Searching for an answer at closer, the Washington Nationals are reportedly still talking to the Chicago White Sox about a trade for David Robertson.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports published an article today examining the Washington Nationals‘ relative inactivity this offseason. While that’s a topic for a whole other post, the MLB insider did include a nugget of interesting info about one area of need the team is still attempting to address:
… the Nats continue to discuss a trade with the White Sox for closer David Robertson, according to major-league sources. Robertson is owed $12 million this season and $13 million next season, creating an all-too-typical Nats obstacle. The team does not want to absorb Robertson’s entire obligation, and does not want to move additional prospects after parting with three young pitchers for Eaton, sources say.
On paper, the Nationals stack up quite well against even the powerhouses of the league, such as the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Their rotation should be able to carry them, especially if Stephen Strasburg remains healthy. A rebound performance from Bryce Harper would provide a major boost a lineup that also includes last season’s MVP contender Daniel Murphy, rookie sensation Trea Turner and newly-added Adam Eaton.
However, one place where Washington still needs work is the bullpen. Specifically, they have to decide what they’re going to do with the closer role. They have options to consider, including a solid in-house choice in Shawn Kelley. But if the Nats are serious about being legitimate championship contenders in 2017, having a reliable “name brand” closer to lock down the ninth inning would go a long way.
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But is Robertson that guy? Though it wasn’t a flat-out bad campaign by any means, the reliever’s 2016 season did raise a few red flags. Over 62.1 innings, he posted a 3.47 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, his highest marks in those categories since 2010, his third year in the league. After putting up a career-best 1.8 BB/9 in 2015, his walk rate shot up to 4.6 BB/9 last year. Robertson also watched his K/9 slide from 12.2 to 10.8.
Due to turn 32 years old in April, some further decline from D-Rob wouldn’t exactly be shocking. But the fact of the matter is that he has still racked up 110 saves over the past three seasons; only five have more over that span. If he can get the walks under control, the right-hander should still be able to get the job done. At the very least he would be a probable upgrade over what the Nationals already have.
Unfortunately, as Rosenthal notes, the club would likely have to make some sort of concession to make a Robertson trade happen. They will either have to agree to deal more of their prospects, or be willing to take on the remaining two years and $25 million on the closer’s contract. General manager Mike Rizzo isn’t inclined to do either, especially after already giving the White Sox his top pitching prospect in Lucas Giolito for Eaton, as well as padding his payroll by inking Strasburg and Max Scherzer to monster deals in each of the last two years.
Washington, however, is not in much of a position to be demanding after watching this offseason’s abundance of closers go elsewhere. They did just sign Joe Nathan to a minor league deal, but despite his former glory he’s more of a 42-year-old lottery ticket than anything. The Nationals can stick to Kelley and their current bullpen mix and they might be okay. But if they want to put more minds at ease, they will need to go the extra mile to acquire Robertson one of the other handful of closers (Alex Colome?) who could potentially still be had in a trade.