Dec 4, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
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.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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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)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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