After little activity in recent weeks, except for some internet rumors about a first baseman named Prince, Thursday the Washington Nationals announced that they agreed to terms with right-handed relief pitcher Brad Lidge on a 1-year contract, reportedly for $1 million dollars plus incentives. Lidge owns a career 3.44 ERA, an 11.95 K/9 ratio, and 223 total saves in his 10-year career spent with Philadelphia and Houston. Lidge, 35, has the distinction of closing out the final game of the 2008 World Series for the Phillies and is also unfortunately the infamous pitcher that allowed the moonshot home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS while as a member of the Astros.
Brad Lidge was 0-2 last season in 25 appearances with the Phillies, enjoying a 1.40 ERA in only 19.1 total innings, striking out 23 batters while allowing 13 walks. Lidge did not make an appearance until after the All-Star break as he recovered from an injury to his pitching shoulder. While his results were terrific after returning last season, he was still available as there was a large supply of late-inning relievers on the market this winter and because his average fastball velocity last season was 89.0mph, down from a career 94.8mph, and his devastating slider averaged 80.9mph, off from a career average of 85.8mph (thank you Fangraphs.com). With such a steep drop in velocity, one can easily understand the hesitation from other general managers, but according to GM Mike Rizzo, the Nationals gave Lidge an enhanced MRI to his shoulder and the team doctors cleared him prior to agreeing to terms on a contract.
Assuming his shoulder is healthy and his punishing fastball/slider combination continues to recover after a full off-season of rest and strengthening, Lidge could help in a variety of roles, most likely pitching the 7th/8th innings in addition to Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, and Henry Rodriguez and mentoring an otherwise youthful bullpen. Obviously there is little way of knowing if he will remain healthy this season, but signing Brad Lidge further bolsters an already deep pitching staff, while also demonstrating the value of patiently waiting for the free agent market for relief pitching to subside, as the supply and demand of relievers each winter allows for bargains closer to the arrival of spring training. This signing involves little risk for the Nationals because of the 1-year commitment, small financial considerations, and bullpen depth already within the organization but if his blazing fastball and demoralizing slider return, the rewards the team will reap will make this a tremendous gamble. In my opinion, Brad Lidge is one of the best free agent contract values this off-season, and a signing I fully endorse.
NatsGM’s Grade -> A-
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