- The Nationals have yet to engage in serious talks with the Tigers about Justin Wilson or with the Athletics about Ryan Madson, though the relievers are “two of the Nationals’ prime bullpen targets.” There isn’t any indication yet that Detroit is open to moving Wilson, however, since the team is still in the race. If the Tigers do become sellers, however, they’ll get plenty of interest in the southpaw, who took over from Francisco Rodriguez as closer earlier this season. Wilson has a 2.67 ERA, 3.55 K/BB rate and 39 strikeouts over 27 innings.
The Nationals have agreed to a minor league contract with right-hander Edwin Jackson, reports Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post (via Twitter). The 33-year-old Jackson, who is represented by the Legacy Agency, will report to Triple-A Syracuse for the time being.
This will mark the second tour of duty for Jackson with the Nationals, as he previously enjoyed a solid 2012 season as a member of the Nats’ rotation back in 2012. That year — the last in which he turned in quality results as a starter over the course of a full season — saw Jackson toss 189 1/3 innings with a 4.03 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 47.4 percent ground-ball rate.
Jackson parlayed that season into an ill-fated four-year, $52MM contract with the Cubs, though he only made it through two and a half seasons in Chicago before being released. During the third season of that contract (2015), Jackson did manage to post a very respectable 3.07 ERA through 56 2/3 innings between the Cubs and Braves while working exclusively out of the bullpen. His secondary stats were a bit more questionable, however, and he wasn’t able to repeat that success in 2016 with the Padres.
The Nats will hope that Jackson can prove to have something left in the tank, possibly to help out a beleaguered bullpen that has been the club’s definitive Achilles heel all season.
- FanRag’s Jon Heyman runs down a number of possible needs on clubs that are in contention, beginning with the Nationals. While there’s been much made of the team’s obvious need for bullpen help, Heyman suggests that the Nats won’t simply acquire a closer and consider their relief corps to be fixed. “We don’t need just one big reliever, we need two,” a Nationals source tells Heyman. One potentially available name on which the Nationals don’t appear to be especially keen, however, is closer A.J. Ramos of the division-rival Marlins. Heyman reports in his weekly National League roundup that Ramos is a ways down Washington’s list of potential targets.
De Aza, 33, spent the spring with the Athletics. But he opted out of the deal late in camp when it became apparent that he wouldn’t crack the Opening Day roster. De Aza has yet to sign with another organization since.
The 2016 season was a bit of an odd one for the veteran outfielder. He landed a $5.75MM guarantee from the Mets, but never really fit after the team re-signed Yoenis Cespedes. He ultimately slashed just .205/.297/.321 over 267 plate appearances, his least activity since he establishes himself as a regular back in 2012. But De Aza has mostly been a slightly above-average hitter in the majors.
For the time being, De Aza will function as depth. But it’s possible to imagine him factoring in at the major league level for the Nats. He’s capable of playing center field and would offer a left-handed-hitting alternative to the (currently hot-hitting) Brian Goodwin in a reserve role. The righty swinging Michael Taylor is currently standing in at center for the injured Adam Eaton, who is likely to miss the rest of the season. Optimally, Taylor would be paired with a platoon partner, though that’s not currently possible with the organization also dealing with an injury to Jayson Werth.
The Nationals’ terrible results from the bullpen have been frustrating fans all season, and it’s begun to take a toll on the clubhouse as well, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post. Svrluga quotes unnamed Nationals players that are exasperated by the persistently blown leads, quoting one who states, “We feel like we have to win the game three times.” As has been reported on multiple occasions in the past, Svrluga writes that Nationals ownership vetoed a trade that would have netted the Nats David Robertson from the White Sox this offseason. However, Svrluga now reports that GM Mike Rizzo also had an agreement in place with current Rockies closer Greg Holland, only for the Lerner family to once again step in and nix that deal. (FanRag’s Jon Heyman previously reported that ownership balked at the concept of a vesting player option for Holland, though Svrluga is seemingly the first mention of an actual agreement that fell through.) The bullpen will assuredly be Rizzo’s prime target in trades this summer, though reports suggest that he certainly tried to be proactive in addressing the matter this winter but wasn’t granted the freedom to do so.
More on the NL East division leaders…
- Manager Dusty Baker tells reporters that left-handed reliever Sammy Solis threw a lengthy bullpen session and also pitched a simulated game this week (Twitter link via the Post’s Chelsea Janes). The Nats, though, appear to be taking a cautious route with the 28-year-old, as Baker wouldn’t yet commit to a minor league rehab assignment. Solis tossed 62 1/3 innings of 2.74 ERA ball from 2015-16 with the Nats and averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine innings last year, but he’s been limited to just 4 1/3 frames in 2017 thanks to inflammation in his left elbow.
- Janes also tweets that top prospect Erick Fedde has been promoted to Triple-A Syracuse. The former first-rounder is viewed as a starter by the Nationals in the long-term but was moved to a bullpen role earlier this year in order to help manage his innings and to allow him to surface as a potential midseason option in relief. Through 56 1/3 innings in Double-A Harrisburg, Fedde posted a 3.04 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 50.7 percent ground-ball rate.
- While there’s been speculation that the Nationals could put 2017 first-round pick Seth Romero in the bullpen in an effort to fast-track him to the Majors in 2017, GM Mike Rizzo says the team views Romero as a starter, according to MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. Rizzo has never had a player reach the Majors the same year he was drafted, though he didn’t firmly rule it out as a possibility in Romero’s case. “We’re going to develop him at his own pace and utilize our strong player development system,” the GM told reporters. “And hopefully he’s a guy for us down the road.” Romero was considered a possible top 10 pick but slipped in the draft due to makeup concerns after he was kicked off the University of Houston’s team this season despite being its top pitcher in terms of performance. The Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte has reported that Romero failed a drug test in 2016 (one of multiple recreational drug-related incidents) and was finally dismissed from the team this season after getting into a fight with one of his teammates. Romero had previously been suspended by the Cougars on two separate occasions prior to the physical altercation.
- Nats outfielder Adam Eaton says he’s “ahead of schedule” in his return from a torn ACL, writes Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. Eaton isn’t sure exactly how far ahead of schedule he is, and his chances of playing again this year aren’t known, although it didn’t appear likely he would at the time of the injury. He’s keeping an eye toward the future. “Not just this year, not just next year, but the longevity of my career and how it may be shaped by this injury,” he says of his thought process. Eaton also sounds keenly aware of fan opinions of the costly trade that brought him to Washington. “I hope my presence here is felt, just in the sense that I’m dedicated to them just as they’ve been dedicated to me. The trade this offseason probably wasn’t the most popular one, but I love this city,” says Eaton. The outfielder remains signed through 2019 with reasonable club options for 2020 and 2021, so there will be time for him to contribute to the Nationals once he heals.
The Nationals have announced that they’ve placed closer Koda Glover on the 10-day DL with lower back stiffness. They’ve replaced him on their active roster with Joe Blanton, who had been out with a shoulder injury. After struggling against the Rangers on Saturday, Glover told the Nationals he had hurt his back while in the shower. In the short term, Glover’s injury could clear the way for Matt Albers to pick up saves chances. In the longer term, the Nationals could still acquire a closer from outside the organization, having been connected to a number of names recently. Here’s more from the East divisions.
- Dusty Baker’s desire for a contract extension is “not going [to] be an issue” for the Nationals, GM Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo and other reporters. “We’re not going to let it be an issue. Dusty’s a true professional. He’s been through this, the rigors of the regular season, a million times. I’ve been through it a million times. It’s suffice to say there’s great communication, great respect between the front office and the manager’s office.” Baker has been open about wanting to remain with the Nats beyond the end of his current contract, which expires at season’s end, and Rizzo has himself recommended to ownership that Baker be extended, though there hasn’t appeared to be any movement towards a new deal.
- Former Giants righty Mike Broadway was cut loose by the Nationals after yielding 20 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings for Triple-A Syracuse. The 30-year-old entered the season with a career 2.96 ERA in 127 2/3 innings at the Triple-A level but has been uncharacteristically hittable. Broadway has just 22 2/3 innings of Major League experience, all coming with the 2015-16 Giants. While the resulting 6.75 ERA isn’t pretty, he does have a track record of missing bats and limiting walks in Triple-A.
Dusty Baker wants to continue managing the Nationals beyond the 2017 season, but ownership has yet to make him an extension offer, reports Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. According to Janes, GM Mike Rizzo made a strong recommendation to ownership that the team extend its relationship with Baker, but nothing has materialized. Janes spoke to Rizzo, Ryan Zimmerman and Max Scherzer about Baker, with each offering praise and voicing a hope that he’ll remain beyond the current season. Scherzer, in particular, spoke on behalf of keeping Baker at the team’s helm. “We love him,” said the two-time Cy Young winner. “We want him here. They [ownership] want to be patient, but I hope they don’t mess with this clubhouse.” Janes notes that the Nats have a history of underpaying managers, which may have cost them a chance at Bud Black two offseasons ago. Baker acknowledged that he knew what he was getting into, financially speaking, when joining the Nationals but also suggested that he feels his current two-year, $4MM contract is a bit light. “…I think I’ve earned more than I’m being paid,” he said.
- The Post’s Thomas Boswell further weighs in on Baker’s contract situation, expressing perplexity over ownership’s lack of urgency in extending Baker even through the 2018 season. Boswell adds further praise for Baker from Nationals righty Tanner Roark, who lauds Baker’s ability to connect with virtually anyone. Perhaps most interesting from Boswell’s piece, though, is a quote from an unnamed “key member” of the Nationals organization suggesting that ownership serves as a hindrance not only in managerial decisions but in roster construction. “When you’re this close to winning, you have to make the one move that your team really needs,” Boswell’s source said. “Right now, the Lerners are the problem. They won’t spend, even though it’s not much, compared to how close we are. [General Manager] Mike Rizzo and Dusty aren’t the problem [with the bullpen]. The owners just don’t get it.”
- Ryan Raburn returned to the big leagues with the Nationals Monday after an exhausting day of travel, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. Raburn bused from Rochester to Pawtucket with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs Sunday, then received news that the Nats were promoting him to the Majors. He then took a cab to Boston to catch a flight to join the team in Los Angeles. The Nats acquired Raburn from the White Sox in a minor deal late last month, and a spot opened quickly for him after Jayson Werth injured his foot. “We’re left-handed strong off the bench. So we needed some right-handed production,” says manager Dusty Baker. “He was the perfect guy for us. He kind of fell in our lap.” Raburn struggled with Colorado in 2016, but had a good run in Triple-A this season leading up to his promotion, batting .274/.389/.443 in 131 plate appearances.