In a pair of low-wattage moves to bolster their bullpen, the Nationals have signed relievers Joe Nathan and Matt Albers to minor league deals with invitations to spring training. It’s far from the signings Nats fans have hoped for all year, as the club struggles to figure out who will close out games.
Nathan was one of the most reliable relievers in history, saving 375 games from 2004-2014 at a 90 percent rate with a 2.38 ERA and 766 strikeouts in 650 innings for the Twins, Rangers, and Tigers. After struggling to come back from his second Tommy John surgery, Nathan managed to put together 10 successful appearances last year for the Cubs and Giants before the end of the season. At 42, he is a longshot to remain productive and healthy for all of 2017, but showed good velocity in 2016. He might be an option to close games, but is more likely a middle reliever at this point.
Albers established himself as a solid middle reliever in 2012, but cratered in 2016, allowing 44 runs in 51 innings. He has never missed bats, but last year saw his strikeout rate plummet while he allowed a bunch of extra homers. If he can bounce back, he has a chance to be a league-average middle reliever, but a recovery isn’t assured for the 34 year old.
These just weren’t the answers Nats fans were looking for. Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, and Sammy Solis are all strong relievers who could potentially close games. And Trevor Gott is a good relief prospect. But that bullpen is still thoroughly underwhelming and still hasn’t recovered from the disintegration of Jonathan Papelbon.
The good news is that there are still quality arms on the market. Joe Blanton, David Hernandez, Boone Logan, and Sergio Romo among them. Given that they’ll be looking to win in 2017 and 2018 before Bryce Harper hits free agency after 2018, it makes sense for them to shell out now to maximize their chances of winning a pennant.