The final addition(s) to the bullpen.
The ninth-inning guy is already on the team and that’s Tanner Rainey. In 20.1 innings last season, Rainey went 1-1, with a 2.66 ERA, 32 strikeouts, and a 3.78 FIP. In his second full season in the majors, he set career highs in ERA, FIP, WHIP, K/9, and LOB%. Keep in mind, this was during a 60 game season and Rainey ended the year on the IL. Despite this, Rainey was Washington’s most consistent reliever for 2020, stranding 96.2% of the runners he inherited. He needs to work on his control and he tends to give up the long ball. Last season, Rainey allowed only six runs, but gave up four homers. Despite this, he is already making strides in his consistency. He was able to lower his walk rate and raise his strikeout rate from 2019 to 2020.
BB/9: 7.1 3.1
K/9: 13.8 14.2
The Nationals may attempt to start the season with Daniel Hudson once again in the closer role. If that is the case, Rainey will be used for high leverage situations. Besides Hudson, Washington will also need a huge bounce-back season from Will Harris.
Hoping both Hudson and Harris bounce back is a risk, so in the meantime, the Nationals should target another reliable releiver in free agency. Enter Brad Hand. The Indians just declined his 10 million dollar option and he is now a free agent. The former Indians closer is coming off of a stellar 2020 campaign that saw him go 2-1, with a 2.05 ERA, and 29 strikeouts. He also went a perfect 16-16 in save situations. Sadly, Hand fell apart for the Indians in the Wild Card matchup against the Yankees. Hand would replace Sean Doolittle as the team’s go to lefty. Keep in mind, Hand could outprice himself from D.C. If that is the case, keep an eye on Greg Holland and Aaron Loup. Also, don’t rule out a reunion with the Dr. himself.
How many years has the bullpen been a work in progress? Coming into last year I thought the bullpen was finally going to be stable. I was wrong. With the expectation there will be a lot of free agents on the open market (non-tenders hit in a couple of weeks), I wouldn’t be surprised if general manager Mike Rizzo waits until late February and signs a handful to compete for a spot in the bullpen.
Relatively speaking, the Nationals already have a lot of money invested in the bullpen (the Rays made the World Series and the highest-paid reliever was making $1.5M). While bringing in an Alex Colome or a Brad Hand would be great, I don’t see the Nationals spending the money to do so.
With Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson as the presumed closers and Will Harris the setup man, the team should be looking at another Kyle Finnegan type. A cheap, reliable arm.
Tyler Thornburg and T.J. McFarland would be guys I’d go after. Chris Devenski has had a couple down years, but looks to rebound. Wouldn’t be surprised if Brad Boxberger was brought back into the mix (signed to minor league contract midseason of 2019 by the Nationals).