What Happens with the DC Strangler in Rehab
On Sunday the Washington Nationals were behind to the Phillies 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning. The bases were loaded for Jayson Werth with two out and two strikes when he singled to center field to plate two runs for the walk-off win. Talking to MASN commentator Dan Kolko about what it had felt like to have his team mates chasing him around the field in hysterical joy, he told Kolko, “I knew I was in trouble when I saw the DC Strangler coming after me,” referring to Jonathan Papelbon.
It is good to know just how loose the Washington clubhouse is that they can laugh about the famous incident between Harper and Papelbon from 2015. But now there are serious questions about the Strangler after Washington placed him on the disabled list (DL) with an intercostal strain. It would be unfortunate if the injury was sustained in the post-game scrum on Sunday, but no one has given any indication that such is the case. Regardless, the injury leaves a gaping hole in the somewhat flawed bullpen for the team that is currently second to the Chicago Cubs in win percentage in the Majors. The injury is likely to endure well into July or August, which increases the likelihood the Nationals well turn to the trade market for help.
Much has been written about which closers are available and when. Aroldis Chapman is the most likely to get moved before the trade deadline with the Yankees falling further off the pace each week. But the Cubs are said to be in hot pursuit and they have a deeper minor league organization into which they can dip to entice the Yankees who will be playing for the more distant future in the near future. Acquiring Chapman might be considered the nail in the National League coffin for contenders who might want to challenge Chicago. And that is why they might be willing to trade the pieces New York might ask in return.
Which is not to count the Nationals out in the race, just to recognize the obvious lead the Cubs have.
Washington has pieces to trade. Gio Gonzalez will become expendable if Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez get hot in Harrisburg. Both have been pitching well of late and Giolito more than any other pitcher in the organization could create a favoring breeze for him to climb onto the Major League roster in July or August. Lopez is another intriguing pitcher for several reasons. In his most recent fourteen innings of work he has logged 26 strikeouts to go with only one walk and four earned runs. He could be traded for bullpen help as he pitches himself back into prospect status. Or he could become relief help in Washington.
The cupboard is almost completely bare at Syracuse where the Nationals Triple-A affiliate plays. Sammy Solis was called up several weeks ago and after him there is only Matt Belisle who got the call after Papelbon went on the DL. Shawn Kelley will close for the Nationals in the foreseeable future. But HOW could the Nationals piece together something to keep themselves in the discussion?
If not Chapman, then who?
The Nationals have had success working with Billy Beane in Oakland in recent years so it might be good to look there. The A’s are falling out of contention even more quickly than the Yankees and they have an interesting bullpen mix that provides cheaper options than Chapman and ones that might help for the longer term.
Both Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle are currently healthy and both have a strong track record as closers when they are. The Athletics have others pitching in their bullpen who could back fill if Beane chooses to move either of his ninth inning specialists. Madson is a Scott Boras agent who signed a three-year deal for $22 million with Oakland that runs through 2018. Doolittle is the cheaper option, signed through 2020 for $22 million also. Looking only at the economics of the two players, Beane would prefer to keep Doolittle.
Additionally attractive for the Nationals is Madson’s long experience in the NL East. So assuming that Papelbon returns from the DL in mid July, Madson slides back into a temporary setup role along with Shawn Kelley. It is a far more formidable late inning lineup than Washington currently possesses and Madson would provide a longer term solution as closer in 2017 and 2018.
What could the Nationals offer Beane in return. The aforementioned Reynaldo Lopez would be at the top of the list and former PAC-12 baseball standout, Austin Voth would be the second possibility. It is highly unlikely the Nationals would trade both of them for Madson, but either one would be a nice place to start constructing a reasonable return for Madson. The Nationals minor league pitching depth could help patch together a decent rotation for Oakland going into 2017.
So keep the DC Strangler handy!! Washington might be forced to move earlier than they would like in adding depth to their bullpen. But the injury to Papelbon may be a godsend that forces them onto the market at a perfect time. There is a “delicate” chemistry with their closers and this injury provides nice cover to make changes that were sorely needed anyway.