WEST PALM BEACH, Fla -- The Nationals and left-hander Tony Sipp have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2020, adding another lefty to a bullpen in need of one to compete in a National League East that includes Bryce Harper in Philadelphia, Robinson Cano
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla -- The Nationals and left-hander Tony Sipp have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2020, adding another lefty to a bullpen in need of one to compete in a National League East that includes Bryce Harper in Philadelphia, Robinson Cano in New York and Freddie Freeman in Atlanta.
Sipp will earn $1 million this season with a $250,000 mutual buyout for next season.
Washington was short on left-handed relief options at the start of camp even before the team granted Sammy Solis his unconditional release on Saturday, and a left-handed specialist is an area the Nats have been looking to address for some time. Rizzo said he identified Sipp as a potential addition at the start of the offseason and he monitored the situation throughout the winter.
“I think that he balances our bullpen out,” Rizzo said. “He’s had success in big moments. He’s been in the playoffs and had success. I think that not only with our division but just in general, I think he’s a sound relief pitcher. And he gets righties out, too. Let’s not forget that.”
Sipp, 35, has had success against batters from both sides of the plate throughout his 10-year Major League career, holding lefties to a .707 OPS while righties have posted a .719 OPS. But the Nationals have not had a lefty specialist as part of their bullpen since Oliver Perez in 2016-17 or when they acquired Matt Thornton for the stretch run in 2014 and ’15. They repeatedly attempted to use Solis to retire lefties last season to poor results, and when they saw no difference in his stuff to start the spring, the team decided to part ways.
Perhaps Sipp becomes even more important in what is shaping up to be an ultra-competitive NL East, considering the Nationals’ top competitors all have star left-handed hitters in the middle of their lineups.
“Unfortunately he’s going to have his work cut out for him,” closer Sean Doolittle said with a laugh. “Welcome to the NL East. Here’s Harp. Here’s Freeman. Here’s Cano.
“There’s a lot of big lefty bats in this division, so he’s going to be busy, but I saw him a bunch when both he and I were in the AL West and his track record, especially against lefties, is really, really impressive. Having somebody we can use in that role that is going to give us another weapon and give us some more depth in the bullpen is huge.”
Sipp spent the past five seasons in Houston and before the 2016 season he signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Astros. He struggled during the first two seasons of that deal -- with a 5.33 ERA and 1.51 WHIP from 2016-17 -- although he bounced back in 2018 with a strong year. He finished with a 1.86 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 54 appearances.
Despite those inconsistencies, Rizzo felt confident Sipp would be able to repeat his success from a year ago.
“His stuff last year was really good,” Rizzo said. “He had a good rhythm and he was really, really confident. I think that his history is that he’s been successful against both lefties and righties. Last year, he had a terrific season.”
The addition of Sipp continues what has been an aggressive makeover of this Nationals roster since the end of last season. They have added eight new players since the start of the winter: Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez to the rotation; Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate; Brian Dozier at second base; and Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough and now Sipp to the bullpen. The Nationals have also been linked to free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, but Rizzo reiterated Wednesday that team ownership wants to remain under the competitive balance tax threshold.
Signing a free agent after camp starts has also become a yearly occurrence for the Nationals, although the results have been mixed. In 2017, they signed both Adam Lind and Matt Wieters. In 2018, they added Joaquin Benoit, although he never threw a pitch in a Major League game. And now Sipp becomes the latest addition, a move that should help stabilize and increase the depth of this Nats bullpen.
“[Rizzo] is always out there looking to make us better,” manager Dave Martinez said. “It’s a testament to what we’re trying to do here and that’s win a championship.”
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.