Grant Balfour free agency: Nationals showing interest

Leon Halip

The closer is still a free agent after his deal with the Baltimore Orioles fell apart.

The Washington Nationals are interested in free agent closer Grant Balfour, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Balfour nearly signed with the Baltimore Orioles in December for two years and $15 million, but the deal fell apart when the Orioles found something that they didn't like on the pitcher's physical exam. The problem was initially thought to be in the 36-year-old's shoulder, but it was later revealed that concerns about his wrist and knee scared off the team.

More on Balfour & the Nationals: Visit Federal Baseball

Balfour spent the last three seasons with the Oakland Athletics. He became the team's closer during the 2012 season and wound up saving 62 games combined over the last two years while striking out a batter per inning. Overall, his stint in Oakland resulted in a 2.53 ERA and a 2.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just under 200 frames.

The right-hander's strong late-inning resume appeals to the Nationals. The team currently has a trio of quality arms at the back of its bullpen, but each pitcher carries reason for worry. Tyler Clippard, who has an impressive 2.77 ERA over six seasons in Washington, became the closer in 2012 and saved 32 games; however, he posted an 8.10 ERA and three losses in September of that year, so the team may be wary of relying on him in that role for a full season again.

Rafael Soriano was signed to replace Clippard in the 9th inning and had a strong year in 2013, posting 43 saves in 49 chances with a 3.11 ERA. However, if he finishes 62 games next season, his $14 million option automatically vests for 2015. That's not an amount of money that the club is willing to spend on an aging late-inning reliever who is already showing signs of decline, so it would be convenient if it had another option with finish games in order to avoid paying out that option.

Meanwhile, Drew Storen posted the worst ERA of his career (4.52) in 2013 despite strong peripheral stats which mirrored his career averages. He was likely the victim of a bit of bad luck, as his .319 batting average on balls in play far exceeded his career average of .282. Storen is set to earn $3.45 million next year, a number which will rise quickly as he pushes farther into his arbitration years, and Rosenthal reports that the Nationals are interested in trading him.

Washington recently signed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond to two-year contracts, but both deals are heavily back-loaded. With the payroll space saved in the relatively cheap first years of those deals, plus the savings from a potential Storen trade, the team should have enough money to sign Balfour. The extra money owed to Zimmermann and Desmond in 2015 would then be freed up when Soriano comes off the books at the end of this season.

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