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Looking at top relievers on the free-agent market

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Looking at top relievers on the free-agent market

The Nationals' No. 1 roster priority this winter is crystal clear: Improve a bullpen that was the club's biggest weakness this season.

That, of course, is easier said than done. How exactly does general manager Mike Rizzo go about fixing this problem? Are there in-house options? Who from the current relief corps should stay and who should go? Should replacements come via free agency? Or is a trade the best route?

The final answer probably involves all of the above. The Nats aren't going to buy a brand-new bullpen of free agents. They aren't going to dump everybody from the 2015 group. They will look at young, in-house candidates to fill some roles.

As for the free-agent market ... well, it's not terribly deep. And that could be a problem. With a dearth of quality relievers available, prices are going to be high. And we've seen in the past a reluctance on Rizzo's part to spend high (at least in terms of years) on relief pitching, typically considered the most volatile position in baseball.

But the Nationals have to at least consider this market, so let's run through some of the most notable relievers now available...

DARREN O'DAY
He's the prize catch on the market this winter, which tells you exactly what kind of market this is. That's not a knock on O'Day, who is one of the most reliable and most effective relievers in the game. Aside from an injury-plagued 2011, he has made at least 64 appearances with an ERA of 2.28 or lower in six of the last seven years. He's the quintessential right-handed setup man, who can close in a pinch. What's that going to cost this winter? O'Day is a lock to get at least three years and $24 million, and given the widespread interest in him, somebody is probably going to make it four years and $32 million, give or take. Are the Nats willing to make that kind of investment in a 33-year-old reliever, reliable track record or not?

RYAN MADSON
The 35-year-old right-hander had a really nice bounce-back season with the Royals, posting a 2.13 ERA in 68 games, his first appearance in the majors since 2011 with Philadelphia. There's a significant injury track record here, but you can't dispute how good he has been when healthy (2.72 ERA, 1.136 WHIP, 8.8 K/9 his last five big-league seasons).

TYLER CLIPPARD
Our old pal had quite an eventful season, serving as Oakland's closer for awhile, then getting dealt to the Mets in July and winding up pitching in his first career World Series, where he wasn't particularly effective and lost manager Terry Collins' trust. Clippard's strikeout numbers went down and his walk rate went up this year, and that's something of a concern. He has been among the most durable relievers in baseball, but one reason the Nationals were willing to trade him last winter was concern his arm might not hold up much longer. Was this season evidence of that happening, or was it a minor blip?

JOAKIM SORIA
Only 31 years old, and he has plenty of closing experience (202 career saves) to go along with a 2.57 lifetime ERA and 1.062 WHIP. Soria was a solid setup man for the Pirates down the stretch this season after the Tigers dealt him. Now there's talk of him possibly returning to Detroit. If he's amenable to D.C., though, there could be a decent fit here.

ANTONIO BASTARDO
With Matt Thornton departing as a free agent, the Nationals could be in the market for another lefty to go along with Felipe Rivero. Bastardo is the consummate matchup guy, owner of a 3.18 ERA and 1.195 WHIP over the last three seasons with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He strikes out more than 10 batters per nine innings, but he also walks more than four batters per nine frames, so that's a concern.

MARK LOWE
The 32-year-old right-hander quietly had a huge first half in Seattle (1.00 ERA, 11.8 K/9 in 30 appearances) before getting traded to Toronto, where his ERA rose to 3.79. There's not as much positive track record from this journeyman, who has spent his entire career in the AL. But that first half with the Mariners was evidence there's something in there.

SHAWN KELLEY
Another under-the-radar right-hander who was brilliant in San Diego this season (2.45 ERA, 1.091 WHIP in 53 games). He has struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings over the last three years, an eye-popping stat, but that didn't lead to much success until 2015.

FERNANDO RODNEY
You never know what exactly you're going to get from the arrow-slinging righty, but he was really good for the Cubs after a midseason trade (0.75 ERA in 14 games). He has 236 career saves, strikes out a lot of guys but walks a lot of guys as well. He's also going to be 39 next season. Would the Nats take a shot at a 1-year deal for the vet?

CHAD QUALLS
He's been the majors 12 seasons now, having pitched for eight different clubs. Qualls' ERA has tending to skew up a bit, and he's not a high-strikeout pitcher. But he's got experience in just about every role, and has been quite durable for a long time.

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE