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On paper the Nationals appear to have few needs heading into the 2014 season, but a report on Sunday singles out a new area they hope to improve.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com says the Nationals are interested in free agent closer Grant Balfour, and may be willing to trade Drew Storen to make it work financially. As of now the Nats have Rafael Soriano as their primary closer and Storen figures to be next in line. Trading Storen, Rosenthal says, would free up another $3.45 million.
Balfour, 36, agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles back in December, but the team backed out due to concerns with his physical. That would be something to watch if the Nationals do indeed bring him in.
Soriano saved 43 games for Washington in 2013 after signing a two-year free agent deal last offseason. He is set to make $11 million in 2014 and, if he finishes 62 games, has a $14 million vesting option the following season. The Nats would like to avoid that scenario, Rosenthal says.
Soriano's save total and ERA (3.11) were consistent with what the Nats expected of him in 2013. But the veteran often made matters a little too interesting and blew a career-high six saves. Even when he closed out games he would often start counts out at 3-0 or let several runners on base before securing outs.
Storen is an adequate back-up plan, he himself saved 43 games himself in 2011 and looked great down the stretch in 2013. The 26-year-old, however, was on the mound for the team's epic collapse in the 2012 NLDS. He failed in the franchise's biggest moment and they may not be willing to give him a second chance.
Balfour, on the other hand, has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball over the last two seasons. Last year he saved a career-best 38 games for the Oakland Athletics in 41 opportunities. He also saved 24 games in 2012, his first full year on the job.
Balfour came up big for the Athletics in pennant races the last two years, but does have a recent playoff implosion of his own. In Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers Balfour took the loss after allowing a walkoff sacrifice fly to Don Kelly. This was after he loaded the bases on a pair of singles and an intentional walk with one out.
Balfour was much better in last year's playoffs, making three appearances with zero runs allowed. Overall he has a 3.20 ERA in 20 postseason games dating back to his days with the Twins, Brewers and Rays.
According to Rosenthal, the Nationals signed Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to two-year deals not only to avoid arbitration, but also to free up money for another free agent. Now it appears Balfour could be the guy.
If the Nationals were to sign Balfour, it would be yet another late offseason splash for the franchise. Under general manager Mike Rizzo the Nationals have shown a willingness to make a big move right before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.