The Nationals loaded up a semi-truck full of baseball gear Monday morning and sent it down Interstate 95 toward West Palm Beach, where their still-under-construction new spring training complex awaits.
It’s an annual rite of winter, the so-called “Truck Day” when teams across baseball do likewise and try to stir up warm feelings of pitchers and catchers and palm trees and bunting drills.
That truck, however, does not contain everything the Nationals need for spring training. There are some remaining items on their offseason shopping list, including one big one.
The good news: They still have 14 days left to shop before those first pitchers and catchers officially report to Florida. So there’s time to address the most uncertain part of the roster: the bullpen.
We know the Nats have spent the entire winter trying to acquire a closer and have to date been unable to do so. They swung and missed, with varying degrees of effort, at Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. And so the identity of their season-opening closer remains unknown.
There are a handful of options still out there, most notably trade candidates David Robertson and Alex Colome. But we’ve reached the point where there’s probably a better chance of an in-house candidate beginning the season as closer than one that comes from outside the organization.
Team officials are comfortable proceeding in this manner, entrusting the back end of the bullpen to some combination of Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis and Koda Glover. But that plan doesn’t address the Nationals’ need for more depth in its relief corps, no matter the inning being pitched.
Those four previously named pitchers and veteran left-hander Oliver Perez are probably the only relievers assured of jobs at this point. And Glover, given his lack of big league experience, is hardly a lock.
The team still needs to find at least a couple more arms for its bullpen, and while there are some candidates already in the fold - Vance Worley, A.J. Cole, Trevor Gott, Matt Grace, among others - more options probably are needed.
There remain a whole lot of unsigned free agent relievers. The list includes (but is hardly limited to) Joe Blanton, David Hernandez, Sergio Romo, Matt Belisle, Boone Logan and Joe Smith.
Any one of them, or others still available, would help bolster a Nationals relief corps that while high on talent is short on depth. Don’t be surprised if somebody from that group ends up in West Palm Beach in a few weeks.