Reds sign reliever Storen to 1-year contract

Indiana native to be in mix for closer role

Reds sign reliever Storen to 1-year contract

CINCINNATI -- Quiet all offseason, the Reds did not wait long after the holidays to make their first big league contract signing of the winter. On Tuesday, they addressed their bullpen by signing veteran reliever Drew Storen to a one-year, $3 million contract.

There are additional bonus incentives worth up to $1.5 million, and Storen will also get a $500,000 assignment bonus if he is traded.

"First and foremost, obviously being from the area and this being my hometown team, it's special that something like this has worked out," Storen, a native of Indianapolis, said in a conference call. "It's a great opportunity for me. Obviously, I see a Reds organization that's only going up. It's a young group, and hopefully I can help out some of the guys with my experience."

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A former closer with the Nationals who saved 43 games in 2011, the 29-year-old Storen fits the bill of the type of reliever the Reds have been searching for -- someone with end-of-game experience seeking an opportunity and the chance to prove himself again after some down years.

Cincinnati's bullpen ranked 29th in ERA (5.09) last season, and it led the Majors in home runs allowed (103), runs allowed (356), walks allowed (297) and hit batters (34). Reds general manager Dick Williams hopes that Storen can fortify the back end of the bullpen, along with returning late-inning pitchers like Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and Tony Cingrani.

"Drew is a consistent performer with low walk rates, good strikeout rates, and he's been a guy with good control in the past," Williams said. "And he has certainly shown that he can pitch in high-leverage situations."

For two full years -- from August 2013 until August '15 -- Storen went 41-for-46 in save opportunities with a 1.31 ERA, a .201 opponents' average and three homers allowed. But he twice lost his closer job to outsiders, once to Rafael Soriano to begin '13 and again in '15 to Jonathan Papelbon despite having 29 saves. Both times, he did not respond well pitching in a setup role.

Once demoted in favor of Papelbon, Storen posted a 5.82 ERA over his final 23 outings in 2015. Washington traded him to the Blue Jays ahead of '16 and he pitched poorly, with a 6.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 38 appearances before being dealt in July to the Mariners.

"He pitched with two new teams, facing new divisions, a lot of moving around," Williams said. "He was used a little bit differently, pitched in lower-leverage situations."

Last season finished optimistically for Storen in Seattle, as he posted a 3.44 ERA and a 0.873 WHIP in 19 games spanning 18 1/3 innings.

Reds ink reliever Storen to deal

"That's one of those things that's a good mental test," Storen said of his 2016 season. "Obviously, it's never fun when it's not going well. You do that in my line of work. It's pretty tough. For me, when I got moved to Seattle, I knew it was a new opportunity. Fortunately, in Seattle we were playing meaningful games. I got put in big spots and had a great opportunity and made the most of it. I couldn't control that I failed in Toronto, but what I could do is get people out the last couple months of the season, and I managed to do that."

The Reds did not assure Storen that he would be their closer in 2017. Iglesias, Lorenzen and Cingrani will also be in the mix as manager Bryan Price explores being more innovative with roles, potentially using his closer or setup men in earlier high-leverage situations. How Price uses his relievers will be determined in Spring Training, Williams said.

"If you're down in the bullpen and you don't want to close, then you have no business being down there. That's how it should be," Storen said. "Realistically, there's so many things that change from Day One to Opening Day and even throughout the season. I'm not getting paid to make those decisions. I'm getting paid to get people out."

One potential red flag for Storen and the Reds is decreased velocity. He used to reliably get his fastball to 94-96 mph, but he was in the 91-93-mph range last season.

According to Statcast™, Storen averaged an 88.6-mph exit velocity against hitters over his 33 1/3 innings for the Blue Jays, with an average 12-degree launch angle and 14 barreled balls allowed. With Seattle, he improved to an 86.1-mph average exit velocity, with a seven-degree launch angle and one barrel allowed.

Overall, Storen got rocked when he threw fastballs. On four-seamers and sinkers combined, batters hit .337 (32-for-95), with a .568 slugging percentage against him.

"We saw the numbers. We know [the velocity] was down a little bit last year," Williams said. "At the end of the season, the fastball was up around 93 his last [game] of the year. We still think he can be very effective in that range. He's got a good three-pitch mix. I think he can be effective where he is."

Storen grew up in Brownsburg, Ind., and for two years he was a high school classmate of Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart. During the past two offseasons, Storen did his offseason throwing with Barnhart.

Storen on playing with Barnhart

"When Drew was trying to make a decision, he reached out to me and asked some questions, and we talked for probably a half-hour about the Reds and the situation that we have right now in Cincinnati," Barnhart said. "It appears some of my information helped him out a little bit."

Cincinnati cleared Storen's spot on the 40-man roster when pitcher Tyrell Jenkins was claimed off of waivers by the Padres. The Reds had just claimed Jenkins off of waivers from the Rangers on Dec. 23.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.