How many good relievers did the Nationals have prior to the trade deadline? In many people’s eyes, the answer was one: Sean Doolittle. Well, Mike Rizzo did not rest on his laurels, acquiring three solid bullpen pieces at the end of July. Two of them (Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland) are controllable through 2021, but the team also added one veteran two-month rental.
That rental player was Daniel Hudson, who was acquired to become a high-leverage reliever — particularly with runners on base in the sixth or seventh inning. Instead, he ascended to the eight-inning setup role, and eventually became the closer.
Truthfully, neither of those things likely would’ve happened if Strickland didn’t take a step back down the stretch and Doolittle didn’t have an extended stretch on the injured list. But they did, and to his credit, Hudson stepped up in a big way.
In 24 games during the regular season with Washington, Hudson recorded an eye-popping 1.44 ERA. He only had six saves, but that was largely because the team was putting up gaudy offensive numbers and the starting rotation was often unhittable.
The one-two punch of Doolittle and Hudson became particularly lethal in the last couple weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs. Their success — combined with the struggles of the rest of the bullpen — led to the duo eating almost all of the bullpen’s workload in remotely meaningful situations. That’s not often a formula for success, but it became one for the Nationals. How costly would it be to part with that?
One thing that works in the Nationals’ favor is Hudson’s age — he will be 33 years old for the entire 2020 season. He also doesn’t have a particularly strong track record, which should make him very affordable.
MLB Trade Rumors’ free agency preview projected Hudson to return to Washington on a two-year, $12 million contract. Other teams will undeniably be in play, but this affordable of a rate should keep the Nationals in the mix — which hasn’t always been the case with more pricy closers.
Don’t forget that Doolittle — who had a $6 million mutual option picked up a week ago — will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. The Nationals could do themselves a favor by locking up Hudson (and/or another late-inning reliever) in the coming months.