Late Friday night, longtime Washington Nationals reliever Drew Storen was watching Netflix’s popular documentary “Making A Murderer” when General Manager Mike Rizzo called to talk. “I figured he wasn’t calling to wish me a happy New Year,” Storen said Saturday. He was right.
Rizzo — who drafted Storen 10th overall in 2009, brought him quickly to the major league bullpen as a closer and later removed him from that role — called to tell Storen he had been traded to Toronto for Blue Jays outfielder Ben Revere, ending the team’s emotional, up-and-down, seven-year relationship with the team’s homegrown reliever. Storen was part of both the highs and lows in franchise history, from the division titles to the gut-wrenching playoff meltdowns.
“The one thing Drew and I can say honestly is we’ve had some difficult conversations but we’ve had ’em eye to eye, man to man,” Rizzo said on a conference call with reporters on Saturday morning. “This is a guy who cared about the organization and really handled himself in a professional way every single time. I’m proud to say he’s a product of the Washington Nationals scouting and player development system, and performed admirably for us in the big leagues and wish him nothing but the best in Toronto.”
Storen leaves a fascinating legacy in Washington. He was a fan favorite, a well-liked teammate who was part of the Nationals’ turnaround and is second all-time in team history with 95 saves. But he is also the symbol of the Nationals’ playoff struggles, with blown saves in the 2012 and 2014 National League Division Series. The relationship between Storen and Nationals officials frayed in the offseason before 2013 and in July 2015 when the team acquired closers — Rafael Soriano and Jonathan Papelbon — to replace to him. Now Storen gets a fresh start with the Blue Jays, where he could set up or close.
“I was fine either way, (staying or going),” Storen said during his conference call with Toronto reporters. “I enjoy all the guys in D.C. They’ve been great to me so I’ll miss them. Also, I’m realistic. I knew there was a possibility I might get moved so I prepared for this season no different than any other. Now, it’s nice to know what I’m getting ready for.”
Although Rizzo maintained publicly he didn’t need to trade Storen or Papelbon this offseason, he had been fielding offers for both. Storen had far more trade value than Papelbon, who has a limited no-trade clause, an $11 million salary 2016 and a checkered reputation that includes choking Bryce Harper in the dugout. The day after Storen’s trade, Rizzo again wouldn’t commit to trading Papelbon unless there was a good offer, which may not thrill some fans.
“We see Papelbon as being one of our late-inning relievers,” Rizzo said. “He’s been very effective at it his entire career, including last year, except for the last portion of the season. This guy’s a quality reliever, quality closer, and the biggest stage that you can be in — pitched the last out of a World Series game and got a World Series ring. He knows how to win. He brings a swagger to the bullpen.”
Rizzo mentioned Shawn Kelley, one of the relievers signed this offseason in the overhauled Nationals bullpen, as a potential set-up candidate to replace Storen. He suggested Trevor Gott, Felipe Rivero, Blake Treinen and Yusmeiro Petit could help, too. As a whole this offseason, the Nationals have added three left-handed bats to balance out a once right-handed-heavy lineup, added high-contact low-strikeout hitters, and rebuilt the bullpen.
“I don’t see any major needs that we haven’t addressed right now,” said Rizzo, who said something similar earlier in the week before the Storen-Revere trade. “If we were to open the season tomorrow, we’d be very satisfied and happy with the roster as it is.”
In Revere, the Nationals have a 27-year-old outfielder who is fast (he has averaged 35 stolen bases a season since 2011); is left-handed; hits for average (a .295 career mark); can lead off and strikes out little (9.3 percent strikeout rate since 2011); and can play all three outfield positions, including center field. Revere, close friends with former Nationals center fielder Denard Span from their time in Minnesota together, also knows the division well having spent two and half seasons with the Phillies before a July trade to Toronto. He doesn’t offer much power (“don’t forget his singles turn into doubles,” Rizzo said), doesn’t walk much and has one of the weakest outfield arms in baseball.
“Beyond that, he has good range, angles, routes to the baseball,” Rizzo said. “… With Revere and [Michael A.] Taylor you’ve got yourself two of the best defensive guys in the league, and we feel good about both of those guys defensively.”
The presence of Revere perhaps supplants Taylor as the projected starting center fielder. Rizzo said it “remains to be seen” if Revere is the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter but later extolled Revere’s qualities as a leadoff hitter. Jayson Werth will be 37 in May and has suffered several injuries over the past few years, so Revere and Taylor may both still get plenty of playing time, with Matt den Dekker as their back-ups.
“We’ve given our manager Dusty Baker a lot of different options, a lot of different ways to go,” Rizzo said.
Toronto will also be sending Washington a player to be named. Three times — Ross Detwiler for prospects, Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar and now Storen for Revere — the Nationals have traded relievers a year away from free agency. The Nationals also included cash in the deal — a significant amount, according to a person familiar with the situation. Storen is projected to make $8.8 million in his final year of arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors.com, while Revere is expected to earn about $6.7 million in arbitration and is under team control for two seasons.
“To acquire players and give up money to make deals, I think that’s something the Lerner family allowed us to do,” Rizzo said. “And it’s something that really can impact your depth because you’re not only getting Ben Revere, but you’re also getting another player that can help you in the minor league depth and possibly in the big leagues sometime.”