Looking at the market for lefty relievers

The Nationals have acquired two players so far this offseason, and both were right-handed relievers: Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. In doing so, they began to address one of their areas of need, restocking a bullpen that was turned over by trades this summer and free agency once the season ended.

The Nats’ bullpen makeover isn’t complete yet, though. They may still be in the market for another right-hander who can join Rosenthal and Barraclough in setting up closer Sean Doolittle. And they most certainly need to find a quality lefty to shore up what was a major problem area this year.

The Nationals actually opened the 2018 season with four southpaws in their pen: Doolittle, Sammy Solís, Enny Romero and Matt Grace. And then later called up Tim Collins from Triple-A. But Romero lasted only a week before he was dropped. Solís struggled all season. Collins was adequate at times but hardly a sure thing and now is a free agent.

Grace will return in some capacity, whether as a matchup specialist or longer reliever, but the Nats need to do more in this department. Frankly, they need a left-hander they can trust to enter a game against tough left-handed hitters and consistently record outs.

Here’s who’s out there this winter, with a couple of big names atop the list, and then a bunch of experienced (if less dominant) guys behind them ...

ZACH BRITTON
Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 2-0, 3.10 ERA, 41 G, 7 SV, 40 2/3 IP, 21 BB, 34 SO, 1.230 WHIP, 4.22 FIP, 0.7bWAR
Projected contract: 4 years, $56 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. He was the best reliever in baseball in 2016, but injuries completely derailed him the last two years. He did pitch well for the Yankees in a setup role down the stretch, but he’s hardly the sure thing he was not long ago. Expect Scott Boras to sell him as an elite closer, though, which is why the Nationals probably won’t enter this market. They’ve already got an elite left-handed closer.

ANDREW MILLER
Opening day 2019 age: 33
2018 stats: 2-4, 4.24 ERA, 37 G, 2 SV, 34 IP, 16 BB, 45 SO, 1.382 WHIP, 3.51 FIP, 0.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 3 years, $30 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate-to-high. Speaking of lefties whose stock has fallen. Miller’s drop hasn’t been as severe as Britton’s, though, and he’s only a year removed from being one of the best relievers in baseball. Miller’s biggest selling point is that he can dominate for multiple innings, and Terry Francona used him expertly in high-leverage spots no matter how early in the game. Yes, there’d be some risk here, but the upside remains high.

JUSTIN WILSON
Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 4-5, 3.46 ERA, 71 G, 0 SV, 54 2/3 IP, 33 BB, 69 SO, 1.427 WHIP, 3.64 FIP, 0.7 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $16 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. The Nationals looked at Wilson as a trade target a few years ago, so they’ve already shown interest. He’s more a true matchup reliever, one who held lefties to a .190 batting average this season. He walks a lot of batters, and that’s a concern. But he also strikes out a bunch and is more affordable than Britton and Miller.

TONY SIPP
Opening day 2019 age: 35
2018 stats: 3-1, 1.86 ERA, 54 G, 0 SV, 38 2/3 IP, 13 BB, 42 SO, 1.034 WHIP, 2.41 FIP, 1.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $10 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate-to-high. Sipp is kind of an under-the-radar guy, but he was great this season for the Astros, holding lefties to a .557 OPS. Of course, he was very much not great in 2017, so you never really know what you’re going to get year to year. But again, he’s an experienced matchup lefty who won’t cost an arm and a leg.

oliver-perez-white.jpgOLIVER PÉREZ
Opening day 2019 age: 37
2018 stats: 1-1, 1.39 ERA, 51 G, 0 SV, 32 1/3 IP, 7 BB, 43 SO, 0.742 WHIP, 1.74 FIP, 1.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $4 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low-to-moderate. Hey, remember him? Did you notice how utterly dominant he was this year in Cleveland? Seriously, go back and look at those stats. No, Pérez never did anything close to that in D.C., but he’s always been effective when just facing lefties. And he’s got a rubber arm that should allow him to keep pitching forever. The Nats typically don’t bring back guys they gave up on in the past, but maybe this one is worth a revisit.

JERRY BLEVINS
Opening day 2019 age: 35
2018 stats: 3-2, 4.85 ERA, 64 G, 0 SV, 42 2/3 IP, 22 BB, 41 SO, 1.359 WHIP, 4.96 FIP, 0.0 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $3 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Mike Rizzo dumped Blevins at the end of spring training in 2015, sending him to the Mets for Matt den Dekker. The sense was that Rizzo was punishing Blevins for taking the club to arbitration over a disparity of $100,000, though the GM has always maintained he felt den Dekker was more valuable long-term than one more season of Blevins. Anyway, he’s a veteran lefty with mixed results who left Washington on bad terms. Tough to see the two sides reuniting now.

JORGE DE LA ROSA
Opening day 2019 age: 37
2018 stats: 0-2, 3.38 ERA, 59 G, 1 SV, 56 IP, 27 BB, 47 SO, 1.393 WHIP, 4.37 FIP, 0.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $2 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low-to-moderate. A starter his whole career, de la Rosa was very effective as a reliever once the Cubs acquired him this summer. He’s getting up there in age, but maybe he still has something left in the tank as a matchup lefty.

ZACH DUKE
Opening day 2019 age: 35
2018 stats: 5-5, 4.15 ERA, 72 G, 0 SV, 52 IP, 21 BB, 51 SO, 1.500 WHIP, 3.01 FIP, 0.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $2 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Hey, it’s another ex-National! Duke wasn’t a particularly effective long man for the 2013 Nationals, but he’s resurrected himself as a sidearming short reliever since. Wasn’t great for the Twins and Marlins this season, but he’s cheap.

JONNY VENTERS
Opening day 2018 age: 34
2018 stats: 5-2, 3.67 ERA, 50 G, 3 SV, 34 1/3 IP, 16 BB, 27 SO, 1.223 WHIP, 3.45 FIP, 0.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $1.5 million (plus incentives)
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. The Nationals saw firsthand Venters’ remarkable return from 3 1/2 Tommy John surgeries. (Just look up his story for the full details.) Given his injury history, it’s a big gamble. But the Nats haven’t shied from Tommy John pitchers, even two-timers like Shawn Kelley and Tim Collins. And they could probably work out a deal with a low base salary but lots of incentives if Venters was healthy and effective.

JAKE DIEKMAN
Opening day 2018 age: 32
2018 stats: 1-2, 4.73 ERA, 71 G, 2 SV, 53 1/3 IP, 31 BB, 66 SO, 1.500 WHIP, 3.74 FIP, 0.0 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $2 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. The good: Struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings this season. The bad: Walked 5.2 batters per nine innings. The bizarre: Righties hit .191 against him, while lefties hit .329.

AARON LOUP
Opening day 2018 age: 31
2018 stats: 0-0, 4.54 ERA, 59 G, 0 SV, 39 2/3 IP, 14 BB, 44 SO, 1.563 WHIP, 3.61 FIP, 0.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $2 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Coming off a rough season with the Blue Jays and Phillies, but has held lefties to a .678 OPS for his career.

TIM COLLINS
Opening day 2018 age: 29
2018 stats: 0-0, 4.37 ERA, 38 G, 0 SV, 22 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 21 SO, 1.544 WHIP, 5.76 FIP, 0.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $1 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Had some nice moments with the Nationals this season, but had some ugly moments, too. Seems unlikely they’d be content to just bring him back and not seek an upgrade.

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