Red Sox Rumors: Could the Nationals provide bullpen help?

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: Kelvin Herrera #40of the Washington Nationals pitches to an Atlanta Braves batter in the ninth inning at Nationals Park on July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: Kelvin Herrera #40of the Washington Nationals pitches to an Atlanta Braves batter in the ninth inning at Nationals Park on July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

With the trade deadline fast approaching the Red Sox are still shopping. The big need is still the pen and a new storefront just opened up on Main Street.

It’s been a rough season… for the Washington Nationals. They are just third in the N.L. East at 51-51 with two young, energetic, and incredibly talented teams ahead of them. The Philadelphia Phillies show no signs of slowing down at 54-45. And the Atlanta Braves may have arrived a year early (at least) but they are every bit as good as fans in Cobb County were hoping they would eventually be. That means the Nationals are in a tough spot, which could mean opportunity for the Boston Red Sox.

While the idea of the Nationals selling this deadline was unthinkable over the winter, the team has suffered a combination of poor injury luck and under performance leaving them looking up at two teams no one thought were ready to compete yet. Daniel Murphy struggled to get back on the field after a knee injury and hasn’t gotten it going yet. Bryce Harper‘s numbers are down, especially his batting average. Trea Turner hasn’t taken the step forward the team had hoped. The team hasn’t been bad, but things just aren’t falling into place for them.

Would the Nationals really sell during Bryce Harper’s final year?

The big question is, would the Nationals actually sell? After all they are just seven games out of the division lead. And more importantly, just 4.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. The playoffs are certainly still in reach if they can get hot. That said, they are in a six team mix for that last spot and three of those teams have better records. So, perhaps it’s not surprising to see this tweet from Jeff Passan:

They remind me a bit of the 2015 Red Sox who also had a tough choice to make at the deadline. Their record at the All Star break was 42-47, so they weren’t quite as competitive as the Nationals are right now. But they had some significant young talent to continue building around and plenty of major league talent that just wasn’t getting it done. The decision to pull the plug wasn’t easy, but it was the right choice. It may well be for the Nationals, too, despite the fact that they almost assuredly won’t be able to keep Bryce Harper in town after the upcoming winter.

So how can the Nationals help the Red Sox?

One of the names mentioned in Passan’s tweet is Ryan Madson. And while he might be an improvement over the worst the Red Sox have to offer, he just doesn’t seem to have the upside you’d want if you are giving up prospects. His 4.66 ERA and 4.24 xFIP don’t inspire confidence, though a 3.74 FIP suggests that perhaps some positive regression is in store. That 3.68 BB/9, however, is probably something the Red Sox don’t need to be adding to a pen that has some issues with walk rates. Instead, let’s look at Shawn Kelley. Kelley is getting results, but is sort of the reverse image of Madson. His 2.59 ERA is hiding a 4.18 FIP and a 4.37 xFIP. Of course, a 9.19 K/9 and a 1.44 BB/9 would look very nice in the Red Sox pen. The biggest concern with Kelley is that he’s allowing 62.2% fly balls in an era where flyball contact is incredibly productive.

The other name to keep an eye out for, and the most attractive by far, is Kelvin Herrera. The Nationals acquired Herrera from the Royals back in June and could certainly flip him. Both Kelley and Herrera are free agents at the end of the year, so the cost shouldn’t be too high for either. And Herrera offers plenty of upside the rest of the way. He sports a 1.83 ERA with a 3.71 FIP and a 4.21 xFIP. He’s only striking out 7.71 per nine, but his BB/9 is a miniscule 1.83. That’s just 5.3% of batters faced. And that would look really nice in the Boston pen considering the Red Sox have 13 relief pitchers who have made appearances this year with a higher BB%. Especially since Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly are both at 12.4%. Having a reliever you can trust not to issue walks in a close and late situation is vital.

One way or the other, the Red Sox need to add a late inning reliever.

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Whether it is Kelley or Herrera, the Red Sox pen would look much better if they can work out a trade with the Nationals. Craig Kimbrel is an elite reliever and Matt Barnes is just shy of being that guy you want right behind him. But the walk rate is just too high to make him the guy every time out. Adding Kelvin Herrera would give Alex Cora the option to take different approaches in the 8th based on the circumstances. As it currently stands, he can go to Barnes and hope for strikeouts instead of walks. With Herrera, he can be more certain that a free pass won’t be issued creating a jam.

This would also free up Barnes to come in and try to clean up a jam earlier in the game when there is more time to clean up the mess if he does lose the zone. And with Nathan Eovaldi joining the rotation, the Red Sox will have the option of adding a starter to the pen like they did last year by moving David Price there. Assuming Eduardo Rodriguez gets healthy for October, we’d be looking at a rotation of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez. That puts fireballer Eovaldi in the late inning mix as well. Craig Kimbrel, Kelvin Herrera, Nathan Eovaldi, Matt Barnes is a quartet you can ride deep into the postseason. And that’s without Drew Pomeranz getting his velocity back. If he does, then you have another weapon to call on, and a left handed arm to boot.

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A trade for Kelvin Herrera would lengthen the pen enough for me to stop losing sleep over it. Would it do the same for you? Is there another reliever out there you’d prefer the Red Sox target? Let us know in the comments!