Long is the list of closers who've taken the circuitous route to ninth-inning stardom. Their stories makefor great narratives about perseverence. Some, like Sergio Santos, are failed position players who just so happened to be blessed with lightening bolts for right arms. Others, like Mariano Rivera, slogged through underwhelming starting careers before finding a home in the bullpen.
None of that applies to Drew Storen.
The Nats drafted the hot-shot closer out of Stanford with their second first-round pick in 2009 — you might have heard of their other first-rounder that year, Stephen Strasburg — at No. 10 overall. Storen made a grand total of 41 minor league appearances in late 2009 and early 2010 before getting The Call.
Some questioned the Nats' decision to take a closer so early in the draft, and many still would, but Storen hasn't disappointed on the promise he flashed as an amateur. He's logged a solid season of setup work as a rookie in 2010 (with five saves sprinkled in) and followed that up with an even better year as Washington's full-time closer in 2011. And with arbitration eligibility looming (as a likely Super Two) for Storen after what will presumably be another full season of closing in 2012, he's on the verge of getting pricey, which is why the Nats may be inclined to explore an extension for the right-hander.
As Matt Swartz explained in October, saves is one of the stats afforded substantial weight in arbitration hearings. Storen, if he gets through 2012 with his job and health intact, should head to arbitration with a conservative estimate of 80 career saves — and perhaps as many 95 or so. For reference, Brad Lidge, then of the Astros, was awarded $3.9MM as a first-time arbitration eligible closer after the 2005 season. Lidge, like Storen, was a setup man in his first big league season before spending the next two as a closer, during which time he piled up 72 saves. The Red Sox's Andrew Bailey also settled for $3.9MM this offseason after spending the first three years of his career as the Athletics' closer, netting 75 career saves, although he spent time on the DL in two of those three years.
So, Storen will likely seek about $4MM next offseason, and probably more. Of course, his salaries will only go up from there, likely breaking into the eight-figure range by his final year (or two) of arbitration eligibility, a la Jonathan Papelbon. The Nationals have deep pockets, but the idea of paying a closer that much — through arbitration, no less — can't sit well with many teams.
Interestingly, the Nationals have already shown a willingness to explore trading Storen, so I'd guess they're not interested in the kind of extension that would buy many, if any, years of free agency unless Storen were willing to surrender one or more at a pretty steep discount, which probably doesn't interest him in light of the kind of deals free-agent closers landed this offseason.
All that said, I think it would make sense for both sides to reach an extension of something like four years (beginning in 2013) and $22-24MM, which is similar to what Ben Nicholson-Smith recently prescribed for John Axford and the Brewers, with an extra year tacked on to account for Storen's likely Super Two status. At that rate, Storen would probably be leaving some money on the table — perhaps something like $10-12MM overall if he continues to produce like he did in 2011 — in exchange for security, but it's not a bad strategy for a 24-year-old who is slated to hit free agency in his prime but whose lifeblood is a role rather predisposed to volatility.
We haven't heard much about an extension for Storen yet, but whether such a deal would prove prudent for either team or player would largely depend on if this fast-riser is able to continue along on his path to elite-closer status.