The Nationals need for relief pitching has been one of the worst kept secrets in baseball. They spent the offseason flirting with different closers on the trade block (David Robertson) but were unable to make a deal. They finally pulled the trigger when they traded Blake Treinen, Jesus Luzardo, and Sheldon Neuse for Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle.
Why the Nationals make this move
This is pretty simple. Their bullpen was dreadful up to this point (-0.9 combined fWAR) and while they have the best offense in baseball, there is no way they would make it through a postseason with what they had in the bullpen. The good news is that the package above doesn’t hamstring them in terms of available minor league talent from making another deal. The bad news is that those two may not be enough to get them over the top in the playoffs.
Madson served as the Athletics closer last season before settling in as their setup man this year. He has been a closer in Philadelphia as well, so he brings ample closer experience to the situation. He currently has a 2.06 ERA in 40 games with the Athletics. He has only one save, but is averaging a strikeout per inning and has a 0.788 WHIP on the season. Unfortunately, his track record (career 3.40 ERA) is not that of a dominant reliever, but he is competent.
Doolittle has had some injury problems this season, but has been effective when healthy. He has a 3.38 ERA in 23 games and has three saves on the season. He served as the A’s primary closer in 2014 and has excellent peripherals on the season (31 SO in 21 INN and a 2.35 FIP). As a lefty, he gives the Nationals some balance to their bullpen that they didn’t have before. Unfortunately, while both have closer experience, neither profile as a playoff tested closer type.
For the time being, they will likely serve as a lefty/righty platoon in the closer spot. That being said, there are a couple of weeks before the trade deadline and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Nationals add another bullpen arm to give them even more depth. If they are able to add an established closer (Robertson or Zach Britton) they could give the Dodgers a run for the money in the National League playoffs.
Why the Athletics make this move
Doolittle and Madson were both signed through next season and the Nationals have agreed to take on all 11+ million that those two players would have cost. In exchange, they get a power arm in Treinen that could become a closer down the road. He has a 3.48 career FIP with a 3.75 FIP this season. So, while the basic numbers might look bad, the A’s probably get back at least someone that can produce equivalent to what Madson was doing for far less.
Luzardo and Neuse represent the very definition of middling prospects that might turn into something, but will likely serve as organizational depth. Neuse is a decent third base prospect currently in A ball. He has nine home runs on the season and has an .818 OPS. He’s also already 22 years old, so he should be productive at that level. Luzardo is in his first season as a professional at 19. He’s gotten off to a good start in short season A ball with a 1.32 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. Still, it’s awfully early and there is still a ways to go.
The best value the A’s get is the money they save on the deal. They may absorb the money in their current roster as players like Yonder Alonso are due significant raises or a long-term contract. They could also go out and seek similar reclamation projects they can bring in and then flip for prospects like they did with Madson and Doolittle.
What the deal means for you
Both Madson and Doolittle were not likely on your fantasy radar because they did not get many save opportunities. Both are probably worth an add at this point until the Nationals make any other moves. If we assume that the Nationals will have 20 more save opportunities between now and the end of the season then it is not inconcievable that both pitchers could wind up with ten saves or more. Given their numbers to date, they could give your pitching a nice shot in the arm down the stretch.