INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The Washington Nationals have been in touch with the agents for left-handed relievers Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez and are interested in bringing both pitchers back for the 2013 season as part of beefing up what they feel is already a strong bullpen.
“I like the bullpen where we’re at right now,” Rizzo said, noting that acquiring at least one more left-handed is certainly on their to-do list this offseason. Burnett and Gonzlez posted strong seasons for the Nationals in 2012 and were well-liked teammates.
Both figure to also receive a good deal of interest on the open market. Burnett recently declined his $3.5 million option for the 2013 season and became a free agent. He had a 2.38 ERA this season for the Nationals, pitching much of the second half of the season with a bone spur in his left elbow.
Gonzalez, too, put together a nice season after signing a minor league deal with the Nationals in early May. He had a 3.03 ERA and held left-handed batters to a .179 average.
So while getting more left-handed balance is atop the Nationals’ list for the 2013 bullpen — with Tom Gorzelanny the only left-handed reliever under contract at this time — the Nationals are typically not closing themselves off from simply trying to better what is already a strong unit.
“We’re fortunate in the fact that our righties get out lefties as good as most lefties get out lefties,” Rizzo said.
Where the Nationals are particularly strong already is at the back-end of the bullpen. The Nationals figure to go into the 2013 season with Drew Storen closing, Tyler Clippard setting up for him and at least a mix of Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez serving in a seventh-inning set-up role.
The first four of those relievers put up strong 2012 seasons and Rodriguez’s rehab from August surgery to remove a bone chip and repair a bone spur in his right elbow is going extremely well, Rizzo said. The right-hander is expected to be fully healthy for spring training and the Nationals are expecting that’ll help them to see more of the power pitcher with tantalizing stuff and less of the one with control issues.
“The last game of the year he said he felt terrific,” Rizzo said. “Better than he has in a long time. Who knows how long he had that bone chip in there.”
So does all of that mean they’d be out of a market for someone like, say, Ryan Madson? Depends on the price, really. The former Phillies closer is a free agent again this offseason after missing all of the 2012 season following Tommy John surgery. He’s also, of course, a Scott Boras client who made $6 million on a one-year deal with the Reds in his first foray into free agency.
“It’s going to depend on the cost and what type of performer he is,” Rizzo said. “You have to balance what kind of performer he is and what the cost is with what your needs are.
“We feel good about the back end of the games. We feel really good with the seventh, eighth and ninth inning as is.”
When Madson last pitched it was as the closer for the Phillies, where he was 32 of 34 in save opportunities in the regular season and had one save in the playoffs. Boras said Thursday that the strongest interest in Madson thus far has been as a closer. “If not to fulfill, then to strongly participate in the closer role,” Boras said.
That may not be the Nationals, but they’ll never be entirely opposed to adding talent that they feel would make them better if it’s at the right price. They won’t know that until Madson’s market develops a bit more.
“You can never have enough power arms,” Rizzo said. “We like the fact that we’ve got Mattheus, Stammen, Clippard, Storen. We’re hoping to Henry’s going to be back and be the early Henry of this season. We like those right-handed options.
“But as we said (Wednesday) if we have a chance to upgrade with an impactful arm, we’ll certainly consider it if it fits for us.”