Trading Drew Storen to the Blue Jays was probably best for both the Nationals and the reliever himself, as a change of scenery could resurrect his career and the team parted ways with a guy they had already replaced as closer twice in a span of three years.
Getting rid of Storen, however, does leave a void in the Nationals' bullpen. It is much deeper after several additions this offseason, but the question of who pitches the eighth inning is now an important one.
The Nationals added a group of relievers this winter that includes Shawn Kelley, Trevor Gott, Oliver Perez and Yusmeiro Petit. They also have some young up-and-comers who have shown promise.
All of them provide different skillsets, and GM Mike Rizzo is confident one of them can lock down the setup role for 2016.
"We’ve got several candidates internally, we feel, that can handle the role," Rizzo said. "We feel good about where we’re at in the bullpen. We’ve got depth. We’ve got quality. We’ve got guys who have pitched in an array of roles in the backend of games."
When asked about the setup role last week, Rizzo first explained why Kelley could succeed in the job:
"Kelley has done it for a long time. Shawn has shown the propensity to set up and either close in a major market like New York City. He filled in for [David] Robertson in 2014 and had 12 holds there and four saves. His leverage index of innings was well above average in ’14. He’s pitched extremely well in New York and in San Diego. So we feel good about that."
Then, Rizzo went more in depth on Gott:
"Some of the younger guys that we have, there are some impressive young arms. The kid Gott that we received in the trade with the Angels. His leverage index was above average last year. Thirty-five percent of his appearances in his first year in the big leagues were in the seventh inning or later with a one-run or tie game. So this guy’s pitched in some big opportunities."
Rizzo also mentioned both Blake Treinen and Felipe Rivero as possibilities, then went back to another one of his offseason signings:
"Don’t forget, you’ve got Petit who has obviously pitched a lot of big, meaningful innings in his career," he said.
The names Rizzo mentioned all bring their own positives and negatives. In terms of experience, Kelley would have the upper hand. He is a seven-year veteran with more time logged in the eighth inning than the others combined. Petit is also a veteran and is the only one of the bunch with playoff experience.
Career 8th inning stats:
Gott: 11 G, 8.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, .167 BAA
Kelley: 103 G, 81.1 IP, 3.65 ERA, .233 BAA
Petit: 33 G, 30.1 IP, 2.97 ERA, .224 BAA
Rivero: 13 G, 11.1 IP, 0.79 ERA, .154 BAA
Treinen: 28 G, 26 IP, 3.46 ERA, .274 BAA
The highest ceiling may belong to one of the young guys. Gott, Rivero and Treinen all boast fastballs in the mid- to high-90s and bring electricity out of the bullpen. But with their upside comes inexperience, which the Nationals struggled with in 2015 when they relied too much on rookies.
Some years the setup role is clearly defined heading into spring training. At this point that does not appear to be the case for the Nationals, but they appear confident they have plenty of options for Dusty Baker to choose from.