Market for relievers already being set as Winter Meetings open

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Winter Meetings officially get underway this morning, but a few teams already were acting yesterday like the event had kicked into full gear. And the Nationals likely were paying close attention to what happened.

With the Cubs reportedly signing Brandon Morrow and the Cardinals reportedly signing Luke Gregerson, the relief market is now starting to take shape. And so the Nats are getting a good idea what it will cost if they want (as they intend) to bolster their bullpen this winter.

Morrow got a two-year deal worth a reported $10-$11 million per season, with a third-year option from a Chicago club that may make the former Dodgers setup man its closer in 2018. Gregerson, meanwhile, is reportedly getting two years for $11 million from a St. Louis club that may use the veteran as its closer next season.

The Nationals, for the first time in a while, aren't in the market for a closer - Sean Doolittle should be safe in the role to open the 2018 season - but they are in the market for more relief, especially of the right-handed variety.

At the moment, Doolittle and Ryan Madson are the only sure things in next season's bullpen. Left-handers Enny Romero and Sammy Solís probably are part of the equation, but neither is a proven commodity at this point. And Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover will be part of the equation - if healthy, after each right-hander dealt with major injuries this year.

So there is a distinct need for at least one (if not two) experienced setup-type men, with a right-hander probably preferable to the Nationals over a lefty.

Typically, that's the kind of move general manager Mike Rizzo makes later in the offseason, perhaps in January or even February - remember the spring training addition of Joe Blanton? - but yesterday's pair of moves may push the market and leave Rizzo with no choice but to start diving in right now.

The Nationals aren't looking for a closer, but they are looking for relievers in the mold of Morrow and Gregerson, who have significant experience pitching late in games. And so they're getting an idea already what another reliever of that type is going to cost them: at least two guaranteed years for at least $5 million per year.

Kintzler-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgLet's look at Brandon Kintzler, the third member of Rizzo's midseason bullpen overhaul and the lone free agent of the bunch. The 33-year-old made $2.925 million this season (one in which he recorded 29 saves with a 3.03 ERA) and so he's going to get a nice contract as a result. Two years for $10-$12 million certainly seems to be the realm we're talking about, especially in relation to yesterday's deals.

There are no shortage of right-handers out there - Addison Reed, Juan Nicasio, Pat Neshek, plus many more - so the Nationals don't necessarily need to go all-in right now on one.

But we've seen these things resemble a roller coaster before. Once one or two relievers go off the board, an avalanche of comparable moves typically ensues.

Something to keep an eye on as the Winter Meetings officially open for business today.

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