The Nationals already have a bullpen that features three relievers who have saved at least 32 games in a season.
Could they be targeting one more?
FOXsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that the Nationals are “in the mix” for reliever Grant Balfour, the 36-year-old Australian who saved 38 games for the Athletics last season and has posted an ERA lower than 2.60 each of the last four years.
Balfour was close to signing a two-year, $15 million deal with the Orioles earlier this offseason, but the O’s backed out of the deal because of concerns found during Balfour’s physical, reportedly dealing with Balfour’s wrist and knee.
Should the Nationals be OK with what they see on a physical, however, Rosenthal reports that they have interest in adding the right-hander, potentially bolstering an already talented bullpen. I checked in with a league source yesterday, and he informed me that the Nats have indeed expressed interest in Balfour.
There are a couple of wrinkles that could come out of a potential deal between the Nats and Balfour. First is that current Nats closer Rafael Soriano has a clause in his contract which states that if he finishes 120 games between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, his $14 million team option for 2015 will vest. Soriano finished 58 games last season, so if he finishes 62 more in this upcoming campaign, Soriano will be back with the Nats for 2015.
In order to prevent that from happening, the Nats could end up leaning on their other late-inning relievers a little bit more in order to finish out games without using Soriano. Balfour could obviously help in that regard, given that he’s saved 62 games over the last two years.
Rosenthal also reports that if the Nats add Balfour, they would look to trade Drew Storen, who just avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $3.5 million deal with the Nats for 2014. The Nats have listened to trade offers for Storen throughout the offseason, but haven’t previously gotten a proposal that they feel is acceptable.
My thoughts on the potential Balfour addition are this: general manager Mike Rizzo is never afraid to make a bold move, and if he feels that adding Balfour gives the Nats the best chance to win, he’ll strongly consider the deal. Balfour has gotten a lot of attention in recent years for his on-field intensity, but he’s also one heck of a pitcher, and has posted strong numbers in his career not only against right-handed hitters, but also against lefties. (He’s held lefties to a .192/.268/.280 slash line over his career.)
If the Nats can get a solid piece or two back in return for Storen, they could add Balfour and be in good shape for 2014, with three talented hurlers who have closed (including Tyler Clippard) on board in their ‘pen. That said, it could also be a lot of cooks in the kitchen, as Clippard would prefer to be closing games, and Balfour seemingly would, as well. Adding Balfour would also likely send the Nats’ 2014 payroll even higher, as Balfour would likely earn more than the $3.5 million that Storen is set to earn this season.
Storen didn’t love the idea of being moved from the closer’s job to a role as a set-up guy last season, but he dealt with that frustration and posted strong numbers down the stretch in 2013 after a rocky period that landed him in Triple-A earlier in the year. He might be open to a trade that would land him with a new team and give him another chance to close, but such a deal would shake up a bullpen dynamic that has been fairly strong the last two years, even after Soriano’s addition made some waves last winter.
Soriano’s signing last year came pretty much out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people in the baseball community. Could Rizzo make a similar type of deal late in the offseason this year, adding Balfour and giving the Nats yet another reliever with closing experience?