Despite the lack of a proven closer, the Washington Nationals have built themselves a deep bullpen for 2017
Yesterday, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo pulled off another strong signing as the team has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with reliever Joe Blanton. The team has not gone out and signed an elite closer, but they have left manager Dusty Baker with plenty of options going forward.
First, let’s take a closer look at the Blanton signing. On just a one-year deal, this is a perfect deal for the Washington Nationals. The 36-year-old had 75 appearances last season (career-high) and shut down the Nats in last year’s NLDS for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Over the course of the first three months of the season, teams hit below .200 against Blanton. Then, when you look at his final ten appearances in the month of September, he did not allow an earned run. Plus, his 80 strikeouts were the third most of any reliever on the Dodgers in 2016.
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While that total may seem low compared to LA’s closer Kenley Jansen (104), keep this number in mind. If Blanton were on the Nats last season, his 80 strikeouts would be tied with Shawn Kelley for the most on the team. He adds strikeouts to a bullpen that was one of the lowest in the league last year.
Now, if you take a closer look at this bullpen, they have added more depth to the mix. In addition to Blanton, they traded for a hard throwing left-hander (Enny Romero) and they have Joe Nathan in camp as a non-roster invitee.
One other positive about the Blanton signing is that it takes some of the pressure off of Koda Glover. Glover, who is coming off of hip surgery, could either pitch in middle relief at the big league level or go down to the minors and be the closer at triple-A Syracuse. All in all, it will be interesting to see who stands out more between Glover and Romero.
When you slide Blanton into the mix, it allows the Nats to have a formidable eighth inning reliever behind whoever wins the closer job. In the eighth inning last year, teams hit .181 against him and the right-hander gave up a total of nine runs.
Right now, the Washington Nationals have a lot of talent in this bullpen. With that being said, they still have to figure out which pitchers will slide into certain roles. It makes more sense to start the year with Kelley as the closer because he has some experience in the ninth (albeit a small sample size).
While the Nats didn’t have a lot of strikeouts from their bullpen, they did have the second lowest ERA and the fewest walks last season. They have good veterans in the mix as well as young relievers (Blake Treinen and Sammy Solis) who earned the trust of the coaching staff last season.
Yes, the roles have yet to be defined for these relievers. However, there is no denying this bullpen does have talent. It will be interesting to see how this situation figures itself out in spring training and in the early portions of the regular season.