We've taken a look at a few of the options on the free agent market already, but there are still plenty of quality relievers to ponder, and many of them have experience in the 9th inning. That includes Drew Storen, who's gone from saving 40 games to falling on some hard times.
Storen was a Top-10 pick in the 2009 draft, when the Nationals took him with the idea of fast-tracking him to the closer's role. He debuted less than a year later in May 2010, then notched 43 saves in 2011 at the age of 23. He missed the first half of the 2012 season after undergoing surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow, but regained the 9th inning job by the end of the season. In the Nationals' first ever playoff series, Storen succumbed to Cardinals Devil Magic in Game 5, seeing a 7-5 lead with two outs in the 9th inning evaporate into a 9-7 loss after allowing a pair of two-run singles to Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma.
The Nationals signed Rafael Soriano that winter after the meltdown, and Storen struggled in 2013 following his demotion to middle relief, putting up an ERA of 4.52 (3.62 FIP) in 61.2 innings and getting sent down to Triple-A for a part of the season. He rebounded in 2014, though, putting up arguably the best season of his career with a 1.12 ERA (2.71 FIP) in 56.1 innings and taking back the closer's role after Soriano went up in flames.
Storen entered the 2015 season with the comfort of knowing the 9th inning was his and his alone. He had a 1.89 ERA and 27 saves in the first half of the season, carried a 4.75 K:BB ratio, and was striking out batters at a higher rate than he ever had in his big league career. Then the Nationals went and traded for Jonathan Papelbon anyway, Papelbon was a disaster and tried to choke out Bryce Harper, and Storen imploded after being bumped to the 8th inning.
The slide for Storen didn’t stop there. He was traded to Toronto last winter for Ben Revere, pitched even worse than he did during the second half of 2015 in Washington, and was dealt again to Seattle in exchange for Joaquin Benoit. Storen was able to restore a little bit of his value with the Mariners, putting up a 3.44 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 19 appearances and cutting down his walks to 1.5 BB/9. The Mariners have shown some interest in bringing him back, but Storen is said to be looking for a chance to close again.
As it turns out, the Brewers could be an ideal landing spot for a former closer looking to return to prominence. As a guy who's had his job stolen from underneath him twice despite performing well, he may appreciate the fact there are no clear secondary options on the Brewers' roster that could end up usurping his role in the near future, and as a rebuilding team, the Brewers aren't about to go out and trade for another closer -- especially at the prices they're commanding this year.
There's enough there with his short turnaround in Seattle to be optimistic about his future. The fact his strikeout rates never took a nosedive even when he was struggling would seem to show his stuff is still there -- his K% typically hovers between 20 and 21%, and has never dropped below that point. When he's run into trouble in the past, it's been an issue of walks and bad BABIP luck.
His bad seasons see him putting up walk percentages north of 7%, but he was able to cut that down to less than 6% last season. Unfortunately, that was undone by a .320 BABIP that led to a pretty poor strand rate -- only 69.5% of baserunners were left on base, and plenty of them scored, especially during his time in Toronto. As a sinker/slider guy with respectable but not overpowering strikeout numbers, Storen relies on his defense to help him to record one or two of those 9th inning outs. An improved defensive infield for the Brewers could help him see continued success.
His rocky history may be a cause for concern, but it could also be an opportunity for the Brewers to also secure him on a cheaper deal. Storen earned $8.375 million last year in his last year of arbitration and a raise from that seems unlikely given his last couple seasons, although an open market deal for two or so years at $8 million per wouldn't be too surprising. Stearns won't pay for saves, but Storen has had a history of success, and like Francisco Rodriguez, could rebuild his value in Milwaukee to the point of being an attractive option for a team that fancies itself a contender.
Statistics courtesy Baseball Reference and FanGraphs