Herrera had spent all eight seasons of his career in Kansas City, so when he first heard the news, he had to take a step back.
“Yeah, it was very quick,” Herrera said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “They let me know about 6:20 p.m. (local time). It was unexpected for me and everything happened so quick. I was in shock when they originally told me because it was a little unexpected.
“You see it and read it in the media with all the trade talks that happens. When I say a little unexpected, it’s just the fact that it happened in mid-June, as opposed to a little later. I kind of assumed it might happen a little later but it happened now. So that’s why I was a little in shock. It was a little unexpected for me.”
Manager Davey Martinez made sure he spoke to Herrera first to let him know what his role is and how excited the Nationals were to have him in D.C.
“He’s pretty upbeat,” Martinez noted. “Explained the situation, and he’s excited to be here. He’s looking forward to just going out there and competing and helping us to win.”
Martinez emphasized how important communication was going to be in their relationship, and that it wasn’t just a one-way street. If Herrera ever had anything he wanted to talk about, Martinez’s door is always open.
“For me, it was just a conversation,” Martinez explained. “I had a conversation with him today. He actually looked at me and said: ‘Wow, that’s a pretty good conversation. You’re telling me what my role is, and what I’m going to do and how you’re going to do things.’ And the fact that it goes beyond that. I told him: ‘Hey, we do this every day. I’ll have a conversation with you every day and let you know what’s going on.’ I value communication a lot.
“So I said: ‘Anytime you want to come in here, feel free. My door’s always open. If you think I’m not using you in the right way, or too much, or too (little), feel free to tell me. I want you to be successful. We all want you to be successful. Because if you’re successful, we’re going to be really good.’ “
Amazing thing is, the Nats were able to swing the trade for Herrera and gave up three minor league players outside of their top nine prospects according to MLB.com. Plus a trade of this magnitude with a high profile reliever like Herrera came 51 days before the trading deadline.
Nats’ president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo said his organization recognized very early on that if they were going to make a run at another division title they would need to add a significant bullpen arm sooner rather than later.
“We identified our need to strengthen our bullpen early on in the season this year,” Rizzo said. “We love the back end of the bullpen but the front end of our bullpen was struggling early in the season. We thought the way we were relying on our big three or four guys, we were going to need to get some help in here. We needed to get a guy who has been through the wars before, who’s been established, and who is pitching extremely well.
“Kelvin fit all those criteria. We got a guy with great makeup. Johnny DiPuglia, our international guy, knows him extremely well through Rene Francisco of the Royals. I’ve seen him pitch for many, many years. He’s a guy we really like the person one, and how he performed two, and his make up three.”
Herrera had been with the Royals since 2011. He has a career 2.75 ERA in 442 games, with 57 saves, and this season he has a 1-1 record with 14 saves and a remarkable 1.05 ERA.
He has pitched in two World Series and has a 2015 championship ring. So, Martinez can empathize when someone is traded for the first time. That is seven full seasons with one club, and parts of two other campaigns. That’s a lot of friendships and relationships that have stood the test of time.
“The first time it was tough,” Martinez said of being traded. “And I get it with him. He’s been there a long time. I even told him the color red looks good on you. I know you’re used to blue. His winter ball team, I think, was red. I told him: ‘Just think of it as you’re playing on your winter ball team. You’ve got a different color on. And let’s move forward.’ He’s got so many good friends there, and it’s tough. But he played with Tim Collins and Madson. They all welcomed him, and he came in and said: ‘I heard you guys were a good bunch of guys and you guys like to have fun.’ And I said: ‘Yeah, you’ll really enjoy it here and you’ll fit right in.’”
Herrera said Martinez made him feel very comfortable from the outset.
“We had a great conversation,” Herrera said via Octavio Martinez. “He seems like a great guy. We had a short talk just in general about my role within the team and within the bullpen. Just in general, and to feel welcome. He embraced me very well so it was good.”
So with so many alphas in the bullpen, can you have too many closers? Herrera said he doesn’t worry about when he comes in but more on looking to get that first batter out.
“Once I get to the bullpen, what I focus on is concentrating on individually that hitter,” Herrera said. “Whatever inning I may get called upon, I just focus on getting that one hitter out that one time. So whatever inning that is, I’m prepared for it.”
Martinez spoke to Sean Doolittle on Monday night and Herrera today about their roles, and explained that there will be plenty of high leverage situations for everyone involved.
“Well I explained it to him and I think he gets it,” Martinez said. “The way I explain it to all these guys when you come in the game think of it as you’re closing that inning because it’s a big moment. We need you wither the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, whatever. I explained that to Kelvin too and he got it. I said, ‘hey, there’s going to be times where Doolittle needs a day off and I will let you know in advance that you are going to close the game today so be prepared’.
“And there’s going to be times when I know you are going to come up to me and tell me ‘hey, I need a day’. And we can do something else. Just remember it’s all about communication but you are going to get a chance to pitch and you are going to get a chance to close games.”