Dec 5, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
With their starting rotation now set upon the acquisition of Doug Fister, the Nationals’ top priority becomes a left-handed reliever. Mike Rizzo admitted as much on Tuesday, saying: “It’s a spot that we feel that we have to upgrade.”
Trouble is, there aren’t many remaining options on the free-agent market. Javier Lopez (Giants) and Manny Parra (Reds) already re-signed with their respective clubs, and the just-released Wesley Wright signed last night with the Cubs, removing three names from the list.
The best lefty still out there probably is J.P. Howell, whom the Nationals pursued last winter but wound up signing with the Dodgers, where he punched up a 2.03 ERA while holding left-handed hitting to a .164 batting average and a comical .452 OPS.
Boone Logan (3.23 ERA, .650 OPS by opposing left-handed hitters) wasn’t quite as dominant as Howell this season, but the 29-year-old has a track record of consistency with the Yankees and probably wouldn’t cost as much.
Matt Thornton, 37, is the oldest member of the group and has held proven effective against both left-handed and right-handed hitters over a 10-year career with the Mariners, White Sox and Red Sox.
And then there’s Oliver Perez, whose career has gone up and down more times than anyone can remember. Having reinvented himself as a reliever the last two seasons in Seattle, the 32-year-old is now available and has at least caught Rizzo’s eye.
The most-intriguing name, though, remains Eric O’Flaherty, a dominant member of the Braves’ bullpen the last five seasons who absolutely would upgrade the Nationals’ relief corps. The catch: O’Flaherty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be ready to return until midsummer.
Would Rizzo be willing to take a chance on O’Flaherty, hoping he’s healthy enough to become a major contributor down the stretch (and maybe in 2015 as well)? If so, he’d have to find another lefty to hold down the position through the season’s first half, buying time until O’Flaherty is ready.
Rizzo did mention his comfort level with in-house options on Tuesday. Though he didn’t specify, he likely was referring both to Xavier Cedeno (who pitched well in September) and Ross Detwiler (who didn’t exactly getting a ringing endorsement for the fifth starter’s job).
Could Detwiler shift to the bullpen? It’s an idea that has been floated for several years while Detwiler battled injuries and inconsistencies. But there’s no guarantee he’d succeed in that role. In fact, during the few times he has resided in the bullpen, Detwiler has been less effective.
No matter who ultimately ends up holding the role, the Nationals obviously need some left-hander in their bullpen come Opening Day. With the Winter Meetings fast approaching, perhaps they’ll be answering this question sooner than later.
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