The Chicago Cubs have a closer opening and have initial interest in trading for either Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard to fill it, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.
The Cubs’ interest has yet to spark substantive talks, it appears. But the Nationals are aware of the Cubs’ interest and would be willing to listen to the Cubs’ offers for the two young relievers, and close friends, who have formed the backbone of the Nationals’ bullpen for the past four seasons.
“You can never be close-minded about a trade,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said, speaking in general terms. “Teams ask for different guys all the time. We’re open-minded, and we certainly listen to all ideas and weigh all options. If something makes sense for us, we’re certainly not afraid to make a trade.”
Storen, who saved 43 games in 2011, lost his closer’s job after the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano in the wake of Storen’s disastrous blown save in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. Storen experienced an uneven season as Davey Johnson toggled him between roles in 2013 and eventually was sent to Class AAA Syracuse. Once he returned, Storen salvaged his season with an excellent final six weeks.
Storen is a “Super Two” player entering his second of four seasons eligible for arbitration. Storen figures to make between $3 million and $3.5 million in 2014. He has been part of the Nationals’ core since they chose him with the 10th overall pick in 2009.
“I’ve said since Day 1 – I want to stay in D.C., ideally for my whole career,” Storen said earlier this offseason. “It’s tough when you’re a bullpen guy. It’s one of those things, I think after I dealt with it in 2011, you just become detached from it all. You just really don’t know. After a while, you just let chips fall where they may. There’s just no way to control it.”
Clippard has been one of the most durable and most consistent relievers in baseball since his first full season as a big league reliever in 2010. Over the past four seasons, Clippard leads all relievers with 323 innings and has punched up a 2.73 ERA. In 2012, after Storen underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow, Clippard converted 32 saves.
Clippard may not be a realistic option for the Cubs, who are limited in how much salary they can add. He will likely make more than $6 million in arbitration this season, and will receive another in 2015, his final year before he becomes eligible for free agency. Plus, some rival evaluators are concerned about the amount of wear on his arm. Despite consistently strong performance, Clippard may not have high value as a trade chip.
If the Nationals dealt either Clippard or Storen, they would be able to fill a vacancy. Soriano, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Ross Ohlendorf and Xavier Cedeno will all return. The Nationals also hope to get oft-injured Christian Garcia back after he missed all of 2013 on the disabled list with various ailments.
The Nationals have been seeking a left-handed reliever to add to their bullpen mix and, while they have been in touch with a bevy of free agent options, are open to filling the need through a trade. The Cubs could offer James Russell, who held left-handed hitters to a .183 average last season and posted a 3.59 ERA in 74 appearances. Conversely, right-handed batters punched up a ghastly 1.033 OPS against him in 2013.
The Nationals had some interest in Cubs left-handed hitting outfielder Nate Schierholtz at the trade deadline this year. But he would be redundant after the Nationals agreed to terms on a deal with Nate McLouth this week.