Nats bullpen is deep but has questions

Nats bullpen is deep but has questions
October 19, 2012, 8:15 am
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As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: The bullpen...

Stats: 3-1, 2.37 ERA, 4 SV, 30.1 IP, 0.989 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
0.7 WAR
2012 salary: $498,750
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible (Super 2), free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Everything was going swimmingly for Storen, who had finally made it all the way back from his elbow surgery and had pitched brilliantly down the stretch. Over a 17-inning stretch from Sept. 3 through Game 4 of the NLDS, he allowed one run on nine hits, walking only one batter while striking out 17. But then came his disastrous ninth inning in Game 5, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth for the winter. Can Storen bounce back from that crushing loss? He certainly seems to have the right mindset to do it. And the Nationals certainly have confidence in the young right-hander to return to form.

Stats: 2-6, 3.72 ERA, 32 SV, 72.2 IP, 1.156 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
1.0 WAR
2012 salary: $1.65 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Brilliant in the setup and fireman role for multiple seasons, Clippard was forced into the closer's job due to injuries and poor execution by others, and he wound up thriving in the ninth inning and saving 32 games. A late-season slide, though, ended his run as closer, though he finished strong until serving up a homer to Daniel Descalso in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS. Due a sizable raise through the arbitration process, Clippard is going to make serious money in 2013, especially for a non-closer. Are the Nationals willing to pay him top-dollar? Or would they consider trading him while his value is high, citing the depth of power right-handed relievers they've got in the system?

Stats: 1-2, 2.38 ERA, 2 SV, 56.2 IP, 1.235 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
1.1 WAR
2012 salary: $2.3 million
Contract status: $3.5 mutual option, free agent if declined
Where he fits in: The numbers suggest Burnett pitched brilliantly all season. Turns out he was doing so with a bone chip in his elbow that may require surgery. That revelation couldn't come at a worse time for the lefty, who isn't expected to have his option picked up and thus is likely to become a free agent. The Nationals could decide to bring him back, perhaps at a reduced rate, but there's a good chance Burnett's time with the organization is over.

Stats: 6-1, 2.34 ERA, 1 SV, 88.1 IP, 1.200 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
0.8 WAR
2012 salary: $485,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible (Super 2), free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Who knew this failed sinker-ball starter would morph into a dominant reliever? Stammen became a key member of one of baseball's best bullpens, turning into a strikeout machine and a workhorse who nearly racked up 90 innings. The 2005 12th-round draft pick has proven valuable after all, and he'll be counted on again to churn out some important innings in 2013.

Stats: 5-3, 2.85 ERA, 66.1 IP, 1.146 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
-0.2 WAR
2012 salary: $481,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2015, free agent in 2018
Where he fits in: Another surprise contributor to the bullpen this year, Mattheus seemed to excel when asked to pitch out of a tough jam (never any better than he did with the bases loaded in Game 1 of the NLDS). He doesn't strike out a ton of batters, but he keeps the ball down in the zone and induces plenty of grounders, making him an effective reliever. Mattheus will be back next season and will again be asked to record some big outs from the pen.

Stats: 0-0, 3.03 ERA, 35.2 IP, 1.318 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.0 BB/9
0.5 WAR
2012 salary: $1 million (estimated)
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: The Nationals' signing of Gonzalez to a minor-league contract in early May drew little attention, but it turned out to be a shrewd move by Mike Rizzo. The veteran left-hander was quite effective after he was summoned from Syracuse and gave Davey Johnson a solid option to face one or two key hitters in big spots. Gonzalez will become a free agent, though there's a chance the Nats will make him an offer to return in 2013.

Stats: 4-2, 2.88 ERA, 1 SV, 72.0 IP, 1.319 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9
0.2 WAR
2012 salary: $3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: Gorzelanny held the thankless job of long reliever for the Nationals, but he performed quite well in that role. He wasn't often called upon to pitch with his team winning, but sometimes you need a guy to churn out three or four innings of relief after your starter gets knocked out early. The question is whether the Nats are willing to pay Gorzelanny closer money to be a mop-up man. He's due another raise in arbitration, and he might just price himself out of the team's plans.

Stats: 1-3, 5.83 ERA, 9 SV, 29.1 IP, 1.398 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 6.8 BB/9
-0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $491,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Absolutely dominant when he can command his deadly arsenal, Rodriguez simply couldn't command it enough after a strong April run in the closer's role. The fact he was pitching with an injured elbow that required surgery perhaps explains his struggles, but the Nationals will have to hope he's able to find the strike zone next year once he's finally healthy. As was the case this season, Rodriguez is out of options, so he can't be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers.

Stats: 0-0, 2.13 ERA, 12.2 IP, 0.789 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 1.4 BB/9
0.1 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: A testament to perseverance, Garcia emerged on the scene this year after two Tommy John surgeries and a long road back through the minors. He not only pitched well in September, he earned a spot in the postseason bullpen. The Nationals want to find a spot for the right-hander next season, and there is some consideration being given to converting him into a starter. If that doesn't work out, they would happily keep him in their relief corps.

The system isn't exactly loaded with legitimate bullpen prospects, but few systems are. Usually, the best relievers are failed starters. Garcia, obviously, was a great find. The Nationals had high hopes for fellow right-hander Rafael Martin, but the 28-year-old posted a 6.69 ERA at Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse. Righty Hector Nelo posted a 2.73 ERA and 16 saves at Harrisburg, with 63 strikeouts in only 52 2/3 innings, but he'll have to cut down on his high walk rate to make it to the big leagues. Neil Holland, a 24-year-old right-hander taken in the 2010 draft, boasts a 1.89 ERA and 0.975 WHIP in three minor-league seasons. Fellow 2010 pick Aaron Barrett saved 17 games with a 2.60 ERA and 73 strikeouts in only 51 2/3 innings at low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac.

If they don't re-sign Burnett or Gonzalez, the Nationals could very well be in the market for a left-hander or two this winter. They're well-stacked from the right side, perhaps too stacked. With Rodriguez out of options and Garcia proving he's big-league material, they may need to part ways with someone else (Clippard?) to keep a spot open in what looks like a very crowded bullpen for 2013.