The Washington Nationals did not have much luck finding a closing pitcher this offseason. After missing out on a few big free agents, the team decided to add veteran closer Joe Nathan.
On Tuesday, Nathan agreed to a one-year, $1.25 million minor league deal with the Nationals. As part of the contract, he has the chance to make over $3 million if he reaches his incentives. Nathan received an invitation to spring training.
Considering the Nationals’ depth in the back end bullpen right now, Nathan actually has a decent chance to have a significant role with them in 2017. The 42-year-old right-hander spent time with the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants last season. Between the two teams, he only pitched 6.1 innings. Nathan went 2-0 and did not allow an earned run.
Although Nathan did pitch well when he was called upon last year, he certainly is not the same pitcher that he was once. He missed the majority of the 2015 season after suffering an injury to his right elbow in April while with the Detroit Tigers. The injury required him to undergo Tommy John surgery. This was the second time in Nathan’s career that he needed to have that kind of surgery. The first instance came back in 2010 when he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in spring training.
For someone who has had Tommy John surgery twice, Nathan has put together a very impressive career. He has 377 total saves, which puts him eighth on the all-time saves list. His career ERA is 2.87. Nathan is also a six-time All-Star.
Even though he is past his prime, the Nationals could still get some use out of Nathan. They do not have a definite closer going into the 2017 season. Mark Melancon was Washington’s closer for the final few months of last year after the Pirates traded him to them in late July. However, Melancon signed a four-year, $62 million contract with the Giants back in December. He was one of the closers that the Nationals missed out on this offseason. They were also reportedly interested in Kenley Jansen, but he ended up re-signing with the Dodgers. As of right now, Shawn Kelley is most likely the front runner for the Nationals’ closer job. That does not mean that Nathan cannot take the job away from him should he have a better spring training.
Nathan was not the only relief pitcher that the Nationals added this week. They also signed right-hander Matt Albers. He spent last season with the Chicago White Sox, where he went 2-6 with a 6.31 ERA in 58 games.
The Nationals desperately needed bullpen help, and they got some this week. We will see if Nathan and Albers can actually contribute to the team this year.