As the month of June approaches, the Washington Nationals starting rotation ranks 4th in the National League so far this season in ERA and 3rd in the NL in batting average against. The bullpen, however, is dead last in the NL in both of those categories. After sporting a terrible 5.70 ERA in April, the pen has had an equally rough May with a 5.13 ERA through May 27th.
Two bright spots in the bullpen this season have been Matt Albers and Koda Glover, who have ERAs of 1.40 and 2.35 respectively, but Albers is a 34-year old journeyman and Glover has only 36 games of Major League experience under his belt. In particular, the major problem spot for the Nationals this season has been the lack of a proven closer. Their current bullpen has a combined total of 31 career saves, 14 of which belong to Shawn Kelley, who is now 33 years old, has had two Tommy John surgeries in his career and already had a stint on the disabled list this season with a back strain.
The Nationals tried to settle the closer role over the winter. They attempted to re-sign Mark Melancon to a long-term deal but he ended up signing with the San Francisco Giants, and also made an effort to sign Kenley Jansen before he chose to re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reports are they talked to the Tampa Bay Rays about closer Alex Colome as well, but the asking price was said to be too high and after kicking the tires on Greg Holland, he ended up signing with the Colorado Rockies.
Most of the contending teams in baseball have a solid closer. The New York Yankees have one of the best in Aroldis Chapman, The Boston Red Sox have Craig Kimbrel, the Chicago Cubs have Wade Davis, the Rockies have Greg Holland and the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen.
So, what are the Nationals options for finding a closer this summer? Here are three possible names to watch for before the trade deadline in July, assuming their teams are sellers:
David Robertson (Chicago White Sox)
Kelvin Herrera (Kansas City Royals)
Ryan Madson (Oakland Athletics)
Robertson is 32 and is signed through the 2018 season, but is owed $13 million next season. He has experience and a proven track record as a closer, having recorded at least 34 saves in each of the previous three seasons for the White Sox. The Nationals also have a recent trade history with Chicago having dealt three top pitching prospects to them over the winter for OF Adam Eaton. What would the asking price be for Robertson? It’s hard to say, but the Nationals might have to part with another batch of top prospects to land him.
Herrera is only 27 but does come with some risk. He has never been a full time closer and has struggled this season in a closer role for the Royals after several excellent seasons as a late inning setup man, and prior to 2016 only had five career saves. He is eligible for arbitration over this coming winter and is currently due to become a free agent after the 2018 season. Herrera does bring World Series experience with him, having been there twice while winning a ring in 2015.
As for Madson, he has been excellent in a setup role for the Athletics this season and has previous experience as a closer, but will turn 37 in August. He is signed through the 2018 season and is due to make just over $7.6 million next season. In addition to having 30 saves for the Athletics in 2016, his 42 games of postseason experience in his career and two World Series rings could be a valuable addition for the Nationals in October.
The Nationals will most likely acquire a reliever before the deadline in July, so stay tuned.