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What will Mike Rizzo do to fix the Washington Nationals’ bullpen before the trade deadline?

SB Nation logo SB Nation 6/26/2019 Patrick Reddington
Mike Rizzo looking at the camera © Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Will it be 2017-esque trades for the Nationals? Or will GM Mike Rizzo find the arms he can on the cheap to help turn the bullpen around?

Back in the early summer of 2017, Washington’s bullpen was a big issue that Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo felt he needed to fix because he said he owed it to the team to shore up what was a clear weakness in his roster construction that season.

“This team grinded out so much, and worked so extremely hard through a lot of trials and tribulations I felt that I owed the team to rectify a weakness on our roster,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN’s Sports Junkies.

“We went out — our staff scoured the major leagues, we logged a lot of scouting hours looking at — we focused in on about eleven bullpen guys throughout the league and we sat on them and watched them. We knew every move that they made and put these things together and tried to get ourselves who are the best one or two — and it turned out to be three guys — it turned out to be that we could get.”

The three additions, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson. and Brandon Kintzler, helped turn things around, giving manager Dusty Baker multiple late-inning options after the team had tried a number of pitchers at the back end who didn’t work out.

Two years later, with the bullpen once again an issue, with a National League-high 6.29 ERA as a group, a 4.89 FIP, (second-highest in the NL), .271 BAA against, (the highest in the senior circuit), and a 1.54 WHIP (which is also the highest in the NL), Rizzo has taken the blame for at least some of the troubles the relief corps has experienced.

“There’s blame to go around when you’re playing this poorly,” Rizzo explained in early May.

“There’s blame on me, there’s blame on the players, there’s blame on the coaches, there’s blame on everybody, it’s — certainly there’s enough to go around. Like I said, I told Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post the other day, the players are acquired — I acquire the players, I’m responsible for the players on the field, so if they’re underperforming, they’re not performing, that’s on me. If the bullpen is not capable of performing, that’s on me.

“I take that very, very seriously. It’s the same context when we win 98, 97 games, these players are acquired by me, I’m responsible for them, and ultimately they have to perform.”

Later last month, Rizzo said that the front office was, “... looking for all avenues to improve ourselves bullpen-wise,” bringing up Tanner Rainey, signing Javy Guerra and a number of other available veteran arms, including Fernando Rodney and Jonny Venters, both of whom joined the big league club this week after short stints in the minors. But are the reclamation projects the only options at this point?

Are the likes of Rodney and Venters getting shots now to show what they can do with the trade deadline at the end of July, so the Nationals know where they stand and what they’ll need to do going forward?

Will Rizzo and Co. be able to add to the payroll, which was, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, at $197M on Opening Day, as the Nationals try to avoid going over luxury tax threshold for the third straight season? FWIW: Sportrac has the Nationals at $193M, or a little over $12.5M under the $206M luxury tax threshold.

Do you expect trades like the Nationals made in 2017 over the next month? Do they have the prospects that it will take to make those deals? Is it going to be all veterans looking for a last shot in the majors, or will the Nats find the right arms to turn things around?

Will their win/loss record over the next few weeks dictate what Rizzo and Co. do?

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