Two days after signing Francisco Rodriguez to a minor-league deal, the Nationals have kept things going by scooping up yet another shaky reliever who has seen better days—Kevin Jepsen, whose “better days” in this case were really never all that great.
Jepsen is coming off his eighth major-league season, a 2016 split between the Twins and Rays while achieving success with neither. He hasn’t pitched at all this year professionally after being cut from the Diamondbacks at the end of spring training. But he held a showcase for teams last week, and, apparently, the Nationals liked what they saw. The general idea here seems to be very similar to, if not exactly the same as, what they went after with K-Rod—take a reliever with proven major-league success, even if he’s most recently proven only how deeply he can struggle, sign him to a minor-league deal for a fairly low cost, and see what happens. If he sucks as much as he’s sucked lately, there’s basically nothing wasted; if he recaptures the touch of his glory days, there’s a bullpen upgrade for you at minimal cost.
Which is perfectly fine! But the Nationals need so, so, so much more. Though they have the third-best record in the National League, they have the worst bullpen. The Nationals’ relief corps has a 4.91 ERA with a league-worst home run rate of 1.54 per nine innings, and they’ve forced the starting rotation to pitch more innings than that of any other team in baseball. Part of that has been recent poor health—trips to the disabled list for Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley—but more of it has been that it’s just a collection of mostly poor pitchers pitching mostly poorly.
It only makes sense that they’ll keep pursuing a bigger move to anchor the pen—whether David Robertson of the White Sox, Kelvin Herrera of the Royals, Justin Wilson of the Tigers or someone else—but a single addition can only go so far. And so these smaller moves are a decent starting point for potentially build some of the depth that they need, but they very probably still have a long (like, long) way to go.