October 23, 2017

Excuse Me, Is This a Bullpen or an SNL Skit?

June 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you read between the lines on the Nationals 40-man roster, you can find some pretty neat stuff. Look past the names like Strasburg and Scherzer and there you will find guys like Jimmy Cordero. Jimmy had a nice 2015, but having him on the 40-man in 2017 is like having Alec Baldwin running for president in 2020. Jimmy coulda been a contenda, but Charlie, he’s a bum. You like Jimmy? We got Trevor Gott of the 97 mph fastball that leaves the yard even faster. We got A.J. Cole who has been called up more times than Betty Bialoski and you get about the same thing from him as Betty can give you.

The nice thing about all these, “guys” is they all can hit pretty nice numbers on the radar gun. “95…96…97. Bingo, you win a Blake Treinin Bobblehead.” This is the way the Nationals have built their bullpen. One bum at a time. Actually, they are the cream of the crop. When you begin searching the Nationals minor league affiliates you find out exactly why the 40-man is laced with near-do-wells. The minor league organization that as late as 2012 was rated among the best in baseball, is almost completely devoid of pitching talent There is one guy sneaking around Syracuse named Wander Suero, but it might cost the Nationals money to have him on the 40-man and they might lose Jimmy Cordero in the bargain. Oh Nooooo. Not Jimmy!

The Nationals came steaming out of port in early April looking like the Battleship Bismarck. Opponents ran for cover to avoid their big guns. And then the other navies discovered the gaping hole beneath the water line of the Washington Nationals ship of state. No one has described the architects of the Bismarck better than Barry Svrluga in the Washington Post. The Nationals bullpen is an artifice either of organizational “arrogance” or “incompetence” and it is pulling the rest of the team into the abyss with it. Bullpen guys are supposed to be all about weird rituals and motorcycle madness. Instead, Svrluga describes the Nationals bullpen as eight guys who “cower behind the right field wall.”

Over the past three days there was a notable course correction. The Nationals drafted nine out of their first ten players from the ranks of college pitching and several of the choices were clearly targeted for the bullpen. Only second round pick Will Crowe–a right-handed pitcher out of the University of South Carolina program–is an apparent starting rotation piece. Seth Romero– first round left-hander from University of Houston, Nick Raquet–third round left hander from William and Mary, and Brigham Hill–fifth round right hander from Texas A&M, are all more likely to end up pitching in the late innings as starting.

Only the New York Yankees had a draft as heavily directed towards pitching, taking nine of ten pitchers in the first two days. So the Nationals front office knows they have a problem that is deeper than just one set of bullpen guys. The emphasis on pitching in the 2017 draft by the Nationals is a reassuring sign that the comedy of errors may end soon, but what of the here and now? Seth Romero has some serious need to prove he is a grown up before he is ready for prime time. So whence cometh out help in the short term?

It is difficult to find a baseball show on Sirius/XM that has not talked about the Nationals bullpen. Almost uniformly they assume that the Nationals will trade for a closer between now and July 31. But those guys do not write for SNL and it is unlikely they would have ever ventured into the 2017 season with the Washington bullpen. The Nationals brain trust went to war with Blake Treinin as their closer and that is the reason why fans in DC are more into the “wave” than who is ahead in the sixth inning. Is the Washington front office capable of a serious attempt to fix this mess?

The concern is based on reports by Svrluga and others that the Lerners turned their nose up at the off-season market for closers, first passing on David Robertson and then Greg Holland. “Who needs those guys? We got Koda Glover and Blake Treinin.” And we still have them, so what will Washington do between now and the trading deadline. Will they continue to be a laughing stock or will they spend even more money now than they would have in the after-Christmas bargain shopping?

Let’s look at what the Nationals can afford in all truth. They have almost nothing in their minor league system that they SHOULD trade that would fetch back anything of value. David Robertson will cost several prime prospects as will Kelvin Herrera. Losing a Victor Robles for Robertson now when you could have had Greg Holland for nothing would compound the original sin. No, there is a cheaper option in terms of minor league prospects and the name is familiar to all Nats fans: Mark Melancon.

Everyone thought Washington got him for almost nothing when they traded Felipe Rivero for him last season at the deadline. Now Rivero is the lights-out guy that Washington is looking for. But Melancon got $62 million from the San Francisco Giants who are odd man out in the NL West and not likely to contend. Getting rid of Melancon’s contract should be a huge priority for them and they would likely do so for… Jimmy Cordero? Just kidding. Frankly I think Rizzo and company added De Aza so they can trade an outfielder whether it is Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin or Andrew Stevenson, but what do I know?

Ownership has done yeoman work in building a franchise in DC. They have not been cheap. They have spent money wisely for the most part and built a nice organization, but still attendance spikes when out of town teams like the Cardinals and Cubs are in town and those fluctuations demonstrate just how far is left to travel on the road to a real winning tradition that inspires local fans to actually back the home team. What stands between a serious winning streak and palookaville is a proven bullpen.

One thing that almost all of the pundits in the press and on talk radio agree upon is how much the addition of a legit closer would help those seven or eight guys cowering behind the wall in right field at Nationals Park. A proven closer takes the pressure off the young pitchers who have been undone by the pressure to get it done in the first few months. The whole will be made better than the sum of the parts.

Washington ownership is supposedly all about smart money, how to spend it to make more of it. Surely they must know that the window for winning will not be open forever. How many seasons like this one do Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper have left together? How long can Max Scherzer maintain his current level of dominance? It is smart money to use this opportunity to full advantage and build the value of the franchise with a great season ahead of the 2018 All-Star Game. It is difficult to imagine what could be standing in the way of a decision of some kind on the bullpen. Come on, finish fitting out that battleship and steer a course for New York Harbor. Those big guns could still do heavy damage in New York City or anywhere else if given the chance.

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