Washington Nationals Mailbag: Has the bullpen become better or worse?

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 20: Sean Doolittle #62 of the Washington Nationals comes in the from the bullpen cart when comes in game in the ninth inning during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 20: Sean Doolittle #62 of the Washington Nationals comes in the from the bullpen cart when comes in game in the ninth inning during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Our Monday Mailbag makes its return as we take your Washington Nationals questions. In this edition, we have several, including evaluating the bullpen moves.

Even though Spring Training draws ever closer, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the Washington Nationals. Obviously, the big question is regarding the eventual destination of Bryce Harper, but we look at some of the others in our Mailbag this week.

Harper would be the team’s only major remaining free agent addition this offseason, should he return. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks around the team’s pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. The latter is where we start our article.

The Snake (@jay_ollie_04): Bullpen appears better than what they were at end of the season, but is it good enough?

Even though the team brought in Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal very quickly this offseason, the depth in the bullpen is far from ideal. Both players still have small question marks, with Rosenthal coming off of Tommy John surgery and Barraclough struggling last campaign.

The bullpen’s performance next season likely rests on those two. If they perform up to standard, then everyone else slots into place, with the likes of Koda Glover, Justin Miller, and Matt Grace sliding into middle inning roles. If they don’t perform, they’re left without many reliable arms, just as they were early last season when the team struggled to get outs late in games.

But even then, it’s unlikely they make it through the season with no health issues, so for the relief corps to be good enough, they need one or two more pitchers else to step up. That could be Sammy Solis bouncing back, James Bourque emerging, or Tanner Rainey harnessing his control. But someone needs to step up, or else they risk tiptoeing through a shaky bullpen again.

Josh McPeak (@VALambeauLeaper): As the roster currently stands, what is the weakest position (depth wise)?

Reading the last question probably answers this question, but it’s undoubtedly the bullpen right now. Considering the team only really has one sure thing, that’s far from an ideal place to be as we get closer to Spring Training. They’re going to need a few pitchers to step up and perform up to their potential. I would personally like to see them bring in one more major league signing, maybe Greg Holland, just to give it a bit more experience.

The other possible area that is a concern depth wise is starting pitching. While the rotation is arguably set with Joe Ross set to be the fifth starter, beyond that, there isn’t much. Given that Stephen Strasburg is likely to spend time on the DL at some point this season, they need to either develop some of their high-level prospects or bring in more pitchers on minor league deals that may stick.

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The Dom and Thunder Show (@domandthunder): If the Nats re-sign Bryce which is most likely: trade Eaton, trade MAT, trade both, or keep both?

Obviously, if the Nats do bring back Bryce Harper, and it does feel like there’s a legitimate chance they can do it, then they have a surplus in the outfield. The only reason they would get rid of both Michael Taylor and Adam Eaton would be to get under the luxury tax, but getting under that threshold seems unlikely at this point, so we can rule out dealing both.

I would still think they would lean towards dealing Eaton, purely because they can get more for him, and Taylor fits the fourth outfielder prototype better given he can play all three outfield position. Yes, they have similar luxury tax hits for 2019 and Eaton is a better player, but his tax hit jumps up next year when his first team option kicks in, so this offseason would be the ideal time to capitalize on his value rather than keeping him as a fourth outfielder.

Brandon W (@BrandonWash): Assuming the Nats do somehow land Bryce most people think Eaton would be traded. What’s a realistic return for him? Just a few prospects, or does Rizzo package him up for maybe another SP?

As I touched on above, Eaton is the most likely player to be dealt if Bryce Harper, and he should still have a fair amount of value. Even despite the injuries, he’s put up a very good .300/.394/.422 slash line in his time in D.C. while having a very team-friendly contract through 2021.

I suspect that the Nats will hope prospect package in return given most of their roster is pretty set for 2019. The Cleveland Indians seem like a great fit as a team looking for cost-effective outfield help, so maybe Nolan Jones and a lower-level pitcher like Elijah Morgan would be a package that could do it. Though prospects are more likely, maybe a deal of Eaton and a middling prospect for Trevor Bauer isn’t out of the question either. Only time will tell.

blockbuster lesbian (@punk_lightsaber): Do you think there’s hope for Michael Taylor?

I guess this depends on how you define “hope” for Taylor. As has been well documented, he has plenty of limitations at the plate that will likely keep him from ever becoming an everyday outfielder on a contender. There’s too much swing and miss in his game that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be going away.

However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable fourth outfielder. He can play all three outfielder positions at a gold glove level, while also providing speed off of the bench as a pinch runner, and perhaps even adding some power as a pinch hitter. The Nats may still look to deal him for the right package, but Taylor does still have a fair amount of value.

Kevin Rusch (@KevinR70): What’s your take on the lack of free-agent spending? Are teams colluding, being prudent, somewhere in between?

This has been the question of the entire offseason. Personally, I don’t think collusion is the right word, as that would mean that all owners are working and communicating together to reach their goal. However, it does feel like a league-wide trend towards trying to get cheaper and younger rather than gambling and adding to a marginal contender.

As with many sports, it’s a copycat league, and several teams have seen the Houston Astros model of success of using a deep rebuild to generate a young, cheap core. However, it seems to have gone to the extreme, as when teams like the Indians are selling off pieces when they are clearly the best team in their division, something is wrong. It’s not a trend that makes much sense.

I feel like even those teams that aren’t contending should probably be more active in trying to acquire one or two-year deals for free agents that they could look to trade away in the future rather than simply tanking for a better draft pick. Thankfully for Nats fans, it looks like the Lerners and Mike Rizzo are committed to spending to put a contender out there, so it’s a perfect time for them to capitalize on others who are trying to be better for future seasons.

Next. Looking ahead at the Nats' 2019/20 FAs. dark

We’ll be back soon with another mailbag when pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training will be so close. We all need the Washington Nationals back, for sanity more than anything else at this point.

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