WASHINGTON -- The Nationals made the first steps to overhaul their struggling bullpen Sunday, when they acquired two relievers -- right-hander Ryan Madson and left-hander Sean Doolittle -- from the A's in exchange for Blake Treinen and a pair of the club's top 10 prospects in left-hander Jesus Luzardo and third baseman Sheldon Neuse.
It had been no secret that Washington was in the market for relief help -- Nats relievers entered Sunday with the highest bullpen ERA in the Majors -- but this move comes after months of speculation about how they would obtain it. The Nationals add a pair of experienced relievers for the rest of this season with contracts extending through at least 2018. Both Doolittle and Madson have closing experience, and shared the role in Oakland, but it was unclear who would assume the duties in Washington.
"I've got to talk to [Athletics manager] Bob Melvin," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "Like I said, both of them have closed. I know both of them have had some arm problems in the past, so it could be both of them. So we'll see."
Madson, 36, has posted a 2.06 ERA in 40 games this season with experience as a closer and experience pitching in the postseason. Doolittle, 30, owns a 3.38 ERA with 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 0.656 WHIP.
"I'm still a little bit in shock, I guess a little bit," Doolittle said. "That's not to say I'm not super excited to be headed where I'm headed. It's close to where I grew up, it's close to where I went to college, there's some familiar faces over there. Obviously, they're in a really good position right now. All that being said, I'm excited to go play some meaningful baseball here down the stretch."
The Nationals were also willing to increase their payroll to make this move. They will owe Madson the rest of his $7.5 million this season and next season. Doolittle will make the rest of his $2.6 million this season, $4.35 million in 2018 and the Nats own a pair of club options for '19 and '20.
"It's often nice, if at all possible, to get guys that will be with you for a while," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "It makes the sting of trading off prospects a little easier to handle. It's good to know that these guys will be around us for a while."
The Nationals were able to complete this deal without sacrificing any of their top five prospects, a few of which they might not be willing to relinquish at all. The package for the A's centered around Treinen, 29, armed with loads of talent in his arsenal even if he could not stay consistent. His sinker draws comparison to Zach Britton of the Orioles and Treinen pairs it with a devastating slider that provided some of the best "stuff" on the team.
The Nationals named Treinen their closer to begin the season, but he struggled to a 5.73 ERA this season and could not sustain success even when he was moved to lower-leverage innings. He will be eligible for arbitration following the 2018 season and free agency in '21.
Neuse, formerly ranked the Nats' No. 6 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, was drafted in the second round in 2016 and owned a .818 OPS this year at Class A Hagerstown. Luzardo -- formerly ranked 10th in the Nationals organization -- was drafted in the third round in 2016, but he was considered a first-round talent who fell in the Draft because he required Tommy John surgery.
With the A's youth movement already underway, Oakland will take calls on several other coveted players in the coming weeks.
Whether the Nationals are finished dealing with still more than two weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline remains to be seen. Although it is unlikely they are willing to take on a significant player salary, the Nationals could be in on other relievers or perhaps another starting pitcher now that Joe Ross needs Tommy John surgery.
"We've done what we came to do at the Trade Deadline," Rizzo said. "That's not to say that we're going to stop scouting. And as we've shown in the past, if there's an opportunity to improve the ballclub, we'll certainly continue to be aggressive and try to help us out any way we can."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
While the Nationals' bullpen remains unsettled, the club now has two closer options. Owners who are searching for saves should first look to grab Madson, as the right-hander has substantial ninth-inning experience (86 career saves) and stellar ratios this season (2.06 ERA, 0.79 WHIP). Those in deep formats who cannot add Madson should consider Doolittle (3.38 ERA, 0.66 WHIP in '17), who also has the skills to excel in the stopper's role but may be used as a southpaw specialist in earlier frames. Meanwhile, those who have been stashing Koda Glover (career 5.08 ERA) during his time on the disabled list should be aware that his chances of working the ninth inning are now considerably diminished.