This stunner of a move comes on the heels of a rollicking post-deadline victory that ended on a bit of a sour note. Kelley admitted that he “acted like a baby” in slamming his glove after giving up a home run in mop-up duty last night, but it was his evident glare into the dugout that seems to have caught the ire of the Nats’ brass.
Kelley, 34, had come up in some talks in the run-up to the trade deadline, though it seemed that the Nationals were more interested in moving salary than parting with the veteran reliever. Now, unless he’s traded or claimed, Kelley will collect the remainder of his $5.5MM salary (less any portion of the league-minimum if he clears waivers and signs elsewhere) and will be removed from a relief unit that also just parted ways with Brandon Kintzler.
There has been some chatter of late about supposed internal turmoil in D.C., though as ever it’s hard to know whether that’s mostly just reflective of frustrations with a season that has fallen shy of expectations. Still, this move certainly sends a message. After deciding to roll the dice on a turnaround, ownership and upper management obviously isn’t interested in further public displays of discord.
Of course, Kelley’s work on the hill is also a factor. He’s carrying a 3.34 ERA through 32 1/3 innings on the year, a vast improvement over his disastrous 2017 season, but is still surrendering nearly two home runs per nine innings. And though Kelley has a quality combination of 8.9 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, his swinging-strike rate has plummeted to a 11.2% figure that sits well below his recent levels.
It’s still tough to imagine that the Nationals prefer to part with relief depth at this stage of the season, but Cordero had been forcing his way into the picture. As J.J. Cooper of Baseball America recently tweeted, the former Phillies prospect — originally added in a swap with the division rivals in the fall of 2016 — has shown impressive stuff this year at Triple-A. He’ll now head up for his MLB debut after throwing 43 innings of 1.67 ERA ball at Syracuse, where he posted 9.8 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 along with a 52.6% groundball rate.