Drew Storen arrived at the ballpark Sunday morning, just like he’s done every Sunday for the past 18 weeks, and he waited. All day, he waited for what could be coming: a trade that would take him from the only professional organization he had known.
In the bullpen at Nationals Park, Storen watched all afternoon as the clock ticked toward the 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline on what he called “probably the weirdest day of my career.”
Four minutes before the deadline, he stepped out of the bullpen between innings to throw with the outfielders and begin his warm up. He would pitch the ninth - an inning he would blow his fourth save of the season - and he would remain a Washington National. A half inning later, he was the winner - in more ways than one, in the 23-year-old closer’s eyes.
“I want to be a part of the core pieces here, and I want to be a part of turning this organization around,” Storen said, about an hour after a potential trade with the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Denard Span failed to materialize.
“I feel my heart’s here and that was kind of the toughest part. I really want to stay, but you’ve got to understand the business side. I understood it, but I was still torn emotionally. In the end, I’m happy.”
The Nationals appeared poised to make one of the bigger splashes at the trade deadline by acquiring a long-term answer in center field and at leadoff in Span. But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo thought the demands were too great. The deadline itself passed 40 minutes before the Nationals’ ninth-inning 3-2 victory over the Mets.
“We worked extremely hard to do the right thing and get the right player for the right return,” Rizzo said. “It just didn’t match up. It’s frustrating at times, but you can’t make a deal just to make a deal. The players that we were going to have to give up in return in our minds just didn’t fulfill what we were trying to do for the long term.
“We got to a very specific stage toward the deadline today, but it was to the point where we would have had to give in to their demand of certain players and we just didn’t feel good about doing it…. I’ve said from Day 1 that [Storen] is a cornerstone of the organization, and he’s asked for by every team that we talk to as the first name brought up. It’d have to be a special deal to make that work because he’s a special performer in a premium position. It just didn’t match up to our liking.”
The Nationals consider their outfield depth - particularly in center - to be the thinnest spot in their organization. They also lack a true leadoff hitter and have been hurt by a collection of players hitting .195 with a .264 on-base percentage from that spot. Sunday afternoon, Brian Bixler was playing center field and leading off for the first time in his career.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a busy deadline for Washington. On Saturday, the Nationals dealt veteran utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. to Milwaukee for Double-A outfielder Erik Komatsu and right-hander Jason Marquis to Arizona Single-A infielder Zachary Walters. And they acquired outfielder Jonny Gomes from Cincinnati on Tuesday.
But when the asking price for Span got too high, the Nationals opted not to bite. Instead, they held on to one of the game’s best young closers in Storen with the knowledge that holes remain.
In the roster’s current configuration, the center fielders are Rick Ankiel and Bixler, who is more of a super-utility player. Barring an injury, they will have to wait until at least Aug. 8 to recall Roger Bernadina - the man who had been considered their best option - from Triple-A Syracuse. Bernadina was sent down Friday to clear a roster space for right-hander Chien-Ming Wang.
Rizzo said he expects to be active and aggressive during the August waiver trading period all with an eye to continue to improve the team for the long-term.
For one day, though, the turnover and tumult stopped. Everyone who began the day a National was still one.
“We get tested a lot and we’ve had a lot of stuff going on with the rumors and stuff like that,” Storen said with a sigh of relief. “I’ll be really happy to show up to the ballpark tomorrow.”