Nationals overhaul bullpen with trade for Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson

Big League Stew

Washington Nationals fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief … literally. The Nationals finally got the closer they desperately need Sunday. Actually, they got two. The club picked up Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.

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Washington will part with reliever Blake Treinen and prospects Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

It’s a big acquisition that fills a lot of holes for Washington. The team not only picks up both a righty and a lefty, but also gained two players with ninth-inning experience. Doolittle and Madson have split time as Oakland’s closer over the past few seasons.

When healthy, both players have put up strong numbers. After missing three seasons due to injury, Madson returned with the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and has been dominant since. Over the past two and a half seasons, he has a 2.69 ERA over 167 1/3 innings.

Sean Doolittle is heading to Washington. (AP Photo)
Sean Doolittle is heading to Washington. (AP Photo)

Doolittle has experienced some nagging injuries since 2015, but he’s been a strong pitcher when healthy. He’s only tossed 74 innings since 2015, but has a 3.41 ERA and 91 strikeouts during that period.

Madson and Doolittle are under contract through 2018. Doolittle does have two options that can take his deal to 2020.

In return, Oakland will snag Treinen, who opened the year as the Nats best option in the pen. Treinen picked up three saves by April 7, and then reverted to one of the struggling relievers on the Nats. Treinen is under A’s control through 2020. He has a 5.73 ERA over 37 2/3 innings this season.

Luzardo has a 1.32 ERA over 12 2/3 innings in rookie ball this season. He’s a long way from the majors, and is inexperienced. The numbers thus far have been promising, but the sample is tiny. He’s likely years away from making an impact in the majors.

Neuse is slightly further ahead. The 22-year-old third baseman has been solid at Class A, hitting .291/.349/.469 in 321 plate appearances.

The deal addresses the Nationals’ most glaring weakness. The team’s bullpen ranked dead last in the majors with a -0.9 fWAR. Nationals relievers have combined for a 5.34 ERA over 251 1/3 innings. They’ve had seven different players pick up saves for them this season.

The move indicates the Nationals realize their contention window is right now. The team holds a comfortable 9.5 game lead in the National League East, but simply making the playoffs is no longer the goal.

The Nationals have been eliminated in the first round every year they’ve reached the postseason. While moving past the first round is the next task, a World Series is an ultimate goal. Doolittle and Madson help them get closer to achieving that goal, not just this year, but next as well.

That’s key. Bryce Harper is under contract through next season, and it’s unclear whether he’ll re-sign with the Nats once he hits free agency. By securing not one, but two, controllable relievers who are signed through next season, the Nationals have made it clear that they desperately want a World Series championship. And they want it now.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

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