Spring Training Storylines: Drew Storen

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After a memorable run to the ALCS, it has been one of the most intriguing offseasons in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays. A front-office shakeup, the contract status of two beloved stars, and questions as to where the team stands among the MLB’s best has provided much fuel for discussion. Thankfully for fans, spring training is upon us, and with that, anticipation is building. Leading up to Opening Day 2016, Taylor Noble will be taking a look at some of the most prominent storylines facing this year’s edition of the Toronto Blue Jays. 

Like the majority of Blue Jays Nation, I was disappointed to see Ben Revere go this offseason. Defensively, he was easily the best player not named Kevin Pillar to man left field for the Jays last year (this catch during the ALCS still remains criminally underrated). When he got on base, the constant threat of him swiping an extra bag worked its way into opposing pitcher’s heads, keeping them constantly off-balance. Aside from that, he had many of the so-called “intangibles” GMs look for when putting together a championship club. In the brief time that he was here, I came to love and appreciate his attitude, work ethic, and of course, his sense of humour.

Even though Ben was only in Toronto a short while, I truly feel that he loved being a Blue Jay. In fact, there’s a garbage bin hiding somewhere in Kansas City that shows just how much he cared about this team.

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This is the crazy thing about baseball: even though I’m a huge fan of Ben Revere and upset he won’t be returning, as a fan, this trade gets me pretty excited. The reason being? Drew Storen is now a Blue Jay.

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In mid-February, Bluebird Banter stated that acquiring Storen was the move of the offseason. While hyper-critical fans may look at the recent string of high profile signings and trades and scoff at this idea, I find it almost impossible to not see the incredible value this adds to the club.

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On the individual level, the Jays have added a high-quality right arm to their bullpen. Storen’s 2015 numbers are right up there with Brett Cecil and Roberto Osuna, two relievers who found tremendous success last year once settled into their established roles. This powerful combination is reminiscent of the model developed by Kansas City, but also speaks to a more widespread trend of bullpen reliance and specialization.

Just imagine:

and:

PLUS:

It’s also important to keep in mind that Storen’s stats were drastically skewed by the latter half of the season. After posting a stellar 1.73 ERA during the first half of the season, the Nationals rewarded Storen by giving his job away to Jonathan Papelbon. The move drastically altered his play, as his ERA jumped to 7.13 after being relegated from closer to set-up man. I hope that Storen’s confidence is restored playing for a team that, from what I’ve seen so far, respects his talent and sees him as having a lot to offer. With the right support, he has the potential to become one of the league’s elite relievers.

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Side effects of ‘Papelbon’ include blinding rage, difficulty breathing, and reduced success as a baseball team. Consult your doctor to find out if ‘Papelbon’ is right for you. It probably isn’t.

Storen’s impact on the organization extends beyond simply strengthening the bullpen. His presence allows for incredible flexibility within the entire pitching staff. As I wrote about last week, the starting rotation has a spot that is essentially up for grabs. Adding Storen to the bullpen allows Aaron Sanchez (and some have even suggested Roberto Osuna) the opportunity to make the transition from reliever to starter. In the event Drew Hutchison or Jesse Chavez claim the last spot, the bullpen simply remains an embarrassment  of riches.

The major storyline surrounding Drew Storen this spring training is whether he or Roberto Osuna will be named the team’s closer. Admittedly, who gets designated as what during spring training is not set in stone – and both Storen and Osuna have experienced this firsthand. Storen has a long history of swapping roles in Washington, and Osuna took over closing duties for Brett Cecil last year.

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So far both players have stated that they will be happy to pitch wherever they are assigned, but this has done absolutely nothing to quiet the firestorm of speculation that is the Toronto media. Some have stated that while Roberto Osuna may be the future face of the Blue Jay’s bullpen, Storen provides them the best opportunity to win now. Others however, believe that the job is Osuna’s to lose after his phenomenal rookie season. (Editor’s note: yesterday, John Lott of Vice Sports took at look how this is a good problem to have for the Blue Jays. It’s worth a read.)

At this moment we know very little, as John Gibbons, unsurprisingly, is keeping his cards fairly close to his chest. As spring training continues and players see more game time, it will be interesting to see who Gibbons places where late in the game.

The speculation and discussion will continue as always, but there’s one thing that most Jays fans can agree on: it’s nice to finally have options.

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