With plenty of in-house eighth-inning options, Nationals’ bullpen is set


Oct 4, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher

Aaron Barrett

(30) pitches in the 12th inning against the San Francisco Giants in game two of the 2014 NLDS playoff baseball game at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit:

Brad Mills


A few days before the Washington Nationals made national headlines with the  mammoth seven-year, $210 million contract they gave free agent Max Scherzer, the team made a big trade that will also have a big impact on the 2015 season.

The trade was between the Nationals and the Oakland Athletics (shocking, right?) and it was a one-for-one deal – reliever Tyler Clippard for infielder Yunel Escobar. The trade filled a hole at second base that was left when Asdrubal Cabrera departed via free agency, but it also stripped the Nationals of one the best late-inning relievers in the game.

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In seven seasons with the Nationals, Clippard went 34-24 with a 2.68 ERA and a WHIP of 1.047. Over that time, the reliever accumulated 34 saves (32 of which came in 2012) and was selected to the National League All-Star team twice.

Needless to say, replacing Clippard is no small task. And with the Nationals already boasting the best rotation in the game and one of the deepest lineups in the league, it looks like the team’s young bullpen is the biggest “weakness” the team has right now, even though it was one of the best in baseball last season.

As I wrote last week, there are many different routes the Nationals can take to replace Clippard using the players they have right now. Recently, however, there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of the Nationals bringing in a pricey free agent, such as Francisco Rodriguez, to fill the void left by Clippard’s departure. But given the powerful, young depth the Nationals have in their bullpen, bringing in a free agent that would demand closer-type money is not only unnecessary, but it would also be a mistake.

The Nationals have plenty of in-house options to take over for Clippard, and the two players I think can do a great job in that role are Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen.

Barrett was phenomenal in his rookie 2014 campaign. The young right-hander made the big league club out of Spring Training and, apart from a brief demotion to Triple-A Syracuse, he did not disappoint. Barrett went 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA in 40 2/3 innings with the Nationals last season and was one of the most reliable weapons out of the bullpen all season long.

Barret’s dominance in the regular season earned him a spot on the team’s NLDS roster, but he looked nothing like his regular-season self under the pressure of the postseason. In the seventh inning of Game 4 against the Giants, Barrett issued a costly walk, threw two wild pitches and retired only one batter while allowing the  losing run to score – an unraveling that ultimately helped the Giants win the series in four games.

The biggest concern that people have for putting Barrett in the ever-important eighth-inning role is that he lost his composure in the playoffs, but it’s important to remember that he had no previous playoff experience and that he was outstanding during the regular season.

It’s easy to watch a player implode at the most important moment of the season and completely discredit everything he had accomplished up to that point (see Storen, Drew). But in a game that revolves around making mistakes, sometimes it’s important for a player to get through those growing-pains without losing the team’s trust so he can use the experience he gained to be better down the road.

Not only would Barrett be a great option on his own, but the Nationals also have the benefit of a deep, young bullpen that can allow them to use more than one player in the eighth inning role. And along with Barrett, Treinen appears to be a perfect fit for the job.

Yes, Treinen profiles more as a starter, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he can be successful in a late-inning relief role.

The right-hander boasts a high-90’s sinker that could be a huge weapon for the Nationals and a nightmare for opposing hitters late in the game. Treinen not only got some valuable major league experience last season, but he was also very successful on the mound during his time with the big league club, going 2-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 15 games (seven starts).

There’s no denying that the Nationals will miss Clippard greatly and that whoever replaces him will have huge, huge shoes to fill. But general manager Mike Rizzo and his team have built a deep – albeit, young– bullpen that should allow the Nationals to replace Clippard without having to pour a ton of money into a free agent who may not work out in the long run (see Soriano, Rafael).

Now that the buzz surrounding the Scherzer signing is starting to fade away, the biggest question surrounding the Nationals is “What move will Rizzo make replace to replace Clippard?”. If you ask me, this one of those situations where the best move the team can make is to make no move at all.

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