The Washington Nationals aren’t stopping for the all-star break in their search for more bullpen help.
The team is close to signing right-handed reliever Brad Boxberger, a 31-year-old former all-star, multiple people with knowledge of the situation said Monday.
When the agreement is finalized, Boxberger will go to Class AA Harrisburg, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s plans.
In 29 appearances out of the bullpen for the Kansas City Royals this season, Boxberger had a 5.40 ERA and 27 strikeouts against 17 walks in 26 2/3 innings. The Royals designated Boxberger for assignment June 26 and, after they were unable to move him, gave him his outright release July 1.
The bullpen remains one of the Nationals’ biggest question marks, even after their scorching stretch brought them to the National League’s top wild-card spot to end the season’s first half. Washington’s team bullpen ERA of 6.08 still ranks worst in baseball, narrowly behind the Baltimore Orioles (6.06).
This acquisition, a veteran reliever with poor recent numbers but a history of success, is in line with how the team has primarily addressed the issue. Three similar free agents, right-hander Fernando Rodney, right-hander Javy Guerra and left-hander Jonny Venters, figure to be important pieces in relief moving forward. Another one, right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, fit the description when he was signed in the offseason but was released last month after he struggled to find his command and proved to be too unreliable.
Boxberger was an all-star for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015, when he led the American League with 41 saves. He has been inconsistent in the years since, and he has mostly struggled to live up to the billing he received in 2009 as a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds out of the University of Southern California. The one-time starter became a reliever after one season of affiliated ball with the Reds, and the Nationals would be his fifth major league team.
He has had only one season with an ERA better than 4.39 since his all-star campaign, though he did save 32 games last year with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Boxberger signed a one-year, $2.2 million deal with Kansas City in the offseason.
Still, veterans such as Rodney, Guerra and Venters seem to have found something in Washington they did not have in their previous stops. The Nationals are hoping Boxberger can do the same, because anything helps.
Barry Svrluga and Jesse Dougherty contributed to this report.
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