Keeping Craig Stammen would’ve meant taking a risk on an injured player, but did the Washington Nationals make a mistake in letting him go?
The 2015 season was rough for the Washington Nationals’ bullpen as a whole, but it was even worse for one Nationals reliever in particular. Right-hander Craig Stammen, a mainstay in the ‘pen for years, appeared in only five games before forearm surgery put him on the disabled list for the rest of the season.
It was a lost year for Stammen, and to make matters worse, the Nationals non-tendered him this offseason. The right-hander was under contract for one more year and was likely to earn upwards of $2 million through arbitration. The Nationals weren’t willing to go that high, so they decided to non-tender him before the arbitration filing deadline.
After several weeks of free agency, Stammen finally found his new team earlier this week — signing a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians. The deal includes an invitation to big league spring training and gives the Ohio-native a chance to play close to home.
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Keeping Stammen would’ve been a risk for the Nationals. Coming back from major arm surgery is never a sure bet for pitchers, even a relatively young pitcher like Stammen who never had a history of arm troubles prior to the injury. But did the Nationals make a mistake letting Stammen go? It’s possible.
Stammen was a workhorse in the Nationals’ bullpen for parts of six seasons, playing nearly every roll in the ‘pen while eating up key innings for the team. He played a crucial role during the team’s NL East-winning 2012 season, going 6-1 with a 2.34 ERA. In his career, Stammen has a 3.91 ERA over 490 innings of work.
While Stammen wasn’t exactly “lights-out” for the Nationals, he was a reliable presence in the ‘pen for years and his absence will definitely be felt in 2016. The bullpen struggled mightily without him last season since the team had to rely on several young players to take his place, and it’ll be hard to replace his production next season as well.
That being said, the Nationals’ bullpen should be better in 2016.
General manager Mike Rizzo completely rebuilt the ‘pen this offseason, replacing Drew Storen, David Carpenter, Casey Janssen and Matt Thornton with the likes of Trevor Gott, Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit. The Nationals failed to sign Darren O’Day — their top bullpen target who ultimately re-signed with the Orioles — but the group Rizzo assembled should be a formidable balance of youngsters and veterans that complements the team’s existing relievers well.
But Kelley will likely pitch in the late-innings and there’s no guarantee that veterans Perez and Petit will succeed in 2016. If either struggles, the Nationals could once again be forced to put a lot of responsibility and innings on the arms of young relievers.
Hopefully for the Nationals, the new bullpen acquisitions can step up and help the team overcome its 2015 struggles. One thing’s for certain, Stammen will definitely be missed in the bullpen in 2016, just as he was last season.