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Could the Nationals really send Drew Storen to the minors?

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Aaron asked earlier today just how much spring stats actually matter. The general consensus is that they shouldn’t hold much weight, especially with more established players. For instance, the Orioles aren’t going to cut Luke Scott just because he entered tonight’s action with an .067 batting average over his first 30 at-bats this spring. They have the past to tell them that he’s probably going to be just fine when the games count.

But what about a former first-round pick reliever who has less than one year of major league experience under his belt?

Keep in mind, this is an unlikely scenario, but after Drew Storen gave up three runs — including a pair of home runs — in one inning against the Cardinals earlier today, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post presented an interesting scenario where the 23-year-old right-hander could begin the season in the minor leagues.

Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez are out of options. The Nationals signed Todd Coffey to a $1.35 million contract this offseason. Sean Burnett, dating back to last year and continuing this spring, has been awesome. Doug Slaten has an option remaining, but he and Burnett are the only left-handed relievers in camp.

There’s five of seven relief spots. Two remain for Storen, Broderick and Gaudin. Keeping both Broderick, 24, and Gaudin, 27, would make for an awkward bullpen composition – both are long-relief or back-of-the-rotation types. But Broderick, as a Rule 5 pick, would have to stay on the 25-man roster all season in order for the Nationals to keep him. And Gaudin would have to pass through waivers if the Nationals tried to send him to the minors, something one scout said will not happen.

With them both pitching so well this spring, the Nationals will have a tough decision to make. The surest way to hold on to all their talent would be send one of their relievers with options – Storen or Slaten – to Class AAA Syracuse to start the season.

And this wouldn’t just be about options or pausing his service time. Storen, who entered spring training as the favorite for the closer role, has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 14 hits over just 6 1/3 innings during exhibition action.

While I find this scenario logical and perhaps even plausible, most (including Kilgore) believe that Storen will be with the Nationals on Opening Day. And that’s the way it should be. Unless Storen is hiding an injury or has completely lost his mechanics, it’s unlikely that a handful of appearances will change the way the Nationals feel about him. At the very worst, Jim Riggleman may just use Tyler Clippard and/or Sean Burnett for early save chances.

Report: The Nationals are still in on Chris Sale and Andrew McCutchen

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 05: Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning on September 5, 2016 at U. S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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The Nationals are trying to go big this offseason, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes that they are still in trade talks for White Sox’ left-hander Chris Sale and Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Both players figure to command a big return, as Sale delivered another Cy Young-worthy performance in 2016 and, despite a downturn in his production rate, McCutchen is still one of the more coveted sluggers in the National League.

In 2016, Sale led the league in complete games, with six, and turned in a 3.34 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 226 2/3 innings. While teams have been sniffing around the White Sox’ ace since the trade deadline, the club is expected to maintain a high asking price — so high, said FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, that it may keep the left-hander in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

According to Heyman, four other teams are reportedly in the mix for Sale, including the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Braves, though parts of Rosenthal’s tweet hinted that the Red Sox were maintaining their interest in hopes of striking a more affordable deal. Should the Nationals pursue a deal for Sale, it’s likely that they’d have to move shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, which they appear reluctant to do.

McCutchen, meanwhile, is also drawing interest around the league after batting .256/.336/.430 with 24 home runs in 675 PA during 2016. He didn’t appear to lose much power in his eighth season with the Pirates, but took considerably fewer walks and struck out at a career-high clip.

The Nationals were said to be in the lead for McCutchen on Thursday, and there was some expectation that the club would wrap up a trade for the center fielder by the non-tender deadline on Friday. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi pointed out that the Rangers were also talking to the Pirates, however, and no deal has come to fruition as of yet.

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report: