On Sunday morning, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Washington Nationals have expressed interest in free agent closer Grant Balfour. Rosenthal also stated that Washington would is interested in trading Drew Storen. If anything comes of this rumor, it’s that the Nationals have a lack of confidence in Rafael Soriano.
In 2013, Balfour pitched a solid season for the Oakland Athletics. In more than 62.2 innings, he pitched to a 2.59 ERA and finished with 38 saves. He struck out 72 batters while walking 27. Balfour also earned the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. He wasn’t the league’s best, but he certainly was a reliable arm out of the ‘pen for the Athletics.
Back in Washington, well, Soriano didn’t have as smooth a season as everyone would have liked to see. Soriano pitched to a 3.11 ERA with 43 saves and six blown saves. He was a strike out-minded pitcher and finished with 51. However, when you’re a strike out pitcher, you’re playing with fire. When your playing with fire, you’re going to get burned, and Soriano often got burned later in the season.
While statistically he looks good, on the field, he was inconsistent. As the season wore on, it wasn’t uncommon to see him allow a base runner, or two, and make a for a difficult save. Soriano was certainly a step up from Henry Rodriguez, but there is still room for improvement at closer.
So, the fact that the Nationals have expressed interest in Balfour shows that they are cautiously confident Soriano. Since they back-loaded the two-year contracts of Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann, they have some money to play around with before Spring Training begins. If they want to ink Balfour to a one-year contract, they can do that.
Another little tid-bit that Rosenthal presents in his article is the fact that there is a special clause in Soriano’s contract. If he finishes 120 games over the course of the 2013-14 seasons, then they are required to pick up his $14 million option in 2015. Right now, that number sits at 58. So, if he finishes 62 games this season, he’s guaranteed a $14 million pay day next year. If he pitches inconsistently like he did at times last year, that’s an awful lot for the Nationals to fork over to someone not worth the money.
By signing Balfour and adding a second closer, Tyler Clippard would likely become a setup man, which would cut the workload of Soriano in half and the likelihood of him getting to that 120 games finished mark decreases significantly. So, while it’s not exactly a blatant lack of confidence in their closer, this seems to be some caution there.
Earlier this offseason, the Baltimore Orioles pulled the plug on signing Balfour after he failed their physical. Since then, we haven’t heard much about him. If the Nationals are looking to sign him, they may not have much competition. If they do, then Soriano will be pitching for his job in 2014.