As Deadline Day dawns, the Washington Nationals find themselves trailing in the standings and the leaguewide bullpen arms race. The National League East teams sandwiching the Nationals in the division, the Atlanta Braves (5½ games ahead) and the Philadelphia Phillies (a half-game behind), have already made moves with the deadline looming at 4 p.m.
All three division contenders, plus most teams in the postseason conversation, need bullpen help. The late-developing market has been complicated by the first year of the hard-stop deadline, the San Francisco Giants’ sudden entrance into the playoff race and Toronto Blue Jays reliever Ken Giles’s lingering elbow inflammation. Last week, small pieces started to fall but, in the past two days, big chips were moved in starters Marcus Stroman to the New York Mets and Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team deal.
In the NL East race to acquire bullpen help, the division leaders made the first move.
On Tuesday night, while they were on their way to beating the Nationals 11-8, the Braves acquired right-handed reliever Chris Martin from the Texas Rangers for 21-year-old left-handed starter Kolby Allard, who was the No. 10 prospect in the Braves’ pitching-rich system, according to MLB Pipeline.
“I don’t know if it’s important to make the first [move], but I’m glad we made one to strengthen our bullpen,” said Braves Manager Brian Snitker.
The Nationals also have a 21-year-old left-handed starting prospect in Tim Cate who profiles as a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the majors, but Cate is in Class A Advanced Potomac while Allard is in Class AAA and has already appeared in the majors.
Martin, 33, has a 3.08 ERA and 43 strikeouts with four walks in 38 innings. Braves closer Luke Jackson has 17 saves and seven blown saves, and the Nationals roughed him up Tuesday night (three hits, three runs). Martin has shown an ability to pitch high-leverage innings (four saves) and it’s possible he becomes the team’s new closer — if the Braves don’t add another arm to the unit.
The Nationals first fell behind on Monday when the Phillies traded a minor league catcher for left-handed starter Jason Vargas to shore up their ailing rotation. On Tuesday, they signed free agent reliever Blake Parker, who had a 4.21 ERA with the Minnesota Twins this season and seemed like a possible fit for the Nationals.
The Nationals could still pursue other relievers, including Detroit’s Shane Greene, Toronto’s Daniel Hudson or San Francisco’s Sam Dyson or Drew Pomeranz (if the Giants decide to sell). The Nationals discussed Greene with the Tigers as recently as Friday, but there was a sticking point. A person with knowledge of the negotiations said the Tigers again asked for Carter Kieboom, and Washington remained unwilling to deal its top prospect.
The Nationals’ farm system is one of the majors’ thinnest, taxed by trades for catcher Yan Gomes, right fielder Adam Eaton, relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, and Kelvin Herrera since December 2016.
In previous discussions this season, the Nationals dangled outfielder Michael A. Taylor, but multiple people with knowledge of the situation told The Post they’ve struggled to generate interest in the 28-year-old.
For the Braves’ new addition, Snitker seemed skeptical Martin might make it to Nationals Park in time for the series finale at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday, but he noted the four walks in the context of his team’s narrow win Tuesday over a team they once led 11-1.
“It’ll be a big addition,” he said. “That was the thing today that let them get back in the ballgame is walks.”
The Nationals’ NL East rivals have already added to their pitching staffs. The deadline is 4 p.m. Will Washington join them?
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