SAN DIEGO - In their quest to refortify a bullpen that was in a constant state of change all season, the Nationals have signed Kyle Finnegan to a big league deal, taking a chance on a 28-year-old right-hander with a big arm and eye-popping minor league numbers this season but zero big league experience.
Finnegan has spent the last seven years in the Athletics’ farm system, a former struggling starter who made the conversion to reliever in 2016 and enjoyed a career renaissance in the process. A hard thrower whose fastball has reached triple digits, he has battled command issues at times but put everything together this season to post impressive numbers (2.31 ERA, 1.145 WHIP, 72 strikeouts, 19 walks in 50 2/3 innings) at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Las Vegas.
Over the last two seasons in the minors, Finnegan has converted 28 of 30 save opportunities, plus another four saves this offseason for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League. His success in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where the explosive major league ball was used this year, particularly caught the Nationals’ eyes.
So why was he available? Players who spend six-plus years in the minors without getting promoted to the majors are eligible to become free agents. Most end up signing minor league deals with other organizations and come to spring training as non-roster invitees, but the Nationals were willing to take a chance on Finnegan and give him a big league contract.
There is some risk in using up a precious 40-man roster spot on someone with Finnegan’s background, but the Nationals desperately need relievers with options (guys who can be sent up and down to the minors without being exposed to waivers) after spending much of this season trying to patchwork their league-worst bullpen with a bunch of pitchers who were out of options.
If he makes the club out of spring training, Finnegan would make the major league minimum salary ($563,500 in 2020). If he doesn’t, the Nationals could option him to Triple-A Fresno or Double-A Harrisburg and have him on standby whenever they need bullpen help along the way.
With this move, the Nats’ 40-man roster officially stands at 30. That does not, however, include Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes, who each has agreed to terms on new contracts that have not been officially announced by the club yet.