In some respects, the Nationals’ signing of veteran reliever Alex Colomé to a minor league deal Friday makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t this team take a chance on a 34-year-old with 159 saves and a 3.34 ERA over 446 career big league appearances, especially on a contract that won’t cost them anything unless he makes the club out of spring training?
But will he actually make the club? Is there room for Colomé in a bullpen that already looked plenty deep on paper prior to his signing?
The unquestioned strength of the Nationals during a dismal 2022 season, the bullpen returns almost entirely intact in 2023. Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr. and Hunter Harvey all avoided arbitration and agreed to affordable one-year deals. Erasmo Ramirez, so valuable last season as a jack of all trades, re-signed for a guaranteed $1 million, with the possibility of earning another $1 million in incentives.
Mason Thompson, who impressed in limited big league time last season, is back and should be given a good look as a potential long-term piece. Thad Ward, the top pick in the Rule 5 draft, has to make the team and stay in the majors or else be offered back to the Red Sox. And conventional wisdom suggests the Nats will keep either Paolo Espino or Cory Abbott as a long reliever and emergency starter.
So that’s seven spots right there, and we haven’t even mentioned Sean Doolittle, attempting to return from an elbow procedure and serve as the only left-hander in the 'pen. Or Victor Arano and Jordan Weems, who seemingly are in the mix but are likely saddled by the fact each still has minor league options.
Is there room to cram Colomé onto the roster within all that?
The answer, in all likelihood, is yes. Provided he looks good enough in spring training to warrant the purchasing of his minor league contract and addition to the 40-man roster.
The Nationals wouldn’t have signed someone like Colomé if they weren’t seriously considering him. And truth be told, Colomé wouldn’t have signed with the Nationals (or any team) if he didn’t get the sense he would have a good chance of making the club.
His inclusion could cost someone like Thompson, who also still has an option left and can be sent back and forth to Rochester for one more season. It could put pressure on Doolittle to prove he really is all the way back from his internal brace procedure. It could even suggest Ward isn’t guaranteed to make the team himself, no matter his Rule 5 status.
Point is, the Nationals should have enough bullpen arms to evaluate this spring, they can actually make sure guys earn their jobs instead of just handing one to them by default. (Not to mention they flexibility it affords them to deal with the inevitable injury or two that will crop up in West Palm Beach.)
This is maybe the only area of the roster that affords that kind of luxury. The Nats are thin just about everywhere else. They may have 13 position players and five starting pitchers they intend to bring north with them, but they have very little depth beyond that.
Not so in the bullpen, where there might be as many as 12 capable contenders for eight spots. One of them now potentially going to Colomé.
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