Add MASNSports.com's Dan Kolko's name to the growing list of baseball writers whose sources have told them that the Washington Nationals are at least interested in 36-year-old free agent closer Grant Balfour.
After FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal and nationals.com writer Bill Ladson wrote on Sunday about Balfour being on the Nats' radar, MASN's Nats beat writer reported this morning that he had, "checked in with a league source yesterday," who told him, "...that the Nats have indeed expressed interest in Balfour."
Balfour, FOXSports.com's Mr. Rosenthal wrote, "could give the Nationals a late-inning alternative to [Rafael] Soriano in ’14 and a full-time alternative in ’15 as well." Nationals.com's Mr. Ladson wrote that if Balfour, "...joined the Nationals, he would likely be a setup man."
Both writers also noted that their sources said 26-year-old, '09 1st Round pick Drew Storen, who avoided arbitration and signed a 1-year/$3.45M deal for 2014 last week, could potentially become available should the Nationals sign Balfour. "They likely prefer Clippard as a setup man," Rosenthal wrote, "and, according to sources, would like to trade Storen."
Storen, who was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2009, debuted in 2010 and saved 43 games as the Nationals' closer in 2011.
Storen's third major league season started late, but after returning from elbow surgery, the right-hander came on strong late and ended up reclaiming the ninth inning role when Tyler Clippard (who saved 42 games while Storen recovered) faltered late in the 2012 campaign. Storen was, of course, on the mound in Game 5 of the NLDS when St. Louis rallied from an early deficit to win the decisive game of the series. Last winter, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo signed Soriano to a 2-year/$28M deal, though he assured reporters at the time that the decision had nothing to do with the way the 2012 campaign ended.
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"By no means [was] the signing of Rafael Soriano based on one inning and one game at the end of the season," the Nats' GM said. "[Storen] is a young closer that was thrust into the closer's role as a very young man and a very young major leaguer. We feel that we benefit having [Soriano] on the club not only by pitching the ninth inning, but also by mentoring a good young potential closer in Drew Storen."
• Note: Tyler Clippard made headlines when he talked openly about the message the Soriano signing sent to the rest of the team.
Is Rizzo now interested in adding another veteran closer as insurance for and a possible successor to Soriano?
Balfour thought he had a 2-year/$15M deal with the Orioles earlier this winter, but Baltimore backed out over concerns with what they saw in his medical reports. Though initial reports said the Orioles were concerned about Balfour's right shoulder, a subsequent report by ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote on Twitter last week said that the, "...red flags that came up about Grant Balfour's physical state were about his wrist and knee, and not about his shoulder."
In an MLB Network Radio interview after the deal with the O's fell through in December, Balfour assured the hosts he was in fact 100% healthy. "I've pitched in 65 games," he said. "I've converted 55 of 58 saves. I was an All-Star last year. I finished the year with three innings, no runs and three strikeouts [in the postseason]. I was throwing 94-95. I haven't had a DL stint in eight years for my arm. Period. And I've got two well-respected doctors in Dr. Koko Eaton and Dr. Timothy Kremcheck telling me that I'm fine and my MRIs from three years ago when the A's signed me has not changed one bit."
Though he wouldn't name specific teams, Balfour said then that four teams had expressed interest when his deal with Baltimore fell through and he had at least one offer at the time. "I'm looking to be a closer," Balfour said. "I feel that I've done a great job there and I feel that I can continue to do that." Asked if he would take a low-base, incentive-laden deal to prove his worth, the veteran reliever said he didn't think he had anything to prove.
"I don't think I have to prove that I'm healthy," Balfour explained. "I am healthy. I don't have to prove that I'm healthy. I've proved what I can do in the past. I don't have to prove to anyone that I'm healthy."
A month later, he's still unsigned, however. Will the Nationals be willing to take a risk the Orioles weren't for the hard-throwing right-hander who put up a 2.59 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 27 walks (3.88 BB/9) and 72 Ks (10.34 K/9) in 65 games and 62 2/3 IP for the Oakland A's in 2013 over which he earned 38 saves and was worth +0.6 fWAR?
• Listen to Balfour's MLB Network Radio interview from December:
Audio: Grant Balfour says he doesn't need to prove anything with an incentive laden deal, "I am healthy" https://t.co/w2muM5alEE
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) December 22, 2013
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