We’re officially in a lockout and if you want to learn more about that, you should take a look at Ryan’s article. The good news is that once the players and owners come to an agreement on a new CBA, free agency may start to move quickly depending on how much time there is until Spring Traning kicks off. Since our last article on “Revamping the Bullpen”, we’ve seen Aaron Loup, Kendall Graveman, Raisel Iglesias, Mark Melancon, Hector Neris and Corey Knebel come off the board. With the exception of Iglesias, each of these guys’ contracts are relevant since they’ve essentially set the market for upper end relievers. Loup received a 2-year $17 million deal from the Angels, Graveman ended up with a 3-year $24 million deal from the White Sox, Melancon got a 2-year $14 million deal from the Diamondbacks, Neris got a 2-year $17 million deal from the Astros and Knebel got a 1-year $10 million deal from the Phillies.
If we use those five contracts as a baseline, we’re looking at late inning relievers getting between $7-10 million annually. The Nationals aren’t likely going to be shopping at that price, especially given the fact that they already have Will Harris on their roster due $9 million this upcoming season. The issue is, as we’ve said before, the Nationals still need to add a closer and at least one more reliever before the season starts. It was a bit surprising to see the Diamondbacks able to land Melancon for $7 million annually considering his pedigree and the fact that the Diamondbacks lost 110 games last year. Knowing his price point, he’s somebody the Nats should have been in on given their bullpen deficiencies.
Having missed out on the top end of the bullpen market, the Nats could turn to Adam Ottavino, who would be a nice addition to the Nationals bullpen for a couple of reasons. He has some closing experience with both Boston and Colorado. He’d also be someone the Nats could sign on a one-year deal since he just turned 36 years old, so they’d be able to flip him at the deadline assuming they are out of contention.
Ottavino is coming off of a season with the Red Sox where he posted a 4.21 ERA in 62 innings pitched. The nasty slider which he’s become known for was effective, although maybe not quite as effective as it was during his peak 2018 and 2019 seasons. When you look at Ottavino’s statcast numbers and batted ball profile, you see a very good reliever.
The place that Ottavino gets himself into trouble is with walks. He issued 5.1 BB/9 this year, which is actually not even his career high. He issued 5.4 BB/9 in 2019 on his way to a season where he posted a 1.90 ERA in 66 ⅓ innings. He obviously pitched into some luck that season, but his ability to get a strikeout when he needs it helps him stay out of trouble. His sinker/slider combination also helps him induce weak contact and ground balls when he needs them. He finished the season in the 95% percentile in hard hit % and the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity.
Ottavino would slot right into the back-end of the Nationals bullpen taking over either the 8th or the 9th inning, depending on who else the club adds this offseason. He has experience closing, which is something that could prove to be very valuable to the Nats knowing that Kyle Finnegan is better suited for a middle relief role and Tanner Rainey is still an unknown. The advanced metrics are strong on Ottavino and show a guy, who despite being 36 years old, still has a good amount left in the tank and would be a good gable for a rebuilding club like the Nats.
Final Verdict: I envision Ottavino ending up with a 1-year deal worth around $5-6 million, which is probably around what the Nats would be willing to spend for a back end reliever. He’d give the team a good veteran presence at the back end of the bullpen and would be a good trade chip at the deadline. This could boil down to another situation where Ottavino would prefer to go to a contender being that he’s already 36 years old, which would leave the Nats searching elsewhere for a reliever.