As much as he wanted to bring back Brandon Kintzler and keep the back end of his bullpen intact for the 2018 season, Mike Rizzo admittedly thought the Nationals would be at a disadvantage in negotiations.
Kintzler, who recorded 29 saves this season (28 while with the Twins), figured to get offers to close somewhere else. And sure enough, he did. Only to decide to re-sign with the Nationals after all.
“I think there were those offers to go pitch the ninth inning exclusively, to have more save opportunities, to make more money,” Rizzo said this morning at Nationals Winterfest. “But I think the relationship that he had with his teammates, specifically his bullpen teammates, and the relationship we’ve had, I think aided him in making a decision based more on a chance to win and comfort level than it was a monetary thing.”
Kintzler’s deal with the Nationals is a modest one, especially when compared to those signed by other relievers so far this winter. He is guaranteed a $5 million salary in 2018, with the possibility of either a $10 million club option or a $5 million player option for 2019. (There’s also a remote possibility neither option will be exercised, making him a free agent after one year.)
The 33-year-old, though, quickly ingrained himself with the Nationals following his July 31 acquisition and made himself a vital part of the club’s remade bullpen.
“He’s an ultimate pro,” Rizzo said. “He fit into the clubhouse perfectly. He’s a guy who’s got a durable arm. Really no situation fazes him. He’s a guy who came from very humble roots to the All-Star Game, which impresses me and makes me think there’s still a hunger there that he wants to get better and improve. I just like the way he goes after it. He has no fear, and no situation is too big for him.”
With Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle locked into their roles in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, the back end of the Nationals bullpen appears to be set. Rizzo also suggested today he views the rest of the relief corps as settled.
“We feel good about it,” the GM said. “We like the back three and the front five. We’ve got a lot of different looks in the bullpen. We’ve got a lot of hard throwers, a lot of guys who can strike people out. We’ve got a lot of guys that have had a year more experience under their belts. We feel good about it.”
One key to the group could be Koda Glover, who after an injury plagued season that included issues with his rotator cuff, back and hip has proclaimed himself healthy and ready to hold a prominent role in the bullpen.
“We’re counting on him to be a guy for us, to be a factor for us,” Rizzo said. “You’ve seen his stuff. It’s big league ready. It’s big league stuff. His attitude, the way he attacks hitters, he’s ready. He’s not afraid. He’s a tough dude on the mound. When we channel that and control that, that’s part of being an experienced big league pitcher. So I think he’s going to get that, too.”
Drafted in 2015 out of Oklahoma State, Glover reached the majors in the summer of 2016. He ended that season with a torn labrum in his hip. After making the opening day bullpen in 2017 and briefly holding the closer’s role after Blake Treinen struggled, Glover again got hurt and wound up appearing in only 23 games.
In hindsight, the Nationals admit, Glover’s rushed path to the big leagues may have contributed to his health issues.
“I think it did,” Rizzo said. “We pushed him pretty fast. You’re talking about college to the big leagues in just a little over a year. His stuff kind of dictated that he was moved at that pace. I always think that relievers develop faster than any other position. But I think as much as his developmental curve affected him, I think his makeup affected him. Because he tried to push through things. He tried to battle through things.
“He wanted to be in the big leagues and wanted to pitch through some pain. And I think that ended up biting him in the end. That’s part of youthful baseball players. They have the ‘John Wayne syndrome.’ They want to battle through things. And they want to fight through things. They don’t want to be in the training room because they think that says something about their makeup. He’s learning. He’ll figure it out. And I think he’s going to be a real big long-term piece for us.”