The Nationals’ could use some bullpen help going into next season. The 2023 Nats bullpen posted an ERA of 5.02 and a cumulative 0.6 fWAR. With a pitching rotation split between young players still figuring things out and veteran pitchers underperforming, the bullpen has to be consistent and reliable for Davey Martinez to turn to when the starters have rough outings.
The Nationals have recently taken a step in the right direction and acquired Dylan Floro in an attempt to bolster the bullpen, but the relief staff could still use some more reinforcements before the 2024 season, and there are three names that could be viable options for the Nats while still fitting within a reasonable free agent budget.
Hard-throwing Blue Jays reliever Jordan Hicks would be a fantastic addition to the Nationals’ bullpen for next year. Splitting his 65.2 IP between the Cardinals and the Jays last season, Hicks posted a 3.29 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.
Hicks’ velocity is obviously his main draw, with his sinker sitting around 100.1 MPH. He also recorded a solid 28.4 K% and 5.4 Barrel%. The main issue with Hicks is control, as his 4.39 BB/9 demonstrates, as well as a history of missing time due to injury. Still, Jordan Hicks would stand out among the Nationals relievers, and would be a solid option to pick up this offseason.
Another player Mike Rizzo could look at for 2024 is Giants reliever Jakob Junis. Junis threw 86 innings for San Francisco last season, finishing with a 3.87 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.
Junis’ strengths are almost opposite of Hicks, with good control reflected by a 5.7 BB% and more value from his breaking balls. His K% was a respectable 26.2 and his HardHit% was 75, showing he has the potential to get strikeouts and coax weak contacts, alongside limiting his walks. His main weakness lies in a heavy reliance on his slider, with his sinker and changeup being consistently read by his opponents.
Still, if he tweaks these pitches over the offseason and during Spring Training, he could prove to be an essential part of the Nats bullpen.
While he is the least likely of this bunch for the Nats to sign as they would possibly be attempting to outbid and outmaneuver teams such as the Dodgers, Angels, and Cubs, Washington simply has to consider Robert Stephenson. With little free agent spending so far by the Nationals, they should have the budget for someone like Stephenson to help provide some support for their starters, as well as money for at least one of the other stronger free agents remaining such as Rhys Hoskins.
Stephenson undeniably had a substandard start to his 2023 season. Across 14 innings with the Pirates, Stephenson put up a 5.14 ERA with a 1.429 WHIP. While this is undeniably a small sample size, it still did not foretell a great season for Stephenson. Luckily for him, he got traded to the Rays.
After arriving in Tampa Bay, Stephenson would go on to put together a 2.35 ERA and an incredible 0.678 WHIP in his 38.1 relief innings. Hitters just could not read his pitches, leading to a 42.9 K% and a 14.1 SO/9.
Much of his success was owed to a devastating cutter, which cumulatively held batters to a .101 average and .253 slugging. This isn’t to say his other pitches weren’t effective, as hitters had batting averages of .186 and .100 against his slider and splitter respectively. Combine these low averages with an overall Chase % of 41.3 and Whiff % of 46.3, and you have one of the best arms still available that would likely be a crucial player for the Nationals next season.
The Nats still have time to make some moves, and adding stability to their pitching staff would easily help with their success next season. These three pitchers would serve as a significant upgrade, so as a fan, I can only hope that we see one of these names on the back of a Nationals uniform next season.