Most people would prefer to turn their attention away from Washington DC and its endless stream of political drama, but the nation's capital will be a center of attention in the fantasy baseball world this spring for different reasons. The race for the White House may be over, but the Nationals are teeing up a heck of a compelling race for their coveted ninth-inning job.
Last year, Jonathan Papelbon and Mark Melancon combined to record 36 saves as Washington's primary closers. Both departed during the offseason, and surprisingly the Nats elected not to acquire an established high-profile replacement. Instead, it appears there will be an internal competition to claim the role, and the plentiful save chances that come along with it. General manager Mike Rizzo framed it as a spring battle between incumbent relievers Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Koda Glover, per Jim Bowden of MLB Network.
On the surface, Kelley certainly looks like the favorite. He has the most experience of the three, and notched seven saves for Washington last year while posting a 2.64 ERA and phenomenal 80-to-11 K/BB ratio.
Treinen has converted only one save in his career and battles occasional control problems, though his stuff could play in the ninth. Glover is a darkhorse, and it's interesting that Rizzo mentions his name in this conversation. The 23-year-old put up an ugly 5.03 ERA in 19 appearances as a rookie last year, but his minor-league numbers were brilliant. Delivering in the upper-90s from his imposing 6'5" frame, and possessing of a quality changeup that can neutralize lefty hitters, he has long been viewed as a potential closer. Could Glover jump straight into the role with a good spring? Washington is at least keeping the door open.
This will definitely be a situation to keep an eye on, and we'll alert you to any meaningful developments leading up to the regular season. Any of the three relievers mentioned should be able to handle the gig fine, but it's rare to see a bona fide World Series contender roll with a bullpen bereft of significant closing experience.
It still wouldn't be terribly surprising to see Rizzo strike a move before Opening Day, perhaps revisiting David Robertson trade talks with the White Sox.
Wieters to Washington
The back end of the bullpen isn't the only area of uncertainty for the Nats. They now will need to sort out matters at the catcher position after agreeing with free agent Matt Wieters on a two-year, $21 million contract this week.
Back in early December, Washington acquired Derek Norris from San Diego in exchange for a pitching prospect. He was expected to serve as the team's starting catcher, with Jose Lobaton in his customary backup duty. It's possible those two will both slide down the depth chart to make room for Wieters, but Norris is only 28 and likely viewed by some other teams as at least half a platoon, despite his offensive struggles last year. Rizzo indicated on Tuesday that he'll attempt to find a trade partner.
For Wieters, the signing ends a long offseason of searching and negotiating. It's a good deal for him, featuring an opt-out that enables him to hit the market again after this season if he puts up numbers. Surrounded by a strong lineup, he'll be in a favorable position to do so.
Bourn Again in Baltimore
The Orioles re-signed outfielder Michael Bourn to a minor-league deal that will pay him $2 million if he makes the MLB roster. He has a good shot, given what he offers as a versatile fourth outfielder, but it's hard to see him breaking into the starting lineup often. Even if he does, at 34 he doesn't have the same speed that made him a consistent threat for 50 steals and 10 triples early in his career.
Bourn could come across some value in deeper leagues if he earns a significant role, but the veteran's upside is capped.
Quick Hits: Experiencing what MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli described as "symptoms of a potential oblique injury," Zach Britton will skip his planned appearance in an interleague game Wednesday ... The Dodgers finalized their one-year, $2.6 million deal with Franklin Gutierrez, who should settle into a platoon role facing mostly southpaws ... An MRI scan of Josh Donaldson's calf revealed only a mild strain, so his status for the season opener does not appear to be in doubt ... It sounds like Neil Walker's extension talks with the Mets fizzled out, meaning 2017 will be a walk year for the 31-year-old coming off back surgery ... Michael Brantley still hasn't been cleared to hit on the field and until he does so successfully he'll be a risky draft choice ... Jung Ho Kang admitted to his third DUI charge in South Korea and faces uncertainty as he awaits a March 3rd verdict date ... Mets manager Terry Collins said he doesn't expect David Wright to play third base until at least mid-March.