The Nationals and Athletics made a fairly significant deal this afternoon, as the Nationals attempt to turn around their bullpen fortune:
If you follow baseball even casually, you know one of the biggest holes among the contenders was the Nationals’ bullpen. Entering play on Sunday, the Nationals had the highest ERA (5.34), lowest WAR (-0.9), 5th lowest K/9 (8.20), and highest HR/9 rate (1.65). To sum it up, they haven’t just been bad: They have been abysmal. A team with a huge lead in their division thanks to their starting pitching and offense (never mind the struggles of all the teams behind them) was struggling at a part of the game that will become more important as summer turns to fall and the postseason begins.
In Madson and Doolittle, the Nationals acquire a pair of former closers having strong seasons. Madson has a 2.06 ERA (2.43 FIP) and 55.8% ground ball rate. His K/BB ratio (6.5) is, by far, the best of his career. He is keeping the ball in the ballpark, and will also have value to the Nationals beyond 2017, as he is signed through next year. Madson has a history of injuries (he missed all of 2012, 2013, and 2014!), but has now pitched in 171 games over the last three seasons.
Doolittle has also been plagued with injuries in his career, but has been one of the tougher left-handed relievers in the game when healthy. Over 254 career games, he has posted a 3.09 ERA and 300/47 K/BB ratio over 253 innings. This season, he has been his typical solid self, posting a 3.38 ERA over 21.1 innings with a strong 31/2 K/BB ratio. Unlike Madson, Doolittle is a fly ball type pitcher (51.1% this year; 51.9% career) who can give up his share of home runs. Doolittle also provides potential value beyond this year, as he is signed through next season with two team options in 2019 and 2020. (The 2020 option can become a mutual option if he finishes 100+ games in 2018 and 2019).
As for what the Athletics get in return, Neuse is now considered the #11 prospect in the Athletics system, according to mlb.com, while Luzardo is #15. Back in the 2016 draft, the Nationals selected Luzardo in the third round and paid him twice slot to lure him away from the University of Miami. This is despite the fact that he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He has just returned from that surgery, pitching in three games this year down in the GCL. Neuse converted from shortstop over to third base, which always means a bump in offense is needed to become a full-time player. He is hitting .291/.349/.469 down in A-ball this year as a 22-year old. Treinan is a 29-year old with a 5.12 ERA for the Nationals this year, so he has contributed nicely to the league’s worst bullpen.
Bottom Line: The return seems a bit light for me, but Madson and Doolittle are not premium talents at this point. The Athletics get to erase their contracts off of their books, but they weren’t making an insane amount of money. They had team control through next year, which should have increased their value at least a bit.
Lazaro is the wild-card in this trade. I am not all that high on Neuse, but Lazaro has the talent to be a solid MLB starter. If he can develop that talent, the Athletics will look much smarter in this deal. If you can convert two veteran relief pitchers into a legitimate starting pitcher, you would take that trade any day. He is still a long way away from potentially reaching that potential.
I don’t know if Madson or Doolittle can be looked at as a closer at this point, but the Nationals bullpen was terrible almost top to bottom. Madson and Doolittle should stabilize the weakest part of their team. For a squad looking to finally get over the playoff hump, it is tough to argue with a deal like this. None of the prospects they gave up figured to be in the mix for at least the next two seasons.
The Nationals also, obviously, kept their best prospects. They can still look for an outfielder, or even a closer, as the trade deadline approaches if they wish to fortify their position even more.