Na­tion­als run­ning out of op­tions for find­ing closer

List of re­main­ing free agents un­der­whelm­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

The show pieces are gone. Ken­ley Jansen went back to Los An­ge­les, Mark Me­lan­con left the Dis­trict for San Francisco and Aroldis Chap­man will be throw­ing 100 mph in New York City.

The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als made sub­stan­tial of­fers to Me­lan­con and Jansen. Me­lan­con took more money from San Francisco. Jansen re­port­edly took less money from the Dodgers. Nei­ther will be in Wash­ing­ton, leav­ing the same bullpen hole that has been there since the sea­son ended. The Na­tion­als do not have a closer and are run­ning out of out­side op­tions.

The re­main­ing free agent list is un­der­whelm­ing. Former closers like Greg Hol­land, Nef­tali Feliz, Brad Ziegler and Santiago Casilla are avail­able. Each is flawed.

Hol­land did not play last sea­son be­cause of Tommy John surgery. He put to­gether back-to­back All-Star sea­sons in 2013 and ‘14 as the closer in Kansas City. In 2015, his ERA in­creased by more than two runs and he had surgery Oct. 2. He would be a gam­ble.

Ziegler had tight num­bers last sea­son. Just a 2.25 ERA in 69 ap­pear­ances with the Ari­zona

Di­a­mond­backs and Bos­ton Red Sox. He fin­ished with 22 saves and 7.7 strike­outs per nine in­nings. Hid­den in there is an is­sue with walks, an omi­nous layer for any would-be closer. Ziegler walked 3.4 per nine in­nings, his high­est rate since 2010. He’s also 37 years old.

Feliz was once among the dom­i­nant closers in the Amer­i­can League. In 2010, he was an All-Star av­er­ag­ing a strike­out per in­ning. His num­bers be­gan to dip, then he had Tommy John surgery. He spent last sea­son with the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates, his third team in two years, fin­ish­ing with a 3.52 ERA. But, his FIP (field­ing-in­de­pen­dent pitch­ing) was 4.52. His aver­age fast­ball ve­loc­ity did jump back to 96 mph last sea­son for the first time since 2011, ac­cord­ing to Fan­graphs. His 940 pitches thrown were also his most since 2011.

Casilla’s ERA has risen in each of the last three sea­sons. He was ex­tremely ef­fec­tive in 2014. But, as each sea­son has passed, Casilla, who will be 37 in the mid­dle of next sea­son, has lost ef­fec­tive­ness. He was de­moted from the closer spot last sea­son in San Francisco.

The com­ments from and track record of Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo sug­gest he is will­ing to start the sea­son with­out an ac­qui­si­tion to be the closer. At Na­tion­als Win­ter­fest dur­ing the week­end, Rizzo said the ideal so­lu­tion for a team is to de­velop a closer.

“We’re all try­ing to cre­ate our closer in-house,” Rizzo said. “And we feel that we have can­di­dates for closers in-house. We’ve cer­tainly got guys with the stuff to close, the makeup. We just don’t have an ex­pe­ri­enced guy who can close. I think that’s the best way to do it. When you’re in a po­si­tion where you need a closer and there’s three elite closers on the mar­ket, the sup­ply and de­mand of them drives up th­ese con­tracts.”

That’s also the lan­guage of some­one who made mul­ti­ple of­fers and had them de­clined.

Rizzo has used mul­ti­ple “in-house” closers in the past with mixed re­sults. Drew Storen, Tyler Clip­pard and oth­ers had been put in the po­si­tion. Storen went through a whirl­wind of suc­cess and fail­ure like few other pitch­ers, los­ing the closer’s job mul­ti­ple times only to re­gain it be­fore his time with the Na­tion­als ended via a trade last Jan­uary.

“Every­body wants to go out and get some­body, and some­times it’s right un­der your nose and you don’t even know it or see it,” Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker said. “The hard part is, you don’t know un­til you get in ac­tion who can han­dle fail­ure. That’s what it’s all about. Every­body can han­dle suc­cess, but how you han­dle fail­ure and how you get over it in a short pe­riod of time is the key to clos­ing.

“I al­ways re­lated to like be­ing a cor­ner­back. No­body re­ally pays at­ten­tion as long as you’re shut­ting a guy down, but as soon as he scores late in the game — you could have shut him down all game, but now all they want to talk about is you got burned at the end by [Odell] Beck­ham [Jr.] or some­one. It’s the same way here.”

Among the in­ter­nal can­di­dates are Shawn Kel­ley and Koda Glover. Kel­ley is a vet­eran who had a ca­reer-high strike­out rate last sea­son and picked up seven saves. When the Na­tion­als signed him to a three-year deal last off­sea­son, they stressed how im­por­tant it was to mon­i­tor Kel­ley’s out­ings be­cause he has had Tommy John surgery twice. He left the mound in the 2016 post­sea­son af­ter throw­ing a pitch be­cause he had lost feel­ing in mul­ti­ple fin­gers. Rizzo has la­beled Kel­ley as “do­ing well and get­ting ready for spring train­ing” in a generic sum­ma­tion of Kel­ley’s off­sea­son phys­i­cal sta­tus.

Glover spent Septem­ber pitch­ing through a torn labrum in his hip af­ter be­ing called up in July. Off­sea­son rest and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is ex­pected to heal it. He car­ries a stern con­fi­dence and 98-mph fast­ball, though his pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence is lim­ited to 78 ap­pear­ances to­tal in the mi­nor and ma­jor leagues.

“It’s ob­vi­ously in their hands 100 per­cent,” Glover said. “What­ever they want to do and what­ever they want me to do, I’m go­ing to do it. I’ve said that since Day 1. As far as if they throw me in that role, am I ready for it? Yeah. I’m ready for it. But, if they don’t want to do that and they want to go with some­body else, I’m per­fectly fine with an­other role, too. I’m just go­ing to do what they tell me to do.”

The first pitch­ers and catch­ers will be re­port­ing to their spring homes in 60 days. That gives the Na­tion­als two months to de­cide if they are go­ing to gam­ble on a free agent, el­e­vate some­one al­ready un­der con­tract or have spring train­ing be a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the two. What they won’t have is one of the ex­pen­sive sure things that were avail­able in the win­ter.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Na­tion­als GM Mike Rizzo said the ideal so­lu­tion is to de­velop a closer.

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