Anthony Castrovince

10 potential bullpen upgrades for Nationals

10 potential bullpen upgrades for Nationals

Dusty Baker knows Aroldis Chapman, respects Chapman and, yes, wanted Chapman.

Baker called the closer's move from the Bronx to the North Side of Chicago "disappointing," because if there's one element from Baker's Cincinnati experience that he'd love to apply to this Nationals team that, according to FanGraphs' calculations, has a nearly 90-percent chance of nailing down the National League East, it's the ability to call upon a reliable 100-mph-tossing weapon in the ninth and call it a night.

"I would've liked to have him," Baker said. "I had him when he first got here. [Chapman's trade to the Cubs] makes them tougher. But it doesn't make them the victor yet."

The reason the Cubs expended so much capital on an expiring asset like Chapman was the knowledge that their options against a left-handed bat like the one belonging to Bryce Harper in a pivotal moment on the October stage were limited, at best.

But the Nats -- a team, in Indians manager Terry Francona's estimation, "built for October" -- have their own relief issue that's a concern not just for the postseason but the home stretch of the NL East race.

In a five-day stretch that concluded with Tuesday night's lost ninth in Cleveland, Jonathan Papelbon's ERA jumped a run and a half. There are nights when he can get by on deception and guile. But at 35 and with diminished fastball velocity, Papelbon doesn't miss as many bats as he once did.

Must C: Indians rally in the 9th

Baker admitted Wednesday that the Nationals "don't know" what the solution is for Papelbon. And because the effects of age are something even a wise pitching coach like Mike Maddux will struggle to fix, it's time -- especially with the non-waiver Trade Deadline fast approaching -- for the Nats to consider alternatives.

Here are 10 ninth-inning alternatives, with varying degrees of believability.

1. Andrew Miller
An NL evaluator said he'd be "shocked" if the Yankees deal Miller, despite all the words and bandwidth that have been spent tying him to this team or that. The Nationals wouldn't be able to land Miller without giving up Lucas Giolito, and that's just as a starting point.

Miller gets the save

2. Wade Davis
Another long shot. The Royals have Davis on the hook for just $10 million next year. Every move they've made has been about maximizing their window of contention through at least 2017. To deal Davis and deplete their signature strength would go completely against that trend, and evaluators don't suspect that's going to happen, no matter how strong the offers might be.

3. David Robertson
Robertson has $25 million owed to him over the course of 2017-18. The Nationals, as evidenced with the acquisition of Papelbon last summer, aren't known for making in-season trades that aren't cash-neutral, and they've deferred significant amounts of salary in signing Max Scherzer, extending Stephen Strasburg and reworking Jayson Werth's deal. But there is increasing speculation that Robertson could be had with the right offer, and the Nats might be one club with a strong enough motivation to get a deal across the finish line.

4. Steve Cishek
Per an American League evaluator, the Mariners aren't actively marketing Cishek. They've got him under wraps for $6 million next year, and they've still got a pulse in the playoff chase. But Cishek's 1.022 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 rate are certainly worth targeting in this market.

Cishek locks down the save

5. Jeremy Jeffress's Jim Duquette reports Milwaukee is asking for a No. 1 prospect and one or two mid-level players in return for Jeffress, who has a 2.18 ERA and is under control through 2019. It's a steep price to pay for a pitcher who doesn't overpower opponents (7.0 K/9, 1.258 WHIP). Unless the price comes down, the Nationals will abstain.

6. Jake McGee
McGee has closing experience and has an attractive road split (1.84 ERA) that offsets his overall numbers (5.40 ERA), but an NL scout pointed to McGee's 3-mph drop in velocity this month as a warning sign: "He doesn't look right." McGee, for what it's worth, missed time with a left knee injury earlier this year.

7. Huston Street
It all comes down to whether the Angels would be willing to eat some salary to sell low here. Street is having a subpar season, especially by his standards (4.79 ERA and 1.84 WHIP), with the lowest K/9 rate (4.8) of his career and a matching 4.8 walk rate. Street is owed another $2.5 million this year and $9 million in 2017.

Street secures Angels' 7-4 win

8. Shawn Kelley
Are the Nats making the most of this weapon at their disposal? As August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs pointed out, Kelley's strikeout minus walk rate trails only that of four pitchers (Miller, Kenley Jansen, Dellin Betances and Chapman), and seven of the eight relievers who project to have better finishes to 2016 are all closers, with the lone exception being Betances (who, of course, was a setup man to Chapman and now Miller).

9 and 10. Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez
Remember how it all started for David Price: in Tampa Bay's bullpen, closing out ballgames as the Rays made their push to the 2008 World Series? Giolito and Lopez absolutely have the raw stuff to overpower the opposition in such a role, and it would have the dual benefit of limiting their innings load down the stretch.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.