WASHINGTON -- A few weeks after trading dependable setup man Tyler Clippard, the Nationals filled a hole in their bullpen by agreeing to a one-year contract with free agent Casey Janssen on Monday. The deal guarantees Janssen $5 million, including a buyout for a 2016 mutual option, according to FOXSports.com.
"We are happy to add Casey Janssen to our stable of relief arms," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. "We're excited about what he will bring to our bullpen -- on the mound, as one of the most effective and consistent relievers the last several years, as well as in the clubhouse. He is a veteran guy who has a plethora of experience in late, high-leverage innings, and we're thrilled to add him to our mix."
The Nats dealt Clippard to the A's for shortstop Yunel Escobar, who is slated to move to second base. They also haven't re-signed free agent Rafael Soriano, their closer for much of the past two seasons, leaving Drew Storen to fill the ninth inning.
Janssen has experience in that capacity, with 90 career saves, including 81 in 91 chances over the past three years. The 33-year-old right-hander has pitched only for the Blue Jays over eight big league seasons, posting a 3.52 ERA in 389 games, mostly in relief.
From 2011-13, Janssen appeared in at least 55 games for Toronto each season, with an ERA no higher than 2.56 and at least 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Throughout his career, he has shown almost no platoon split, allowing a .692 OPS to right-handed batters and a .689 mark to lefties.
But last season was a struggle for Janssen, as he began it on the disabled list with a lower back strain and didn't debut until May 12. He produced a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings in the first half, but then a 6.46 mark over 23 2/3 innings in the second half, finishing at 3.94, his highest since 2009.
Janssen also saw significant jumps in his FIP (4.14) and WHIP (1.18), while his strikeouts plummeted to 5.5 per nine innings. His fastball velocity dropped for a third straight year, according to BrooksBaseball.net, falling to a career-low 89.8 mph.
Part of the problem might have been a severe case of food poisoning Janssen picked up while spending the All-Star break in the Dominican Republic. He lost 10 pounds, and when he returned after missing only a couple of games, his performance suffered, though he told MLB.com in September that he "never considered" going on the DL.
"Every time I'm able to pitch, I'm going to pitch," Janssen said. "It doesn't matter. No one feels great all of the time, especially bullpen guys. We're trained to pitch with not our best stuff, and I think I'm the type of pitcher that can get away with not having my best fastball, or have my best something, and just figure out a way to get three outs. I've been doing it a long time, and I'm just in this little stretch right now where it's not going my way."
Janssen lost the closer's job for a while but regained it late in the season, converting his last four opportunities over seven games, giving up one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings and striking out five.
Janssen figures to join the back end of a Nationals bullpen that also includes Storen, Aaron Barrett and lefty Matt Thornton. Washington also signed former big league closer Heath Bell and former All-Star setup man Evan Meek to Minor League contracts earlier this offseason, previously the club's most significant additions to its bullpen. Storen posted a 1.12 ERA last year and went 10-for-10 in save chances in September, though he endured a couple of tough appearances, including a blown save, in the National League Division Series against the Giants.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.