It was clear that the Nats stood to lose all three of their left-handed relievers this off-season, either by free agency (Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez) or by salary-driven non-tenders (Tom Gorzelanny). And it also became pretty clear that the price for quality left-handed relief is on the rise, on the backs of Jeremy Affeldt‘s 3yr/$18M deal to remain with San Francisco. The Nats have all-but-announced that Burnett is going to be too expensive for them as a result. Furthermore, the Nats farm system faces a specific lack of quality left-handed reliever options in the upper minors (2012 Nats farmhands Atahualpa Severino having been DFA’d off the 40-man roster in 2012, Corey VanAllen posting a 6+ ERA in 2012, and Patrick McCoy only having reached AA. Plus both Severino and VanAllen are minor league free agents to boot), so the team clearly was on the market for FA lefty relief.
Mike Rizzo took two nice steps towards rebuilding this lefty reliever depth with the 12/3/12 signings of Zach Duke and Bill Bray to one year deals. Duke salvaged his career in 2012 by putting in a 15-5 season in AAA starting, then providing decent (albeit generally low-leverage) relief for the big club in September. He signs a major league deal, significant because he has 6+ years of service time and thus cannot be sent back to AAA without consent; clearly Duke is meant to be in the bullpen in 2013. He seems to be a perfect like-for-like replacement for Gorzelanny, a lefty ex-starter who has the flexibility to pitch anywhere from one-batter to 5 innings as needed. Its tough to draw a ton of conclusions from Duke’s 13 2/3 September innings (short sample sizes), but his numbers were great (1.32 ERA, 1.098 whip and 10/4 k/bb in those innings). I don’t think I like Duke as much as Gorzelanny, but at the likely price (terms were not announced but I’d be shocked if this was for much more than a $1.5M deal) compared to what Gorzelanny likely makes in arbitration ($3M or more) this represents a good bit of business.
Meanwhile, re-obtaining Bill Bray returns a special player to the fold; Bray was the franchise’ #1 draft pick in 2004. He’s a local kid (grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William and Mary, and he’s the cousin of a buddy of mine. Apologies for the name dropping ), and he represents a pretty good gamble by the team. His numbers with Cincinnati are very up-and-down, but when he’s on, he’s good. Signing Bray on a minor league deal allows him to compete for the 2nd lefty spot in the bullpen, but also gives the team 40-man roster flexibility to stash him in AAA to start the year if he’s still not recovered from his 2012 injuries (he missed most of 2012 after two separate muscle strain issues). Or, if he’s looking like he’s in a 5.00 ERA form versus a 2.90 ERA form, there’s no damage in letting him work out kinks in Syracuse. I like this move a lot.
Two good pieces of business to start the Winter Meetings for Rizzo.
As a side note, the Adam Kilgore article in the Post this morning reports a couple of interesting points:
- The Nats plan on working Duke out as a starter this coming spring. Now, as mentioned above Duke cannot be optioned to the minors by virtue of his service time, so I’m hoping that this move is merely as insurance against a spring training injury to one of the rotation members. I’m not worried about Duke’s ability to adapt to a drop to the bullpen though; he did so admirably enough in September of last year after starting in Syracuse the whole summer.
- Christian Garcia is once again reported as “taking on a starter’s workload” in 2013 Spring Training. I had an email chat with Luke Erickson about this topic and may turn it into an opinion piece. What do we make of Garcia’s constantly reported conversion to being a starter?