Wednesday, in their most substantial effort to bolster their 2017 bullpen, the Washington Nationals announced they had agreed to obtain left-handed pitcher Enny Romero from Tampa Bay for Jeffrey Rosa. Tampa needed to create a space on their 40-man roster to accommodate recent signing Logan Morrison, and Washington, with open spaces on their 40-man, capitalized on the opportunity to add this intriguing southpaw.
The 26-year-old Romero scuffled with Tampa last season, posting a 5.91 ERA in 45.2 innings pitched, striking out 50 hitters while allowing 42 hits and 28 walks. Over three seasons and 80.1 major league innings, he has a 5.27 ERA with 82 strikeouts against 82 hits and 45 walks allowed. Despite his impressive 9.6 K/9 ratio, his dreadful 5.0 BB/9 plus mediocre 42.7 GB% and 0.9 HR/9 rates explain his struggles in the big leagues. In addition, Romero is out of minor league options, meaning he will need to make the Nationals opening day roster or risk being exposed to waivers at the conclusion of spring training.
However, there are reasons for optimism with Romero: he possesses elite fastball velocity, sitting between 96-97mph according to BrooksBaseball.net, with some natural arm-side movement. Romero also throws an 88-91mph cutter/slider hybrid with impressive sinking action and a mid-80s curveball that has late tumbling action. In short, Romero has one of the strongest left-handed arms in baseball and an elite repertoire for a reliever. Finally, Romero has spent his entire career with Tampa, signing with them in 2008, making him a credible “change of scenery” candidate.
In exchange, Washington sent 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Jeffrey Rosa to Tampa Bay. Signed as an international free agent for $10,000 in May 2015, Rosa has pitched 96.1 professional innings across two seasons for Washington, with a career 3.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts against 49 walks. Rosa has an intriguing pitcher’s frame at 6-3 190lbs and possesses a naturally fast arm. He throws a mid-90s fastball that has reportedly reached 100mph, along with a slider and a nascent changeup.
Rosa has not been ranked on any prospect lists for Washington this offseason and did not project to make my top-30 as well. There is extreme risk in his profile due to his age, distance from the majors and how raw his skills are, but Tampa did well to add a power arm with some potential as a future reliever to their organization.
On the surface this seems like a natural trade between the two teams, although somewhat in reverse. Typically the team projected for the playoffs (Washington) trade players lacking options and an obvious role to a rebuilding team (Tampa) for a prospect, yet the situation is occurring in reverse. Washington found themselves in the position of having empty spaces on the roster and wanting additional bullpen depth, while giving noted pitching guru Mike Maddux a fascinating project to tinker with this spring. Romero will head to Spring Training competing for a spot in the bullpen against lefties Oliver Perez and Sammy Solis, along with holdover Matt Grace and several minor league free agents.
This trade reminds me of a story from a few years ago – a large group of us were on a bachelor party at a casino and at the end of the night a buddy found $10 in his back pocket. We were walking past a roulette wheel and sure enough, he bets on 24 because that was his age and it hit. We went from heading to bed to straight to the bar to celebrate his new wealth. Enny Romero is that $5 bet – most of the time you bet on one number at the roulette wheel at 2am, or in this case, a hard-throwing lefty with control issues, you lose. But on the rare occasion, everything “Comes Up Milhouse” and you hit big.
I see little middle ground on this trade, as he is unlikely to last through 2017 with the Nationals, yet I feel compelled to go against the odds and gamble something clicks in Washington for Romero. I do not envision Rosa developing into a major league pitcher, so the risk feels relatively minimal, and the upside is obtaining a high-leverage lefty under salary control through 2021. If we keep expectations tempered, I think Washington is wise to gamble on Maddux’s aptitude improving pitchers and Romero’s special arm.
NatsGM Grade -> B / B-