A brief history of the Nats’ ever-changing closer identity

We don’t know yet who will serve as the Nationals closer come opening day, but we do know it will be someone new.

Mark Melancon is no longer in D.C., having signed a four-year deal with the Giants earlier this winter. Drew Storen also is long gone, having spent 2016 in Toronto and Seattle, and now signed with the Reds for 2017. Jonathan Papelbon? He remains in parts unknown, but we do know he’s not in Washington anymore.

If you’ve been following the Nationals closely over the years, though, you know this is hardly a new development. This team has been shuttling closers in and out for more than a decade, and so this is merely the latest example.

Eleven different pitchers have recorded at least 10 saves for the Nationals in their 12 seasons in town. Only the Astros (14), Rays (14) and Athletics (12) have used more regular closers in that time.

(For those wondering: The Yankees and Reds have used the fewest closers since 2005, with six apiece.)

Chad Cordero was the guy in the beginning, and he remains the club leader with 113 saves from 2005-08. Jon Rauch (23) occasionally filled in for “The Chief” during those years.

Joel Hanrahan saved 14 games from 2008-09 before joining Lastings Milledge in being traded to the Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. Mike MacDougal emerged from the weeds halfway through the 2009 season to record 20 saves in 21 attempts.

Mike-Rizzo-Nationals.jpgMatt Capps (26 saves) was an All-Star in 2010, but Mike Rizzo parlayed the right-hander’s final two months under contract into six seasons of Wilson Ramos in one of the general manager’s finest trades. That opened the door for Storen (still a rookie at the time) to take over as closer, a job he held on and off through 2015.

Storen’s elbow injury in 2012 required then-manager Davey Johnson to mix-and-match with the likes of Tyler Clippard (34 total saves during his Nats career), Henry Rodriguez (11) and Brad Lidge (two).

And it was a lack of faith in Storen to close out the biggest of games that prompted Rizzo to twice acquire veterans that bumped him to a setup role: Rafael Soriano (75 saves from 2013-14) and Papelbon (26 saves from 2015-16).

Papelbon, of course, fizzled out last summer, forcing Rizzo to make a desperation deal at the trade deadline. Melancon (17 saves in 18 attempts) proved to be an excellent acquisition, but he came at the cost of promising young lefty Felipe Rivero - not to mention the knowledge he was under contract for only two months himself.

And so here the Nationals find themselves once again, seeking their fifth different closer in 2 1/2 years, their 12th in 13 years of existence.

Maybe it will be Shawn Kelley, a well-established setup man who has never been given the opportunity to pitch the ninth inning for an extended stretch. Maybe it’ll be Blake Treinen or Koda Glover, a couple of flame-throwing youngsters with plenty of potential but little experience on the big stage. Maybe it’ll wind up being Joe Nathan, the 42-year-old with 377 career saves trying to return from his second Tommy John surgery. Or perhaps it will still be somebody else, somebody still available on the open market.

Whatever the case, the Nationals will hope their next closer not only performs well in 2017 but perhaps just might keep performing well for years to come, negating the need to seek closer No. 13.

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