Two Nationals Relievers In Line For Late-Season Cups of Coffee

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
New York Mets v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

The trade deadline is imminent, and the Nationals are certified sellers. It's not clear whether the team's best two players, Jeimer Candelario and Lane Thomas, will be shipped out some time this week, but wheeling and dealing is more likely than not for GM Mike Rizzo. Aside from Candy and Lane, it's the bullpen where the Nationals are most likely to sell their veterans and acquire some youth.

Right now, Kyle Finnegan is the only obvious trade candidate who is actually healthy, but his injured late-inning teammates Carl Edwards Jr. and Hunter Harvey also seem like solid options for the Nationals to send away. Capitalizing on their value, and even 30-year-old Jordan Weems' value, seems like the prudent thing to do for the rebuilding club. While all of these players except Edwards are under control for several seasons after 2023, it's a better long-term bet to acquire younger players than to expect hard-throwing relievers to remain effective into their 30s.

The Bullpen Wasteland

With Harvey and Edwards being injured along with Thaddeus Ward and Paolo Espino, several spots have opened in the Nationals bullpen in recent weeks. Should several of the reliable arms be sent to greener pastures, it will be open season for all kinds of relievers to try to cement a spot in Washington.

The team has already seen Chad Kuhl and Erasmo Ramirez flunk out of contention and the organization, while Anthony Banda, Hobie Harris, Andres Machado, and Joan Adon have made their own failed attempts in the bigs and currently all sit in AAA. Each of these players have already been evaluated, sent in on a trial run, and returned to storage, all in half a season's time.

The current healthy bullpen is made up of Cory Abbott, Rico Garcia, Joe La Sorsa, Amos Willingham, Jose A. Ferrer, and Jordan Weems, each filling in the vacancies behind Mason Thompson and Kyle Finnegan, the only two active relievers remaining from the opening day roster. Ultimately, nobody from the B-team has been a certified diamond in the rough, but Jordan Weems has been the standout of the group with a 3.55 ERA in 25.1 innings, improving on his 5.22 ERA with the '22 team.

It's clear that another wave is needed, a C-team, or maybe a D- or F-team at this point. While Ferrer and Willingham deserve time to figure out their first go around the majors, they have been shoddy in their limited work. La Sorsa resembles an old school LOOGY, which is out of style nowadays due to the three-batter minimum, but might have some amount of utility. Rico Garcia got fired by the Athletics, which is probably all you need to know about his skill ceiling, and Abbott has never looked like anything but a bottom tier mop-up guy. No offense to Abbott, as a team like the Nationals gets real value from his flexibility in pitching long outings and protecting the rest of his team, but he's not really going to help their long-term aspirations.

There will be open spots soon after the deadline, and even more when rosters slightly expand in September. There are open spots even now, as every active player in the 'pen has options to be sent to the minors at any time. Willingham and Ferrer, the most prospect-like arms of the group, seem like the ones with the best odds to be demoted if their performance doesn't improve soon. Here's the highlights from the next wave on the forecast.

Who Gets The Call? Part 3

In two previous editions of bullpen predictions, I twice predicted Amos Willingham to make his way to the majors, and mentioned Jose A. Ferrer, Zach Brzycky and Alex Troop as other options for this season. Willingham and Ferrer have made it, Brzycky hasn't thrown a pitch this year in the minors but has more talent than just about any other bullpen prospect, and Troop has been a starter at AA all season and is a longshot to debut this year.

If anybody is needed as a call-up in the immediate future, it might be Hobie Harris for a second attempt in the majors, followed by Andres Machado or Anthony Banda who aren't currently on the 40-man roster like Harris. Matt Cronin is a AAA reliever on the 40-man, but has been terrible in the minors and hasn't pitched since May. The search on the 40-man leads us to one of the newest Nationals who seems just about ready to debut.

Roddery Muñoz

Roddery Muñoz is 23, a right-hander, has a typical fastball and slider reliever profile, and has a twin brother named Rolddy who pitches in A-ball for the Braves. Roddery was claimed by the Nationals after being booted from the Braves' 40-man roster, and just made his first appearance for AAA Rochester where he struck out two in a scoreless inning.

As with many similar young pitchers, Roddery is a pitcher with stuff that is ready for the majors and command that is ready for a move to the bullpen. After starting from 2019-2022 in the Braves organization, and making one start at AA this season, he made 16 appearances from the bullpen in AAA. He's clearly inexperienced as a reliever but has ran consistently good strikeout numbers in the minors, and he's been good enough for the Nationals to take a serious look at him.

It's a given that Muñoz won't immediately be an impact pitcher in the majors. If he was, the Braves would have kept him around to help their division-leading team. Great pitchers aren't free, but pitchers are so volatile that rebuilding teams can stumble into them from time to time.
Muñoz is just another pitcher for the Nationals to cycle through, with minor league statistics that aren't exactly eye-popping and a big issue with walks, but it would look amazing in hindsight if he puts it together. It doesn't take a major adjustment for a young pitcher with a great two-pitch combo to succeed, and if he does, it would really burn his former club and new division rival in Atlanta.

Tim Cate

Meet Tim Cate, lefty, age 25. He's been on the radar in the Nationals minor leagues for a while, since being drafted by the team in the second round in 2018. He was a full-time starter up until this year, he started the year in the AA bullpen after struggling in the AA rotation in 2022. This year he ran a 3.38 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 18.2 innings in AA, which are slightly better figures than Amos Willingham and Jose A. Ferrer's bullpen performances at AAA.

Cate recently made it to AAA where he has struggled in 8 appearances. He utilizes a reasonably effective four-pitch mix, and his case for promotion benefits from being a lefty with multiple off-speed offerings. He has a career 4.26 ERA over 426 minor league innings, and while he has the age and experience to be ready for the majors, he's also too old to expect a sudden breakout. He may be redundant with Joe La Sorsa depending on his platoon splits, but certainly could be a fill-in for the bottom of the bullpen.

The bullpen options aren't working out for the team right now, so they need to keep trying. It's great to try to get prospects for the relievers that are good enough, and that will only emphasize the current lack of shutdown talent. Roddery Muñoz is as likely as anybody else to become the next surprisngly reliable setup-man type of pitcher, and he will likely be joined by some relief prospects that the team gets in trades before the deadline. For the future of the team, its a requirement to develop several of these types into a deep team of capable firemen.