In a tight hallway under JetBlue Stadium, on the final day of spring training in Florida last year, Blake Treinen beamed when discussing his new role as the Nationals’ closer. He had just been told by then-manager Dusty Baker that he and his power sinker would work the ninth inning. After not being able to land a marquee closer in the winter, Washington had decided to go with Treinen and manage the in-house pieces around him. He was the new closer, a choice not made until the latest possible time.
New Washington manager Dave Martinez will not have that problem. In fact, he already knows who his closer, setup man and likely seventh-inning pitcher are thanks to Thursday’s signing of Brandon Kintzler.
Washington signed Kintzler to a two-year deal, according to multiple reports. That again aligns the back-end of its bullpen from the seventh inning on with three former closers: Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle.
Kintzler was acquired in a trade July 31 of last year. He cost a pitching prospect, Tyler Watson, who is in Single A, and international slot money. Signing Kintzler, who enjoys his nickname of “Salty,” to a two-year deal was a bit more costly. Kintzler will reportedly make $10 million over the next two seasons. The deal brings Kintzler’s money in line with that of Madson and Doolittle. The trio was effective once assembled via trades last season, rescuing what was one of the league’s worst bullpens before their acquisition.
Kintzler is a right-hander with heavy sink on his fastball. That makes him more effective against left-handed hitters than right-handed ones. He finished with a 3.04 ERA last season.
Washington had been hunting for bullpen help during the winter meetings in Florida. As the options thinned — and revealed themselves to carry a high expense — Washington decided to make a move with Kintzler. His return is a moderate surprise since he excelled as a closer with the Minnesota Twins last season prior to being traded to the Nationals. Kintzler was expected to pursue the closer’s role again this offseason. However, the market for middle relief had gone up significantly, giving Kintzler a chance for a hearty salary and to again participate in the playoffs. He took it.
The Nationals still have questions about the pitchers in front of their trio at the back end.
In his two seasons after an accelerated path to the major leagues, Koda Glover has often been injured. Last year, he had a back problem before a shoulder problem. The season before, a labrum tear in his hip ended his season. He will be a wild card at spring training.
Shawn Kelley, who will turn 34 in April, has twice had Tommy John surgery. He pitched just 26 innings last season. His ERA was 7.27. Kelley being signed to a three-year deal in the winter after the 2016 season raised concerns because of its length and his injury history. Those concerns were confirmed last season, midway through the deal, when he was underperforming and again hurt. Kelley will make more than Kintzler and Doolittle, respectively, in the final season of his contract.
What the Nationals do know is that they will start the season with back-end bullpen clarity. It’s a charm they were without heading into the last one.