The Washington Nationals have spent big money in free agency in recent years, bringing in Max Scherzer at the beginning of 2015 and 2016 NL MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy last January. They’ve made big trades to improve the club, adding Adam Eaton as their crowning jewel this winter, but there just haven’t been enough upgrades made for a team that is running out of time to contend.
Last season the Washington Nationals tied for the second-best record in baseball with the Texas Rangers at 95-67, eight games back of the World Series champs. If you’re a Nats fans, you’ll look at that record and how it ranked across baseball, and think to yourself, “and that was without Bryce Harper being nearly as good as he was a year ago. Plus, we’ll get a full season of Trea Turner and Adam Eaton!” Those are all valid points, but what if Turner has a sophomore slump and Harper has another down season? Not to mention that the Nationals still don’t have a proven closer in the ninth.
Even with that impressive record, they were still unable to make it out of the NLDS, falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in five. That would mean that upgrades would have to be made, right? Eaton is an improvement, but what about the ninth inning?
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As things sit right now, Shawn Kelley is the most likely candidate for the job. Kelley had the highest K/9 rate in the bullpen last season at 12.41, but he also had the second-highest HR/9 rate at 1.40 behind the since departed Yusmeiro Petit. A team can live with that home run rate in the sixth, seventh or eighth, but the in the ninth you are a team’s last defense between a win and a loss.
In 2014 and 2015, Kelley’s rates were a bit more modest, sitting at 0.87 and 0.70, but that is still roughly double that of Melancon or Aroldis Chapman in recent years.
Shawn Kelley could end up doing a great job (or the Nats could make a trade for someone like David Robertson from the rebuilding White Sox), but with Harper only under contract for two more seasons, the window for competition could be a short one. The Nationals haven’t made it to the NLCS in their own history, and only once has the franchise done so in their history, when the Expos suffered one of the more heartbreaking defeats in 1981.
With what the Nationals have shown us in recent history, they could have used some extra reinforcements, i.e. depth, this winter. Instead, it’ll be up to the usual suspects to carry the club once again, and their history has not shown us that they’re up to the task.
Then again, there is usually a feeling that the team is underachieving, so maybe this is the year the team just achieves like their supposed to.