WASHINGTON — The Nationals made a savvy signing in the wee hours of Thursday morning, bringing back back-end bullpen reliever Brandon Kintzler.
Kintzler was a trade deadline acquisition from Minnesota in 2017, after spending most of his career in Milwaukee. The righty filled a seventh and eighth inning role for the team down the stretch last season, with a regular season ERA of 3.46 in 27 games, including four that he finished.
Prior to the trade, he was the Twins’ closer, saving 28 games in his third season in the role. He is expected to reprise a similar setup role in D.C.
While the Nats were interested in bringing Kintzler back, the deal was anything but a sure thing. Before this week’s Winter Meetings, the Rockies, Cardinals and Cubs were all reportedly interested in his services.
In the first few days of the Winter Meetings, relief pitching was the hottest market, with Sports Illustrated reporting that seven non-closer relievers earned $133 million over 16 years of contracts. That’s an annual average of more than $8.3 million.
In contrast, the Nats were able to secure Kintzler return for $5 million in 2018. If he performs well, he will reach incentives that trigger a second year at $10 million, making the total two-year deal still less than the average salary handed out to relievers so far.
Even if Kintzler falters in 2018, he could end up back with the Nats on a $5 million player option that will allow him to rebuild his value heading into free agency after the 2019 season.
The only way that Kintzler doesn’t end up back with the Nats in 2019 is if he doesn’t perform well and doesn’t want to come back.
According to Nats insider Chelsea Janes, team closer Sean Doolittle–also added at the trade deadline last season–and Bryce Harper were instrumental in securing Kintzler’s return.
Doolittle and fellow Las Vegas resident Bryce Harper reached out to Kintzler, encouraging him to return to D.C. if he could.
Janes also implied that the team could still shop for relief arms, but the likelihood of a reunion with Matt Albers is diminished with this signing.