These next five days are going to be all about Masahiro Tanaka. The right-hander has until 5pm ET on Friday to sign with an MLB team, otherwise he’ll return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles for another year. I don’t see him returning to Japan. Especially not with five clubs reportedly making nine-figure offers. The Yankees are said to be one of those teams.
New York will not make another major move until the Tanaka situation is resolved — every club seems to be doing the same thing — and while adding a starter should be the top priority, the team also needs to fill out its bullpen. Just yesterday we heard they are seeking a proven late-inning arm to pair with David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton. Add a bullpen arm is a necessity more than a luxury at this point.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Nationals would like to trade current setup man and former closer Drew Storen. Washington is in the mix for the still available Grant Balfour, and trading Storen would be a cost-saving move. Does the 26-year-old right-hander make sense for the bullpen-needy Yankees? Let’s look.
- From his big league debut in May 2010 through the 2012 season, Storen posted a 2.96 ERA (3.13 FIP) with good to great strikeout (8.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (2.80 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%), and ground ball (45.9%) rates in 161 innings. He also handled lefties (.261 wOBA against) as well as he handled righties (.270).
- Storen is one of those rare relievers who will use four pitches regularly: mid-90 two and four-seam fastballs, upper-80s changeup, and low-80s slider. That deep arsenal is why he had no platoon split.
- The only thing Storen has not done in his short career is be a long reliever. He has experience closing (52-for-60 in save chances from 2010-12), he’s been a setup man, and he did the middle relief thing earlier in his career. Nothing would be new to him.
- Storen will earn $3.45M next season, his second of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. He has at least one minor league option remaining and will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season.
- Storen was not particularly good last season, pitching to a 4.52 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 61.2 innings while spending roughly two weeks in Triple-A. Lefties destroyed him (.347 wOBA against) and he had a career worst homer rate (1.02 HR/9) as well.
- Surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow limited Storen to only 30.1 innings in 2012. His fastball velocity has slipped a bit over the years and his slider whiff rate last year (11.44%) was way lower than the previous three years (15.49%).
- Storen has had some high-profile meltdowns, specifically blowing a two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2012 NLDS. The Nationals clearly lost confidence in him after that even though they insist otherwise.
It’s possible Storen’s issues last year were related to simple bad ball-in-play luck — his career-high .319 BABIP in 2013 was way higher than his .267 mark from 2010-12. Weird stuff like that can happen when you’re talking about a game that involves hitting a round ball with a
round cylindrical bat onto a large swath of grass, especially in the confines of 60-something innings. The elbow surgery, slight velocity decline, and possible confidence hit from blowing the 2012 NLDS may have also been (and likely were) factors.
Given his poor year and the fact that the Nationals have made it clear they’ve lost faith in him, Storen qualifies as a buy-low candidate. He’s still young and the upside is three years of an above-average to lights out late-inning reliever. If worse comes to worst, he could always be non-tendered. It’s difficult to come up with trades involving similar relievers at similar points of their career (Mark Melancon? Addison Reed? Ernesto Frieri?), so who knows what it would take to acquire him. Bill Ladson says the Nationals are looking to trade for a backup catcher, but I doubt Austin Romine gets it down without a good secondary piece. (I don’t mean Eduardo Nunez either.)
It’s worth pointing out that the Yankees drafted Storen out of high school back in the day (34th round in 2007), so they liked him at some point in the not too distant past. There is a tiny bit of familiarity there, but, even if there wasn’t, the club needs late-inning bullpen help and Storen looked to be on the path to becoming one of the best relievers in the game less than 18 months ago. Washington has soured on him and, like teammate Danny Espinosa, there might be an opportunity for the Yankees to acquire him for 75 cents on the dollar. There are some red flags, no doubt, but the same is true of every available reliever.