The Washington Nationals acquired reliever Kelvin Herrera from the Royals last night, sending three prospects to Kansas City in exchange for the 28-year-old right-hander.
In the final year of his contract, Herrera has gone 14 for 16 in save opportunities while posting a 1.05 ERA over 25.2 innings. He has also walked just two batters this season, both of which came in his most recent appearance last Tuesday. Herrera has spent his entire career with Kansas City after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2006, making his debut in 2011 and making significant contributions to their 2015 World Series victory.
The Nationals already have a premier closer in Sean Doolittle, yet have struggled to settle on a reliable setup man with relievers Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley and Brandon Kintzler (on the DL since 6/10) all sporting an ERA over 4.00 this season. Nationals manager Dave Martinez did not specify Herrera’s role with the club, yet it is likely he’ll see the bulk of his workload in an eighth inning setup role. While relying most on his dominant fastball, Herrera does a good job of mixing up his secondary pitches in a sinker, slider and changeup.
Meanwhile, Kansas City adds three formidable prospects to their depleted farm system in third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Blake Perkins and right-handed pitcher Yohanse Morel. The 23-year-old Gutierrez is the centerpiece of the deal, who was added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster in November. He profiles as a contact hitter with little power and an above average defender, posting a .274/.321/.391 line in Double-A this season.
Perkins gives the Royals an intriguing project, who the Nationals hoped would develop into a five-tool talent after drafting him out of high school in the second round of the 2015 draft. He showed signs of this potential last season, hitting .255 with eight home runs and 31 SB in his first full-length season in Single-A. Yet the 21-year-old has taken a step back this year, hitting just .234 with one home run through 65 games in High-A. The 17-year-old Morel is the throw-in prospect of the deal, who has pitched just 3.1 innings at the professional level after being signed out of the Dominican Republic last July. Morel is still light years away from the Major Leagues, yet could develop into a valuable asset with a fastball that already exceeds 95mph.
Not only is the timing of this trade surprising to the baseball world but also the return, as Herrera was expected to be the most sought after reliever on the market right up to the July 31st trade deadline. This isn’t necessarily a weak return for Kansas City, but nonetheless surprising as dominant relief pitchers such as Herrera have garnered top-100-esque prospects from teams in recent years past. There are several contending teams that could have topped this prospect package such as the Houston Astros, which leads me to believe that teams were concerned about Herrera’s most recent outing which lead the Royals to scramble to strike a deal.
Herrera did not look like his 2018-self last outing, surrendering a home run and walking two batters in a blown save against the Reds. Teams may have been weary that Herrera’s forearm issues that he struggled with late last season could be returning, which could be especially hindering to a pitcher that relies so heavily on his fastball.
Whether these concerns are legitimate or not, both teams should be satisfied with this deal moving forward. The Nationals acquired much needed bullpen help in what has turned out to be competitive NL East division, which the Royals add three high-ceiling prospects to one of the weaker farm systems in the game.
With Alex Colome and Herrera now both off the trade market, contending teams in need of bullpen help will now turn to Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Brad Hand on the trade market. Hand becomes the top reliever on the market with three more years of club control, while Britton will look to show signs of his old self having just returned from a ruptured right Achilles.
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