CINCINNATI - Yes, the Nationals are interested in obtaining a pair of A’s relievers to bolster their beleaguered bullpen. And that should not come as a surprise.
Last night’s report by Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network that the Nationals are interested in acquiring relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson is indeed accurate and would seem to check a couple of boxes heading into the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline. It would give the Nats two veteran bullpen arms, both of whom have closed at times and both of whom have functioned as reliable setup men.
Madson, 36, has posted a 2.11 ERA this season, maintaining a high strikeout/nine innings rating, a low walks/nine innings mark and has been a groundball machine to the tune of nearly 56 percent of his outs. Doolittle, 30, appears to have rebounded from some recent shoulder issues and boasts some mind-blowing numbers for a reliever: 13.08 strikeouts/nine innings and .84 walks/nine innings. The left-hander doesn’t get nearly as many ground balls as Madson does, but who’s to quibble over how an effective reliever records outs?
The A’s are out of playoff contention and in sell mode. Rizzo and Oakland GM Billy Beane are notoriously chummy trade partners, having pulled off 10 separate trades since Rizzo assumed his current role in 2009 (hat tip to Baseball-Reference.com’s trade tracker). Their most recent came last Aug. 25, when the Nats got lefty reliever Mark Rzepczynski and cash from the A’s for minor league infielder Max Schrock. Heck, Rizzo and Beane made five swaps in 2013 alone.
Perhaps most importantly for Rizzo, neither player would be a rental. Madson would be under team control through next season at an affordable $7.5 million, and Doolittle is on a five-year, $10.5 million extension that runs through 2018 with two club options. Of course, this means the price for the pair will be a little higher. But that’s never been an impediment for Rizzo.
Madson has a stronger pedigree in the ninth inning, boasting seasons with 30 and 32 saves, and pitched extensively in the National League East during his nine years with the Phillies. In his 12-year career, he’s posted a 3.40 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Doolittle made an All-Star team for the A’s in 2014, when he saved 22 games and recorded a 2.37 ERA. He appeared in 131 games between 2013 and 2014, but hasn’t carried that high a workload since, due to injuries. For his career, Doolittle has a 3.09 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 254 games covering 253 innings.
While Rizzo engages Beane and others in trade talks, the Nats will try to figure out who will start Tuesday’s game in Anaheim, the spot that would have been occupied by righty Joe Ross, who will instead undergo Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on Wednesday in Arlington, Texas.
Both Rizzo and manager Dusty Baker have indicated that internal options will likely get the first look-see. But those options at Triple-A Syracuse are a little threadbare at the moment.
Right-hander A.J. Cole started Saturday for Syracuse, which effectively takes him out of the running. That could create an opportunity for two pitchers already familiar to Nats fans, right-handers Jacob Turner and Edwin Jackson.
Turner, 26, has performed a variety of roles for the Nationals this season - starter, long man out of the ‘pen, one-inning reliever - but lost his effectiveness and also his place on the 25-man roster and was sent outright to Triple-A earlier this month after passing through waivers. In five Syracuse starts, he’s 0-1 with a 6.50 ERA, hardly the guy who opened eyes in spring training and early this season in D.C. He started last on Thursday, which means he’ll have enough rest if the Nats want him for Tuesday in Anaheim.
Jackson, 33, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals late last month after being designated for assignment by the Orioles. He’s made four starts for the Chiefs and one appearance out of the bullpen, the latter coming Thursday in relief of Turner and lasting three innings, which means he’d be on turn. With Syracuse, he’s 2-0 with an 0.44 ERA in 20 1/3 innings.
It’s possible that the Nationals were aware of the severity of Ross’ injury and purposely maneuvered the Syracuse rotation to make both Turner and Jackson available. We’ll see which direction the Nationals choose, but my gut says they give Jackson the opportunity, especially since he reportedly has an Aug. 1 opt-out in his deal.
Prospect Erick Fedde, 24 is another option, but may not be as serious a candidate. He started the season at Double-A as a starter, then was transitioned to a reliever before moving to Syracuse to continue his work out of the bullpen. He’s now back in the rotation and has made three starts since July 3, but hasn’t been stretched out past 3 2/3 innings. Given the current bullpen problems, I can’t see Fedde getting the call. Between two minor league levels this season, Fedde is 4-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 26 games (10 starts).
Neither Fedde, Jackson nor Turner is currently on the 40-man roster, but Ross could be moved to the 60-day disabled list to open up a 40-man spot for whichever pitcher the Nationals choose for Tuesday’s assignment.