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Can the Nationals remake their entire bullpen?

Dec 4, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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Scroll through the Nationals’ 2015 pitching register and then answer this question: Which relievers on that list are locks to make the 2016 Opening Day roster?

Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen might return, but both right-handers are going to be the subject of plenty of trade speculation over the next several weeks after seeing their respective seasons crater in September.

Craig Stammen is now a free agent after getting non-tendered late Wednesday night. Matt Thornton and Casey Janssen became free agents last month.

Aaron Barrett won’t make it back from Tommy John surgery until August or September. Matt Grace, Rafael Martin and Sammy Solis were far too erratic during their rookie seasons to merit a guaranteed job.

Really, the only two guys you’d feel comfortable penciling in right now are Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen. And neither has exactly proven himself a quality big-league reliever over more than a couple of months.

So where does that leave Mike Rizzo as next week’s Winter Meetings loom and the Hot Stove League kicks into high gear? Is it possible for a team to remake its entire bullpen in one offseason?

Possible? Maybe. Likely? Probably not.

The Nationals very well may sign multiple free agents (Darren O’Day continues to reside atop their wish list) and very well may acquire another reliever or two via trade (Aroldis Chapman remains there for the taking, if anybody’s willing to give up a whole lot in return). But come April, they’re going to have to take the field with at least a few holdovers or other homegrown relievers on their staff.

You could do worse than starting with Rivero. The left-hander was a revelation during his rookie campaign, flashing an upper-90s fastball by season’s end and displaying impressive poise given his lack of experience. He might well be closer material some day, though for now the Nationals figure to use him as their top lefty setup man.

Treinen isn’t nearly as polished as Rivero, but the right-hander’s stuff might be more impressive. Few pitchers in the sport can claim a 98-mph sinker with as much movement as he produces, even if his command of that pitch betrays him too often. Treinen needs to figure out how to be more effective against left-handed hitters (who torched him to the tune of a .934 OPS this season) but at worst he looks like a competent middle man in a major-league bullpen.

Beyond that … well, the Nationals have some work to do. If they really do part ways with both Papelbon and Storen, they’ll need a new closer (not to mention a new eighth-inning guy). That’s not a position any GM wants to find himself in, so take Rizzo at least somewhat seriously when he suggests he’ll only move Paplebon and/or Storen if somebody makes him a “real baseball offer.”

Even if they keep both late-inning right-handers, the Nationals still will have several bullpen holes to fill. They’ll need another lefty to go along with Rivero. And they’ll need somebody who can at least attempt to fill Stammen’s role as the jack of all trades.

That’s not an easy fix. There are only so many pitchers out there who can transition seamlessly from long man to setup man to emergency closer like Stammen did from 2012-14. Obviously, the Nationals weren’t convinced he can recapture that form after tearing his flexor tendon in April and missing the rest of the season, or else they would have tendered him a contract before Wednesday night’s deadline. But good luck finding somebody to fill that void. They never did find anybody this season.

Consider it just one of several challenges facing the Nationals this winter as they attempt to overhaul a vital part of their roster that played a major role in their disappointing 2015 season.

  1. DaveB - Dec 4, 2015 at 6:39 AM

    A key to re-making the BP would have to be in getting value back for Paps and Storen. One idea I’ve been noodling on is what it would take to trade Paps for Cleveland’s young closer, Cody Allen ( since Tito won a WS with Paps in Boston and might still view him as valuable). I think Cleveland needs a power 1B/DH type, but TyMo clearly would’nt be enough. Maybe we’d have to package in Yunel (and/or take Chris Johnson back to even out the salary differences). I haven’t figured out a full package that seems right, but it would sure help if we could find a solid closer in return for Paps and/or Storen.

    • virginiascopist - Dec 4, 2015 at 6:50 AM

      I like that idea, and if the teams don’t match up perfectly, a third team could certainly be added (Rizzo is good at swinging three-team trades). But I know Pap has a limited no-trade list which I heard he fairly recently revised, but as far as I know no one has indicated what teams are on it. That would certainly have a bearing on who Rizzo can try to trade him to, unless he were to waive it, but I don’t see Pap as an accommodating guy in that respect (or any respect, actually).

    • jd - Dec 4, 2015 at 9:26 AM


      I think it’s wishful thinking. Paplebon’s reputation in the MLB is as toxic as can be. This was so even before the Harper incident, very few teams showed even passing interest in him at the trade deadline. I think the Nats will be lucky to get 5 cents on the dollar here. Rizzo has said all the right things about welcoming Paplebon back, peace with Harper etc. but this is because he has no choice. I think if the Nats land O’Day they will simply have to consider Paplebon’s salary as part of that cost and move on.

  2. rgsie - Dec 4, 2015 at 6:54 AM

    You got a real mess here Rizzo.

  3. joemktg - Dec 4, 2015 at 8:15 AM

    Hotels are pretty damn expensive in Nashville. Hoping that doesn’t damper coverage from MZ, et al.

  4. Jimmie - Dec 4, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    There are only so many pitchers out there who can transition seamlessly from long man to setup man to emergency closer like Stammen did from 2012-14. Obviously, the Nationals weren’t convinced he can recapture that form after tearing his flexor tendon in April and missing the rest of the season, or else they would have tendered him a contract before Wednesday night’s deadline.

    Oh, I’ll wager his injury wasn’t the real reason he wasn’t tendered. Stammen made a touch over 2.25 million last year and there’s every reason to expect, given his career stats, he’ll get more. Mike Rizzo hates paying “homegrown” relievers. That’s why the Nats bullpen was in such bad condition last season. Any other team would have at least given Stammen a token offer, just to try to keep him around.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      Not sure what your last sentence means. Unless I’m missing something — often the case — a ‘token offer’ would only get the sides to arbitration where the Nats would certainly lose. Then you’re back in the same situation. Than again, if ‘any other team’ is willing to make such an offer — in the form of a free agent contract — we’ll find out in the coming weeks, won’t we?

  5. trfwans - Dec 4, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    There’s one 2015 bullpen stalwart that Mark did not even mention here. He did some long work, did some setup work, even picked up a save. Almost Stammen-like, so call him Stammen Lite. No reason to think he couldn’t beef up over time. Who am I talking about? Guy named Roark. All it will take to put him in the bullpen again will be for Rizzo to acquire a starter. Who thinks that won’t happen?

    • veejh - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:20 AM

      Roark was terrible out of the pen. Next.

      • trfwans - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:20 AM

        He was great out of the pen in 2013. He was terrible as a starter in 2015. Either way, Rizzo is taking a chance on which Roark will show up.

    • veejh - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:26 AM

      ….and I find it hard to believe Rizzo is going to repeat all of the mistakes from last season.

      • Doc - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:54 AM

        Correctomundo, veejh. That story won’t be replayed.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 6, 2015 at 6:41 PM

        From Jurassic Park II?

        John Hammond: Don’t worry, I’m not making the same mistakes again.

        Dr. Ian Malcolm: No, you’re making all new ones.

  6. tcostant - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    So it sounds like Mark believes the “real baseball offer” remark by Rizzo. If you think this is true (I don’t) then Papelbon and Storen will be back. No one is giving anything of value and will want money from the Nationals too, if they take either or the Nationals hands. The rest of the GM’s know what happen. Just sillyto believe the “real baseball offer” remark.

    • trfwans - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      A “real baseball offer” for Papelbon could still include the Nats taking on a big chunk of his salary. Depends on who they get in return for him.

  7. ogremj - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    20 million-ish for Storen and Papelbon next year. Might get a bag of baseballs if you trade them now……yeesh.

    • ArVAFan - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:59 AM

      I think Rizzo could make a convincing case that all Storen needs is a new environment to be successful. Pap? Different story, unless the environment was, say, televised “wrestling.”

  8. raleighnat - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:47 AM

    This really is a mess.

  9. nats106 - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    “comfortable penciling in right now are Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen” Yeah, I guess we can be comfortable penciling them into the bullpen. After some of the games I saw, I’d only be comfortable penciling one of them out of the pen and onto the mound in a pressure situation.

    Maybe Treinen will be that guy who steps up this year. We’re going to need it along with Rivero maintaining/improving.

    • alexva6 - Dec 4, 2015 at 3:48 PM

      Treinen is the guy I could see benefiting the most from a new set of eyes, as in Mike Maddux

  10. sjm308 - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:11 AM

    Rooting for Burnett but even if he comes back strong there is a big mess out there.
    Question – if Storen goes, does he take down his “bleacher” he designed for the lads out there?

    • ArVAFan - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:35 AM

      Probably not. He might hurt himself using hammers and crowbars. Doesn’t need any help with self-inflicted injuries!

  11. ogremj - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    Gorzelanny is a free agent…..

    Let’s get the band back together!!!

    • virginiascopist - Dec 4, 2015 at 12:10 PM

      Works for me. Clippard and Ryan Mattheus are also free agents. Now all we need to do is find out whatever happened to H-Rod.

      • infideljack - Dec 4, 2015 at 1:31 PM

        Maybe Clip, but forget Mattheus and you are joking about HRod

      • virginiascopist - Dec 4, 2015 at 1:42 PM

        I was being sarcastic, but I do wonder what happened to H-Rod.

    • acethehammer - Dec 4, 2015 at 2:43 PM

      I wonder what Christian Garcia is doing? I loved that guy!

  12. nats106 - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    Looking ahead about 5 months, we can ill afford another April like 2015. There is a brutal away stretch where we play 10 games against the Cards, Cubs and Royals. Bullpen situation can’t be waiting until April to be sorted out. Need to hit ground running to survive for the long haul this coming year.

  13. jfmii - Dec 4, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    I have basically the same level of disgust for Papelbon that others have, but I think he is more likely than Storen to have a solid year on the mound next year.

    And I think some team will give up a little something for Drew; and I agree the Nationals will get nothing for Papelbon.

    Which is why I would keep Papelbon, and let go of Storen.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 4, 2015 at 12:45 PM

      I would phrase that a bit differently, but end up with the same conclusion: Next year’s Nats will be without Drew Storen, but will include Jonathan Papelbon as the opening day closer. To be clear, that’s not my preference, but my expectation. I don’t really see a logical path to any other outcome.

      • Doc - Dec 4, 2015 at 1:02 PM

        You’re right Eugene–there is no other logical outcome. If Papelbon doesn’t perform, then there’s quick ending for that—much quicker than the Soriano ending.

      • veejh - Dec 4, 2015 at 2:55 PM

        There is a logical path, you just have to eat it. Why risk team chemistry over however many millions he’s owed?

      • jd - Dec 4, 2015 at 3:16 PM


        Exactly !

  14. fpa4356 - Dec 4, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    A.J.Ramos of the Marlins might make for a good trade acquisition. Any number of combinations of lower level prospects might be enough given the depleted state of the Marlins farm system. He is lined up to earn $3M/yr, 3 years of team control.

    • Jeff - Dec 4, 2015 at 2:44 PM

      Deal has to be spot on with inner
      Division like the Carl Pavano/ Cliff Floyd
      Expo deal ..
      Arms deal

  15. Doc - Dec 4, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    Yes Virginia, H-Rod last pitched in professional baseball for a White Sox minor league team in Arkansas in 2014.

    He was up to his old tricks of throwing 14 wild pitches in 5 innings. He also was noted for walking 5 other batters and also distinguishing himself with a K rate of 25 per 9 innings. Fans were provided with tin shields upon entering the ballpark.

    His career came to late to be in the baseball movie with the character for whom the music “Wild Thing” was played while he strolled to the mound. However, I hold out hope that Henry will be a candidate for the sequel.

  16. vbnatsfan - Dec 4, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    MLBTR reporting Nats sign Oliver Perez to 2 year – 7mil deal

  17. cumberlanddan - Dec 4, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    One somewhat out of the box possibility might be to use Joe Ross as the 8th-inning man or even the closer. Not sure I’d advocate it. And I realize the counter would be that a move towards improving matters in one problem area would only open up a new shortfall. But with either a trade for a SP or a mid-level free agent SP signing, and the return of Roark to anything approaching 2013-2014 form, this strikes me as a more attractive option than having Roark in the pen again.





As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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