NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nationals signed left-hander Zach Duke to a one-year deal on Monday but with Sean Burnett now likely to land elsewhere, it sounds like the team is still seeking left-handed relief.
As their bullpen is currently constituted the Nationals have five right-handed relievers: Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Henry Rodriguez and Craig Stammen. Christian Garcia will be stretched out in spring training and the Nationals would like to make him a starter, but he’d be a sixth.
And that means Duke, who will also be stretched out and is likely ticketed for a long relief role, is their only left-hander.
The Nationals’ right-handers, generally, have been almost equally successful against left-handed batters, so the need for a specialist isn’t entirely pressing, but they’d like to add at least one more.
“I really like all our right handers,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “They’ve been successful against left handers or right handers, all of them to a man. But I would like another left‑hander out there. I just like to have some decisions to make once in a while.”
The Nationals have kept their wish-list in that department largely under wraps. They’ve reached out to Michael Gonzalez about a return and they’ve still kept the door open on a return for Tom Gorzelanny, though with Duke in the fold that appears unlikely.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday “there’s nothing new to report on (the search for a lefty). We’re talking to several people that we have interest in still.”
One name to keep in mind as they go through that process is that of J.P. Howell, the former Tampa Bay Rays reliever who could fill the role vacated by Burnett well.
Howell, who had a 3.04 ERA for the Rays in 2012 while pitching primarily in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, made $1.35 million in his final year of arbitration with Tampa Bay. While he’s likely not in the same range as Burnett (who should get around the three-year, $18 million Jeremy Affeldt received from the Giants), he’s a mid-tier guy.
The Nationals could also trade for a lefty, if the opportunity presented itself. And if they re-sign Adam LaRoche they’ll most likely move Michael Morse, though the slugging outfielder/first baseman may net a larger return than a reliever. Rizzo didn’t rule out any avenues for improving the team.
“I think we’re never going to stop trying to upgrade the ballclub,” Rizzo said. “If we see something that’s advantageous to us either on the major league level or to build our depth in the farm system to replenish some prospects that we’ve used in trades, those are all things that we’re trying to do.
“You never really rest in this job. There’s still a lot of business and a lot of things to think about.”
“I like where we’re at,” Johnson said. “Like I say, I don’t have much of a wish list. We can figure it out with what we’ve got.”