In 2012, the Nationals’ need for left-handed relievers was filled by Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett, and Michael Gonzalez, with Zach Dukejoining them in September after dominating AAA as a starter. After the season, however, Burnett, Duke, and Gonzalez’s contracts all expired and Gorzelanny was not tendered a contract, making all four free agents and leaving the Nationals without any left-handed relievers in their bullpen. This obviously left the Nats in a bit of a bind, as lefty relievers are critical to any bullpen.
The Nats’ first step was a good one. They re-signed Duke to a one-year deal, a reasonable reward for a pitcher who had a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 big-league innings last season. He will likely fill the role that Gorzelanny did last year, as a long-relief man. The Nats also signed Bill Bray, a former Nat who was traded to the Reds in 2006 along with Gary Majewski for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. Bray only threw 8.2 innings last year, and his deal is a minor-league one. the best case scenario for him is likely to join the team at some point in the middle of the season if he can stay healthy and pitch well at AAA. Bray’s career MLB ERA is 3.74, but he has had a sub-3.00 ERA twice since 2008.
Shortly after these deals were signed, Sean Burnett joined the Angels on a 2-year, $8 million deal witha $4.5 million option for 2015. The Nationals reportedly did not compete with this offer, and at that amount, their non-involvement was likely a smart move. While Burnett did have a 2.38 ERA last season, signing relievers to expensive deals is generally unwise, not to mention the fact that he will be 30 in 2013 and battled an elbow injury last season.To replace him, the Nats are reportedly chasing former Tampa Bay Ray J.P. Howell, who had a 3.04 ERA last season. He is the same age as Burnett, but will likely come at a lower price.
According to ESPN’s Jim Bowden, the Nationals are now competing with the Reds to sign Gonzalez, who had a 3.03 ERA last year. If they fail, their free-agent options will be all but nonexistent, and the Nats will be forced to carry only two lefties or acquire a lefty in a Michael Morse trade if Adam LaRoche is re-signed.
The Nationals’ left-handed reliever situation may seem dire, but with a few reasonable free agent signings, the lefty stable could be as good as last year’s.