By acquiring Drew Storen Friday, the Toronto Blue Jays addressed their biggest remaining need. At the same time, the trade raises questions about the back of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, where Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna would join Storen unless they’re stretched out for the starting rotation.
Asked who will close in 2016, general manager Ross Atkins simply said the Blue Jays have options and value flexibility. Osuna, who finished the season as Toronto’s closer, will be one leading option. Storen, who has 95 career saves, will be another.
The Blue Jays will discuss those possibilities internally in the weeks leading up to spring training, looping in the players themselves. Storen hasn’t talked to the Blue Jays about his role just yet, but the 28-year-old’s been involved in enough closer controversies to have the speech perfected. If he’s worried about his role, he’s not letting on.
“Honestly, it’s something for me that’s not all that important," he said. “I know no matter what that any of those last nine outs are important. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll just go out there and do my job."
The addition of Storen also makes it much easier to contemplate stretching out Sanchez, Osuna, or even both. Doing so a year or two from now could be challenging, Atkins acknowledged.
With a career ERA of 3.02, nearly one strikeout per inning pitched and a fastball that averages 94 mph, Storen can lock down the late innings for the Blue Jays if needed. That addition cost the Blue Jays Ben Revere, who will be replaced in left field by Michael Saunders.
Though Storen has thrived in and out of the closer’s role over the course of six MLB seasons, the 2009 first-round pick struggled after the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon last summer. At the time he had 29 saves with a 1.73 ERA, but after the trade he posted an ugly 6.75 ERA. Storen attributes the drop-off in production to the fact that he wasn’t able to establish a rhythm following the role change, partly because he’d warm up without entering games.
"Instead of getting those couple days off, you’re constantly treading water," he explained. "I’ve set up before and succeeded at it, it’s just a matter of getting some rest in in between."
It was an unpleasant finish to a seven-year stint in Washington, so Storen wasn’t necessarily surprised when his GM interrupted his binge of Netflix's Making a Murderer. "I got a call from Mike Rizzo and I figured he wasn’t calling to wish me Happy New Year," Storen said.
Still, the right-hander didn’t sound bitter about leaving the organization that selected him 10th overall in 2009.
"It is a fresh start, but there were also great times with the Nationals," he said. "This game’s full of adversity and any time I’ve had it, I’ve gotten better from it."
Unlike Revere, Storen is strictly a rental who's set to hit free agency this off-season. If he can replicate his 2015 numbers -- 3.44 ERA, 29 saves, 67 strikeouts, 55 innings -- he'll be in high demand.
He joins a Blue Jays bullpen that would look stacked if Osuna and Sanchez join Brett Cecil in the late innings. Now the losses of Mark Lowe and Liam Hendriks don’t loom so large and there’s still the possibility that the Blue Jays make more moves before spring training begins next month. They’re actively looking for upgrades.
"We haven’t stopped," Atkins said. "We haven’t let up for one second. For this one move that we’ve made that’s worthy of getting on a conference call today, there’s been hundreds of discussions of potential other ones. And we still have ongoing discussions, obviously."
For now, the Blue Jays have addressed their biggest need, and though parting with a valuable player like Revere surely hurts, they dealt from a position of depth. Saunders should start the spring at full strength, according to Toronto’s medical staff.
"It’s a good baseball trade," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said Saturday. "We get ourselves a good left-handed hitting outfielder, plays all three positions, can hit at the top of the order, can steal you a base, brings you energy, brings you a smile to the ballpark every night, and they get themselves a quality pitcher."
Atkins described the deal using the exact same words: "a good baseball trade." Now that his first major deal as a GM is complete, the next challenge will be fitting the pieces together.