FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote in a January 19, 2014 article about sources of his who told him the Washington Nationals were interested in free agent reliever Grant Balfour, the 36-year-old now-former Oakland A's closer who ended up signing with the Tampa Bay Rays. This past weekend at NatsFest in the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, Nats' General Manager Mike Rizzo confirmed that the Nationals pursued Balfour.
"We were in on Balfour," Rizzo said. "We thought that there was a value there." The veteran reliever opted to play closer to his Florida home according to the Nationals' GM.
In addition to what his sources told him about the Nats' interest in Balfour, FOXSports.com's Mr. Rosenthal reported that he was told the Nationals, "...would like to trade [Drew] Storen, who will earn $3.45 million this season."
The day before the bow-tied reporter's rumor-filled story was published, Storen -- coming off an up-and-down 2013 campaign which saw the 26-year-old '09 1st Round pick finish at +0.2 fWAR with a 4.52 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 19 walks (2.77 BB/9) and 58 Ks (8.46 K/9) in 68 games and 61 2/3 innings pitched -- avoided arbitration and signed a 1-year/$3.45M contract for 2014 that reportedly includes $1M in performance-based bonuses based on games finished. It was a tough year for Storen, which saw him return to the minors for the first time since 2010 (not counting rehab work in 2012).
The 10th overall pick of the 2009 Draft had a 5.95 ERA in 47 games before he was optioned out in July, with opposing hitters putting up a .295/.346/.486 line against him in 42 1/3 IP in which he walked 13 (2.74 BB/9) and struck out 43 (9.14 K/9). Upon returning to the majors from the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, with a reworked delivery, Storen put together a strong stretch of 19 1/3 IP from mid-August through September over which the right-hander walked six (2.79 BB/9), struck out 15 (6.98 K/9) and posted a 1.40 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .200/.263/.214 line. What was different?
"I just got back to throwing the way I used to throw," Storen said when he spoke to reporters in his own interview at NatsFest last weekend. "That's being dynamic and athletic and attacking guys and utilizing my defense. I think that was my main mindset. Not trying to do too much. And I think going down [to Triple-A] kind of helped figure out who I was a little bit and that I don't need to go out there and try throw the perfect pitch every time. I can go out and attack guys."
Tyler Clippard, Storen's teammate and one-time roommate, said he expects a big season from his fellow reliever in 2014.
"I think he's going to have a great year," Clippard said. "I think everyone in their career needs to hit a few road bumps to kind of take that next step. And we've all seen Drew progress, but he's progressed in the big leagues. A lot of people have to do all that stuff in the minor leagues and he got a taste if it for, I think it was a couple of weeks in Triple-A, but when he came back he had his nose to the grind, and I think he's carried that over into the offseason and he'll carry it into this season and I think he's going to have a great year."
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Figuring out where he'd gone astray was part of the process of getting over the "road bumps" Storen ran into last season, and the one-time closer who will likely pitch in a set-up role again this season while Rafael Soriano closes games, said it was about not thinking and tinkering and instead just throwing.
"It's part of being competitive," Storen explained. "I think no matter what you do, you're always looking to get better and sometimes [when you're] focusing on a weakness you forget your strengths at some points. So, I think for me, I got too mechanical. I was never somebody that was a real mechanical guy, I just went out and threw and attacked guys and once I realized that's just what I need to do and simplifying instead of trying to over-think everything and try to do too much and just get back to what we're supposed to do."
In the end, the trip to Triple-A may have been helpful."It wasn't ideal, obviously," Storen admitted, "but you can't argue with the results when I came back. So I'm happy with where I'm at right now and I think that's kind of the main thing."
Storen said he hasn't tinkered with his delivery much this winter as he prepares for Spring Training and his fifth major league season. "Not a whole lot of tweaking," he said, "it's just really going back to what I did. Keeping it simple and just trusting it, just having fun with it, that's where I've really been."
He's not letting the rumors bother him either.
"You’ve just got to brush it off," Storen said. "I find out about that stuff from you guys," he said to reporters. "You just kind of hang with’em a little bit. The amount of action my Zillow app would be getting if I was truly traded to all these different places would be kind of remarkable."
"Is it unsettling at all?" a reporter asked.
"No. It’s fine," Storen responded. "You don’t take it personally. It’s just part of it. It’s flattering that another team would want you too. You have to look at it from all angles. And this is a great team, obviously I don’t want to go anywhere. So, it’s just part of the business. Nothing new."
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