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.

Royals sign Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal

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Free agent outfielder Michael Saunders has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Royals, the team announced Friday. While the move comes just two days after Saunders agreed to terms with the Pirates, he allegedly asked for his release after the club acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson in a multi-player swap with the Rays on Thursday.

After earning his first spot on an All-Star team in 2016, Saunders followed up a solid campaign with a career-worst performance in 2017. The 31-year-old split the season between the Phillies and Blue Jays’ camps, batting a combined .202/.256/.344 with six home runs and -0.7 fWAR in 234 plate appearances. Although he remained healthy throughout the year, with no sign of the lingering hamstring strain that has plagued him on and off since 2013, he wasn’t productive enough to merit a full-time role on either roster.

With Dickerson slated for a starting role in Pittsburgh, it was unlikely that Saunders would have commanded anything other than a backup role in 2018. Now, however, he’ll compete for playing time amid a slew of outfield options, including Alex Gordon, Cody Asche, Jorge Bonifacio, Tyler Collins and Paulo Orlando.