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Brandon Kintzler chose familiarity over free agency in returning to Nationals

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Brandon Kintzler envisioned a different free agency experience this winter. He expected more teams to bid for his services and with more money after completing his unlikely rise from independent leaguer to major league all-star. But the market, he and dozens of his peers realized, was unlike in recent memory.

“I mean, if my name’s not Wade Davis, it’s a stressful market,” Kintzler said Wednesday, report day for Nationals pitchers and catchers. “I thought I would have done a lot better. I thought there would be more teams that wanted me. I don’t know, these computer programs everyone uses, I guess. Fantasy baseball. It wasn’t great. But I’m glad we got it done then. I wouldn’t want to be out there right now. That’s a stressful situation.”

Ultimately, the 33-year-old Kintzler agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $15 million with the Nationals on the final night of the winter meetings in mid-December, a couple days before his wife gave birth to their child. He said he had offers from other clubs to potentially close, but chose to return to Washington for the less glamorous seventh-inning role because he coveted familiarity and playoff contention.

“I didn’t want to have to go to spring training and try to get to know everybody again,” Kintzler said. “I just got done being traded and learned everyone’s name. I didn’t want to do it again. For a chance to be in this organization for two years, hopefully, it was a no-brainer for me.”

The Nationals initially acquired Kintzler from the Twins at the trade deadline last summer to complete their midseason bullpen overhaul days after adding Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. He arrived with a 2.78 ERA and 28 saves as Minnesota’s closer. With Washington, Kintzler, a groundball specialist, pitched to a 3.46 ERA in 26 innings, helping Washington solidify its shortcoming on the fly before appearing in his first three career postseason games.

“It’s just a great young clubhouse,” Kintzler said. “I felt like us and the Astros were the best teams in baseball last year. It was just a bitter taste leaving the playoffs last year. I definitely felt like everyone was going to come back hungrier. I’m sure they say that every year. But I just felt like we were the better team. And I think this year is going to be different.”

By retaining Kintzler, the Nationals enter the season in a unique spot: without huge questions about their bullpen. Last year, after whiffing on a couple closers in free agency, the club waited until the end of spring training to name their closer. Blake Treinen was the choice, with Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover as his primary setup men. By mid-April, the bullpen was a debacle.

This year, the roles are defined from the start, filled by three relievers who weren’t around last spring. Barring a unforeseen development, Doolittle is the closer, Madson gets the eighth inning, and the seventh is Kintzler’s. That’s reassuring to everyone involved, from the front office…

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