witness Quisenberry and Tekulve). NO!

  19. George Hurwitz - Nov 24, 2015 at 2:49 PM

    Why aren’t the Nats more active in the free agent market?

  20. ballgrindM - Nov 24, 2015 at 4:30 PM

    I’m not giving 36mil to anyone who married a Fox News reporter, that shows poor judgement

    • NoWon - Nov 25, 2015 at 12:16 AM

      Oh don’t go there.

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