Nov 7, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
With MLB free agency officially underway — don’t get too excited yet, because players typically don’t start signing for several more weeks — we’re taking a broad look at players the Nationals could pursue, based on positions of possible need. We continue today with left-handed relievers…
Throughout spring training, the Nationals insisted they didn’t need to carry a traditional left-hander in their bullpen, that a good right-handed reliever was better than a below-average left-hander. They felt like Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus and Craig Stammen would be perfectly capable of getting big-league, left-handed hitters out.
They were wrong. The lack of a quality lefty in their bullpen was among the Nationals’ biggest problems this season. They tried to adjust on the fly, using youngsters Ian Krol, Fernando Abad and Xavier Cedeno during various points in the year. All enjoyed some success, but none firmly established himself as a reliable answer moving forward.
So one of the Nationals’ most-important moves this winter will be to add an established lefty to their bullpen. Fortunately, there are plenty of candidates on the free-agent market, including these five…
The quintessential lefty specialist. Over the last eight years, he has posted a sub-3.10 ERA seven times. He averages 2/3 of an inning per appearance. For his career, he has held left-handed batters to a .212 batting average and .596 OPS. And he’s a local kid, having pitched at Robinson High School in Fairfax and at the University of Virginia. A three-time World Series champion with the Red Sox (2007) and Giants (2010, 2012), he probably won’t come cheap. But he’s 36 and left-handed, so he could pitch forever, and that shouldn’t scare the Nationals away from offering him a multi-year contract.
The Nationals were interested in Howell last winter but not interested enough to match the Dodgers’ $2.85 million contract. They should’ve been, because he’s one of the better lefty specialists out there. Howell posted a 2.03 ERA this season in L.A., barely allowed more than one baserunner per inning pitched and held left-handed hitters to a .164 batting average and .452 OPS. He’s not a flamethrower by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s good at what he does, and he would be a very good fit for the Nationals.
This would be a bit of a gamble and a bit of an unconventional move, because O’Flaherty had Tommy John surgery in July and won’t be ready to return until mid-season, at best. But we’ve seen how successful that elbow procedure has become, and we’ve seen how effective O’Flaherty can be (1.99 ERA, .200 batting average by opposing lefties over the last five years). Mike Rizzo hasn’t been afraid in the past to spend money on a guy recovering from surgery, willing to wait until he’s healthy. Perhaps he’d be willing to sign O’Flaherty to a contract that includes an option for 2015, then hope he could be a key piece down the stretch in 2014.
A struggling starter with Milwaukee, Parra became an effective reliever with Cincinnati this year. He struck out 56 batters in only 46 innings and held lefties to a .167 batting average. He doesn’t have quite as much track record as the other guys, but he appears to have a bright future.
A workhorse for the Yankees, Logan has 118 strikeouts in his last 94 1/3 innings pitched. Joe Girardi really used him as a pure matchup lefty — he faced an average of fewer than three batters per inning over the last four seasons in New York — but he’s effective in that role. Lefties hit just .221 against him this year.
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