A week after adding Max Scherzer to the front of their rotation, the Nationals have agreed to a deal that addresses the only issue they faced on the way to Florida, signing former Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen to add another solid late-innings option.
Take a look at the Nats' roster now. It looks even better than the one that produced a National League-high 96 wins last year, mostly because Scherzer has made an already great rotation even better.
But the Nationals are hardly about only their rotation. They're a complete team, one that now has no holes. They will miss Adam LaRoche, for sure, but there was no way to keep him with Ryan Zimmerman signed through 2019 and needing a move to first base.
Nor was there any way that general manager Mike Rizzo was going to re-sign Rafael Soriano, who is 35 and lost the closer's job to Drew Storen down the stretch in 2014. But it was something of a surprise that Rizzo dealt away setup man Tyler Clippard to bring Yunel Escobar from Oakland to play second base.
Soriano, Clippard and lefty Ross Detwiler, who was traded to the Rangers, combined to work 195 1/3 innings in 186 appearances a season ago in a bullpen that had the second-best ERA in the NL. No one was better for the 2014 Nats than Storen (1.12 ERA, 0.976 WHIP), but his regular-season success was followed by a blown save in Game 2 of the NL Division Series, a turning point that would open the door to an 18-inning loss and a four-game defeat at the hands of the Giants.
Storen, drafted just nine picks behind Stephen Strasburg in 2009, is 27 and in his prime. He's known for his mental toughness. But you never know for sure how any player will react to a high-visibility flop. So Rizzo knew he didn't just need to bring in someone to replace Clippard's innings in a setup role; he needed a middle reliever who could take some of the closer's role, if needed.
Janssen, who has spent his entire career with the Blue Jays, is an ideal fit. He signed a one-year deal with a 2016 mutual option for $5 million guaranteed and a possible two-year total of $10.5 million.
Janssen has converted 81 of 91 saves the past three seasons. He's a bulldog who bounced back quickly last summer after a bout of food poisoning reportedly caused him to lose eight pounds. Janssen challenges hitters even though his fastball isn't what it once was (after averaging 93 mph in 2011, it was down to an average of 89.8 last year, according to Brooks Baseball).
Janssen will pitch at age 33 this season, but in recent years, Toronto has done a good job protecting its pitchers. He has averaged 56 appearances over the past five seasons. Nationals manager Matt Williams pushed his top four relievers to 64-plus outings last year.
It wouldn't be a surprise if Williams went to Janssen more than 60 times next season, even though he's only reached that level twice in his eight-year career. But Williams and pitching coach Steve McCatty will have fun building their bullpen in Spring Training and the first half of the season.
There are a number of intriguing options, the most obvious being second-year right-hander Aaron Barrett. His combination of a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider held opponents to a .220 batting average last season.
It also remains to be seen how Williams will manage his six-deep starting rotation. The best guess is that if everyone is healthy, Tanner Roark, a 15-game winner last year, will be shifted into a long reliever's role. The question there is: With Scherzer, Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez in the rotation, how many times will Williams need multiple innings from a long reliever?
Those guys had 105 quality starts between them last season.
Craig Stammen and Blake Treinen, the latter another guy capable of starting, add to the depth from the right side, with veterans Matt Thornton and Jerry Blevins as the left-handed options. The Nats are also taking Spring Training fliers on Heath Bell, Manny Delcarmen and Evan Meek.
At 37, Bell is the anti-Janssen. He was ridden hard by the Padres (both as a setup man for Trevor Hoffman, then as the closer) and in his one, eventful season with the Marlins, and he has been a shell of himself the past few years. But Bell is hopeful he can make a little more magic and ambitious enough to think he can help a loaded Nationals team.
"What I've learned from years of pitching on the biggest and not-so-biggest stages is that, maybe more than any other position, the reliever's challenge is mental," Bell said in an essay on Derek Jeter's new website, The Players' Tribune. "The reliever's challenge is to come in the game when it really matters, when all the chips are down, when the game seems to slow way down. ... You might have to only throw eight pitches. But those eight pitches take on the weight of the world."
Storen experienced that reality the hard way last October, and how he responds will be an early key for the Nats. They needed somebody else they could count on to help carry that load, and Janssen should fill that role nicely.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.