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Market for lefty relievers is thinning

Dec 5, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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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.

  1. DaveB - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:52 AM

    I said this here before, but the lefty I would really like to see Rizzo trade for is Jake McGee. He wasn’t quite as dominant last year as previously (which might make him attainable?), but was still very good, and over the last 2 years he’s been in the top 3-4 lefties in all of baseball, and is great against both LH & RH batters. Given TB’s need for RH power at 1B / DH, it seems like a trade for Stammen / TyMo might get it done.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:09 AM

      I doubt Tampa would part with him. He is good as you noted and he isn’t even arb eligible. Tampa has no reason to move, except in case if they are getting more value in return. Tyler (a potential starter) seems like a steep price for a reliever. We can give them eury perez or one of those OFs that are in AAA but won’t make it to our major league roster.

  2. water47 - Dec 5, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    Hmm.. a relative sure thing in Howell vs many other options. I think a contender might just spend the cash and move on to other issues. What is it going to cost? $3.5 Million? That is some real cash but locking down a key role might be worth it. Maybe, even adding O’Flaherty on a one yr deal with an option due to his recovery time(He returns around mid-season).

    Soriano $11 Million ($3 million deffered COTS)
    Clip – $6.2 Million (Est for MLBtraderumors)
    Storen – $3.6 Million ((Est for MLBtraderumors))
    Lefty specialist? $3.5 Millionish

    Granted, some point the cost of all these relievers will need to be be reigned in but since Soriano’s deal is over next year just when Storen hits his fourth Arb year and Clippard will be in his 3rd year. We may be able to keep them for a few more years.. Then again, what would either bring back on the Market?

    • tcostant - Dec 5, 2013 at 1:26 PM

      I agree pay up for Howell, you might have got him cheaper last year on a two year deal, but last year is over. This year he’ll cost more but will be worth it. If he signs a one year deal, he’ll cost even more next year. Give Howell a 2 year contract at $4M or so a year and be done with it.

  3. nats128 - Dec 5, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    I like the idea of Oflaherty just to take a key guy from the Barves.

  4. edshelton2013 - Dec 5, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    “Howell held left-handed hitters to .164 BA and a comical .452 OBP”.
    Is that a typo? .452?
    This article only addresses available free agents. I predict Rizzo will find a better lefty alternative via another trade.

    • nats128 - Dec 5, 2013 at 7:54 AM

      Must be, he held lefties to a .225 OBP and a .227 SLG

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:02 AM

        Mark corrected it, .452 OPS. That’s comical on the batters.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:29 AM

      I think the proofreader got reined out this morning.

      • Jw - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:49 AM

        I think Zuckerman plagiarized this lock stock and barrel from Kilgore’s article the other day.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        Do you mean Wagner’s 12-3 blog post?

  5. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    J.P. Howell, please.

  6. unkyd59 - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    I liked Howell, last year, and even more, this year. If he’s the best option, sign him! We’re not talking about any long term commitment…in fact, ink him for two years, as most everybody else is under control there, too…

    Two, off topic items: WTH is with the persistent Cano rumors?! Wouldn’t signing him be antithetical to this clubs M.O.? Other than Werth, who I approved of then, and still do, I can’t imagine Mike committing to a future albatross contract, and especially to a JayZ client! That would seem to antagonize an important agent with whom he has an excellent relationship. It’s a position where we have excellent quality and depth…. Is there really any chance this could happen?

    And why is 2013 referred to as “this season”? To me, ’13 became “last season” when our boys cleaned out their clubhouse lockers, right? If I said “lady season”, would anyone think I was spearing of ’12? (Yes, I actually DO have much more portent things to worry about…. petty nonsense helps take the mind off of some more unpleasant things…. Thanks, for that!)
    :)

    • unkyd59 - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:52 AM

      “Lady”?! Last….last season….(sheesh!)

    • unkyd59 - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:54 AM

      ?! speaking of ’12!! And more IMportant things….. Good Gad!!!

      • nats128 - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:38 AM

        I was wondering what you were trying to say. Yes, its last season however technically still this year.

    • DaveB - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:44 AM

      Not sure why you think we could get him for just 2 years … FA lefty reliever market has gotten pretty crazy … J Lopez got 3 years / $13 M and JP Howell is significantly better.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      WTH is with the persistent Cano rumors?!”

      They’re rumors. He’s a free agent, his old team is either losing interest or playing hardball, and there’s a very limited list of other teams that could possibly afford him. So there’s rumors.

      Cano is also repped by CAA, and Brody Van Waggenen, on the baseball side. I think JayZ just does the PR side.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    I see the Orioles are attaching to Beltran, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo. Why not throw your hat in on Cano for effect?

    Chances they get none of them? 98.98%

    “So you’re saying there’s a chance”. Yes, slight, very slight.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:55 AM

      Thanks, Ghost…. I sure hope not….

    • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:58 AM

      I don’t mind if O’s want to be relevant and sign free agents that go over/stay in AL. I hope they sign all four.

      • nats128 - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:41 AM

        Its not a matter of them signing them its the matter of a team that overtly every offseason becomes the leagues name dropper on every big Free Agent and gets nobody and probably never even makes a legit offer.

        They are a smoke and mirrors organization. They dump there All Star closer Jim Johnson for a AAAA 2nd baseman hitting Mendoza just so they didnt have to DFA him. All for money when in fact we know they are one of the wealthiest teams in baseball as they rake in there 80% of MASN profits!!!!!!!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      And don’t forget Francisco Pegeuro, to whom the O’s are also linked.

  8. Doc - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    Actually, the Nats just traded away a promising lefty in Krol, and another lefty in Ray whom Drombroski thinks will be in the Tigers’ pen sometime this coming season.

    Solis, Det, Cedeno not bad in-house choices. Maybe Howell, but it’s starting to get crowded out there in bullpen land.

    • water47 - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:11 AM

      Crowded and good is what a contender wants.

      With Howell and O’Flaherty, they would have a really strong bullpen with depth, lots of upside and prospects. That makes for many options as problems come up during the season. Players get hurt and having top tier replacements make sense.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:50 AM

        +1

  9. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Perez and O’Flaherty. I can’t see O’Flaherty getting huge dollars for Brian Wilson (Vers, 2013) innings. Huge upside for 2015.

    Apart from the egregious overpay for Soriano, people who forecast the departure of Clippard and Storen are ignoring that the price for quality — not even prime — relievers is inflating nearly as fast as the market for starters. Nathan $20MM, multiple-year deals — even three years — for set-up men. Do you want Clippard with an inflated salary in your BP or some guy with less experience, or who might have already reached his ceiling, just to save $3-4MM?

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Sub-rosa candidate given Rizzo’s preference for short-term acquisitions: Thornton.

  11. TimDz - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    Off Topic:
    Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball have reached a basic agreement on a new posting system. The new system will have a maximum posting fee of $20MM.

    Basically, anyone who comes up with $20 Million can negotiate with the player…If you don’t sign the player, you get to keep the posting fee.

    Given the wealth of arms we have, it is fun to imagine what adding Tanaka would be. I guess the counter argument to that will be the length of the contract and whether or not it will hamstring the team in efforts to re-sign Znn or SS…

    • tcostant - Dec 5, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      I heard this is what MLB wanted, but the Japan teams didn’t want a cap. I’m shocked this got approved.

  12. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Posting Agreement — a refundable deposit for an opportunity to kick the tires. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

    • TimDz - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      Question then, is do they sign him if they have the chance and would that impact upon keeping Znn and/or SS?

      • Jw - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:23 AM

        Repeat after me: The Lerners are billionaires.

      • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        JW,

        They didn’t become Billionaires by making foolish business decisions.

      • Jw - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:46 AM

        The Lerners are in baseball as a hobby. They make their money elsewhere.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:51 AM

        jd, some will never get it.

  13. Section 222 - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Not sure I agree that Soriano’s contract was an egregious overpay since half of it was deferred. But we’ve beaten that horse many times already. In doing a quick search to find out what exactly that contract was I found a Bleacher Report piece that was really positive on the signing:
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1486182-grading-the-rafael-soriano-contract-for-the-washington-nationals

    It contains this gem of an armchair GM idea:

    “There’s also one other option, and one that’s purely speculation on my part. If Rizzo really wanted to get creative, he could package Morse, Clippard/Storen, top prospect Anthony Rendon and another minor league arm to acquire yet another front-line starter.”

    Instead, Rizzo ended up trading Morse, Lombo, and a minor leaguer (Ray) for Fister, A.J. Cole, and another minor leaguer.

    And we still have Clip, Storen, and Rendon. Hahahahahaha.

    • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:29 AM

      Except that Soriano is not and never was a front line closer.

      • Section 222 - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:38 AM

        Hashed and rehashed. And irrelevant to what Rizzo managed to do compared to what the BR genius thought would be an interesting possibility. He was talking about an frontline starter, not closer.

  14. jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I like the idea of O’Flaherty quite a bit because he would be much more than a loogy. I think we can mix and match until he’s back from TJ with Cedeno etc. I really think it’s foolish to spend $3 – $4 mil a year for a pitcher who you only use to get 1 out a game.

    • David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      A guy like JP Howell is capable of getting righties out, too.

      • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:05 PM

        You are right. He may be expensive in years and dollars though.

  15. NatsLady - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    This is sort of cool. Billy Beane and Mike Rizzo have exchanged 18 players in three years (counting Kurt Suzuki and A. J. Cole twice)

    http://transactions.mlbtraderumors.com/widget/transactions-tracker&link=true&widget=true&amount_type=4&partner_GM_ID=11&GM_ID=10&lang=41

  16. David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:48 AM

    Bill Ladson reporting we’re in on Scott Downs. I’m not a huge fan. He had a good 2013 (2.48 ERA) and he’s been good for a long time, but he’s 37 and has shown signs of decline to the point he’s a pure LOOGY now. I’d rather have someone who can get righties out, too.

  17. karlkolchak - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    HBT has the Nats interested in former Expo Scott Downs, who may be avaiable for a one year deal.

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/12/05/nationals-interested-in-scott-downs/

  18. David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Nori Aoki got traded to the Royals for a bullpen piece. He would’ve made an excellent 4th outfielder for us.

    • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:16 PM

      David,

      I think Aoki is too good as a 4th outfielder. I think he wants and deserves to play every day.

      • water47 - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:26 PM

        Arrggh. Aoki has been a favorite of mine for a while. He would be the perfect 4th outfielder. Solid BA/OBP. Decent fielder and inexpensive.

        Now, we get to ask, why did Rizzo miss?

        I guess the pieces did not fit.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:39 PM

        Will Smith may have relieved last season in big leagues but Brewers may try starting him again. Or so I hear.

        I also like Aoki. lot of contact, decent base runner, and can survive in the field. he does not have any power though. I am not sure we want that.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        Can’t get ‘em all! He would have been a nice add!

  19. philipd763 - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    When Detwiler went to the bullpen in 2012 to make room for Wang as the #5 starter, he did not pitch effectively.

    • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:33 PM

      That’s a fair point but as a starter Set had great success the 1st time around the batting order. If he’s in the pen for good you’d think he can really cut loose and add a couple of miles on his fastball. I think he profiles well as a 2-3 innings reliever.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      Really? I’m not so sure that’s true. Detwiler game log 2012

      From May 30 to June 29, the stretch of games in question (all his other appearances that year were starts), he had 6 appearances. He had 1 win, 1 hold, no losses. He allowed runs on 2 occasions, in different games, which they won. He allowed 1 inherited runner to score, in a game they eventually lost 5-3.

      That’s pretty effective, IMO.

      • raleighnat - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:57 PM

        I think Det gets the starting job if he’s healthy. For a #5 he’s pretty darn strong though I wonder if he would be better by mixing up his pitches a little more instead of all fastballs.

        If he does well, great…if not then you move him to the pen. Our next wave of pitchers coming up the following year should be very strong with Jordon and Solis having more seasoning. If Det does well you have a very, very nice trade piece and can move him from a position with lots of depth. It all has to come together for Det, but if it does we could build a very valuable but easily replaceable trade piece at little risk.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        Yeah, yeah, yeah…but was he ‘clutch’?

  20. raleighnat - Dec 5, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    As most agree, we HAVE to address the left side of the bullpen and the bench. These are relatively inexpensive areas to address (when compared to the front line players and starters). I’d make a very strong push for Howell. Even at 2-3 years, how risky really is that? Get him and that’s hole’s solved.

    And we really need to spend on the bench. I like my young players playing every day (Walters, Souza, etc.). Hairston and Tyler Moore are 2 pieces. I think Espinosa is fine as a back up infielder. They need a high quality left handed bat and a high quality back up catcher. I’d get Suzuki and add someone like Garrett Jones? And we don’t need just pinch hitters for our bench….we need above replacement level guys that can play regularly when someone inevitably gets hurt.

    These moves (or equivalent ones for equivalent players) would set us up nicely.

  21. pchuck69 - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    >>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.

    Mark is misremembering Ross’s time in the bullpen. He was consistently good in 2011, the last time he was in the bullpen. He was also good in 2010 from the pen.

    He was better from the bullpen than as a starter in both of those seasons.

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:49 PM

      The key word in that sentence is “few”–as in, Det has had a whopping 32.1 IP of the BP.

      It would be unwise to try to draw any strong conclusions about his performance as a starter vs reliever.

  22. Faraz Shaikh - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    So Tanaka may not be posted after all that.

    • scnatsfan - Dec 5, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      I think he will be posted, just his parent club throwing a hissy fit about being the team that gets screwed out of millions by the new system

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 3:10 PM

        Nobody says they have to let him go! I’m not crying for his team.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 3:31 PM

        If Bryce Harper decided upon Free Agency to play in Japan the Nats would get ZERO in compensation. The only chance at team compensation is through what the CBA allows which isn’t much any more as the Qualified Offer is restrictive.

        $20 million is a ton of comp for a player who is out of contract to leave his league then comes the bigger bucks for the player contract.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Dec 5, 2013 at 3:31 PM

        they easily lost $30+ million in posting fee. merchandise loss will affect some I am guessing. they may hold onto him one more year.

      • Section 222 - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:23 PM

        Ghost, is Tanaka really “at Free Agency”? I thought it was 9 years in Japan. That’s why there’s the posting fee. IIRC, the team still has control of the player for several more years and it’s giving that up.

    • trochlis318 - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:39 PM

      no way they lost 30+ million the Ryu posting fee was 27 million and remember it caps out at 20 so i think maybe they lost 10 million max and this new system allows the player to get a bigger contract so i am all for it essentially

  23. David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    MLBTR reporting that the Mariners are willing to give Cano 10 years and $230-240M. Yikes.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:42 PM

      Having lived in both the Pacific northwest and the Dominican Republic, I can assure Mr. Cano that the weather is a lot better in the DR.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:43 PM

        Of course, I’m not sure how much time — if any — he spends in Santo Domingo these days…

    • Hiram Hover - Dec 5, 2013 at 5:26 PM

      Wow – buying your way out of the cellar and into relevance is an expensive proposition.

      • Candide - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:28 PM

        And we all thought buying Werth was expensive at half the price!

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 5, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      Sounds serious, they say he went out there to talk to them.

      http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013/12/mariners-willing-to-pay-cano-230-240mm.html

  24. NatsLady - Dec 5, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    RIP Nelson Mandela.

    • Sonny G 10 - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:28 PM

      +1

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 6, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      +1

  25. David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    Kilgore just published an article saying we’ve been in contact with Eric O’Flaherty. He’d be a great pickup. But get another lefty too because O’Flaherty won’t be ready.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 5, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      That would be this one:
      Nationals still looking for a lefty, interested in Eric O’Flaherty

      Groucho: We’re looking for a new treasurer.
      Cabinet Member: But we just hired a new treasurer.
      Groucho: That’s the one we’re looking for!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 5, 2013 at 5:44 PM

        That could be a good pickup. High risk high reward.

      • Doc - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:45 PM

        Hey Sec.3 great quote from Groucho!

        Thanks!

        We need more Groucho quotes in this blog.

        Groucho knew absurdity, and baseball salaries are absurd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM

      If he’s ready in May or even June we can go with in house options for a little while. No sense breaking the bank on 2 lefty specialists.

      • David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:03 PM

        Well O’Flaherty isn’t really a lefty specialist. He’s more of a full-on setup man who happens to be death on lefties.

  26. jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    I like O’Flaherty better than all the other options mentioned. He can be slotted nicely between Clip and Storen and he can pitch full innings instead of coming in for just one batter. As an example if it’s the 7th or 8th inning and you are playing the Braves and they have Heyword and Freeman (with Upton in between) scheduled O’Flaherty would be a perfect fit to pitch that inning.

    • jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:05 PM

      David,

      I agree. but do you really need a Loogy if you have someone such as O’Flaherty around?

      Considers this: Stammen,Detwiler,Clip, O’Flaherty, Storen and Soriano. Not bad !!

    • David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:23 PM

      Anything that keeps Clippard from facing the Braves. I think his ERA would be about 1 if he didn’t face the Braves.

  27. jd - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    BTW,

    my candidate to get the bullpen slot Soriano occupies in 2015:

    A.J.Cole.

    • David Proctor - Dec 5, 2013 at 6:15 PM

      I think AJ Cole could be ready to compete for a rotation spot in 2015. He already pitched some at AA and did very well. I figure he spends most of 2014 at AA and if he does well, gets bumped up to AAA for a cup of coffee and is ready to compete for a spot in Spring Training for 2015.

  28. nats128 - Dec 5, 2013 at 8:56 PM

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/schmuck-blog/bal-orioles-ownership-fingerprints-all-over-jim-johnson-trade-20131205,0,1864647.story

    Hey Ghost, looks like the Baltimore Sun backs up your story of the Orioles dumping Jim Johnson for a 26 year old 2nd baseman who hit .111 last year.

  29. nats128 - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    Furcal is off the board as he signed with the Marlins.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Dec 6, 2013 at 12:08 AM

      Good; not a player the Nats need.

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