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July 28, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

Trade deadline: Nats need a bullpen upgrade

Going into tonight’s game, the Nats’ relievers had the second lowest ERA in the National League. ERA can be deceptive, however, and if the Nats hope to be competitive in the post-season, their bullpen needs to be upgraded at the trade deadline.

All season I’ve been watching Rafael Soriano thinking this guy isn’t as good as his save record and reputation. Too many batters reaching bases, too many games where you’re holding your breath. Tonight, he fell apart in a mammoth meltdown, giving up a three-run lead while getting only one out, as the bullpen squandered a fine pitching performance by Jordan Zimmermann.

In important pitching component statistics, the Nats bullpen doesn’t look so great. The bullpen ranks 11th in the NL in K/9 and 5th in K/BB ratio. Their low ERA may have come because they lead the league in fewest HR/9, but that’s a bit of a fluke, since most of our relievers have historically been vulnerable to home runs. The bullpen killed us in the 2012 post-season, and unless it’s upgraded, it could kill us again this year.

In putting together a trade deadline transaction, certain rules should be followed:

  • Have a plan. Know who you’re going to replace, what the new guys role will be, and whether this is a one-year or multi-year deal.
  • A trade should either fill a hole or make a significant upgrade. Don’t make pointless moves.*

*An example of a pointless move: Jim Bowden wants the Nats to trade with the Cubs for lefty James Russell. Why would you do that? Russell is not any better than Jerry Blevins or even Ross Detwiler. It’s pointless moves like that that made Bowden such a disaster as Nats GM.

  •  Make a trade based on underlying talent, not on season-to-date statistics (especially for relievers, whose statistics don’t stabilize in a single season). Fortunately, websites like FanGraphs’ depth charts now provided regularly updated projected rest-of-season statistics, providing a sound estimate of underlying talent.

Fortunately, the Nats don’t have any major holes to be filled in their bullpen, but their relievers, though generally good, are not excellent. We need to look for an upgrade who will add significant talent to the mix. I don’t care that much if it’s a righty or lefty. If we find a good right hander, we can option Aaron Barrett. If we find a lefty, Detwiler is probably the worst pitcher in our current bullpen. He’s out of options, so we’d need to trade him or release him. As I’ve written before, Detwiler’s no longer helping the team and it’s time for us to allow Detwiler to find another home.

Looking for upgrades, I went through the depth charts for the 12 teams that are (or should be) sellers at this point—the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Astros, Rangers, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Cubs, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies. (The Reds and maybe the Rays are on the borderline, but just haven’t lost quite enough games to tip into the seller category.)

Here are the relief pitchers on those teams who would be the best upgrades if they could be obtained by the Nats:

  1. Koji Uehara, RHP – Red Sox – 39 years old, last year of contract, projected 0.8 WAR for rest of season. Unfortunately, the Red Sox don’t seem that interested in trading Uehara, and apparently plan to offer him a qualifying contract which they expect him to accept. If Mike Rizzo could pull off a trade for Uehara, it was validate his status as a genius.
  2. Glen Perkins, LHP – Twins – 31 years old, signed through 2017 with option year, projected 0.7 WAR. Unfortunately, the Twins apparently don’t plan to make Perkins available.
  3. Neal Cotts, LHP – Rangers – 34 years old, last year of contract, projected 0.5 WAR. Finally, we have a good pitcher who might be available. Cotts would be a very nice upgrade to the bullpen.
  4. Steve Cishek, RHP – Marlins – 28 years old, team control through 2017, projected 0.4 WAR. The Marlins seem to be holding onto their veterans. Apparently they aren’t willing to accept the fact that they are out of the race. It’s been an improbable run for the Fish, but this may be a case where getting hot in late July turns out to be a curse for them, if it misleads them into thinking they can still compete.
  5. Junichi Tazawa, RHP – Red Sox – 28 years old, team control through 2016, projected 0.4 WAR. The Red Sox won’t be trading Tazawa.
  6.  Jonathan Papelbon, RHP – Phillies – 33 years old, control through 2015 (with option for 2016), $12.5 million/year, projected 0.4 WAR. Could be available (though Phillies may be reluctant to trade within division).
  7. Joaquin Benoit, RHP – Padres – 37 years old, control through 2015 (with option for 2016), $7.75 million/year, projected 0.4 WAR. Could be traded.
  8. Andrew Miller, LHP – Red Sox – 29 years old, last year of contract, projected 0.2 WAR. Not a huge upgrade over Detwiler or Blevins, but could be available via trade.

These are the kind of pitchers that should be pursued. I don’t want to hear about trades for Antonio Bastardo or James Russell or Tony Sipp. If you’re going to bother to do a trade, do one that will make a difference.

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