With the Nationals having locked up first baseman Adam LaRoche for the next two seasons, the one real item that seems to be left on their offseason to-do list is finding another left-handed reliever.
The departures of Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny this offseason left the Nationals without a lefty in their bullpen. The team re-signed Zach Duke for the long-relief/spot starter role but haven’t found anyone to fill the roles vacated by Burnett and Gonzalez on major league deals. The man presumed to be the team’s top target in that area, J.P. Howell, agreed with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend.
Bill Bray, who signed a minor league deal, will be in major league camp to compete for a job.
But the Nationals don’t appear to be too worried about their lack of lefties, despite manager Davey Johnson’s penchant for having at least two left-handers in the bullpen.
“I think the right left-handed reliever would be great,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday. “But we have a very unique and special type of bullpen. Our right-handers get out left-handed hitters better than most left-handed specialists get them out, so it’s not something we feel we have to do.”
Here are the Nationals’ current right-handed relievers’ numbers against left-handed batters in 2012:
Tyler Clippard: .170 average against, 2.50 strikeouts to walks ratio
Ryan Mattheus: .241 average against, 1.67 strikeouts to walks ratio
Craig Stammen: .198 average against, 2.23 strikeouts to walks ratio
Drew Storen: .289 average against, 8.00 strikeouts to walks ratio
Henry Rodriguez: .208 average against, 1.00 strikeouts to walks ratio
Here are Burnett, Gonzalez and Howell’s numbers against left-handed batters in 2012:
Burnett: .211 average against, 28.00 strikeouts to walks ratio
Gonzalez: .179 average against, 3.29 strikeouts to walks ratio
Howell: .200 average against, 1.54 strikeouts to walks ratio
Certainly the lefties all excelled, but the average against Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen and Rodriguez certainly compare to that of left-handers, given that the right-handers are at the disadvantage of facing left-handed batters.
At any rate, Rizzo has shown in the past a reticence to dole out significant money to relievers and, it appears the Nationals deemed the prices on the open market this offseason a bit too high.
“We played in the free agent market on several of the left-handed relievers and couldn’t get a deal done,” Rizzo said. “(One) reason for that is we feel our right-handed relievers get out lefties, and Davey’s not a big left-on-left, one-batter-at-a-time kind of manager anyway.”
The Nationals still have plenty of time to acquire a left-handed reliever — whether on the free agent market, via a trade (or part of a trade for someone like Michael Morse), or during spring training when teams begin to cut down their rosters — but the way Rizzo discussed the issue on Tuesday it doesn’t sound as though they’re feeling desperate about their lack of a lefty at this point.
“We feel good about our bullpen,” Rizzo said. “It’s not a necessity to get a left-handed specialist type of reliever. But if one made sense for us, we certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”