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Reds “optimistic” about extension talks with Homer Bailey
As more and more high-end pitchers sign long-term extensions with their first big-league teams, those who don’t become hot commodities when they reach free agency. That, in turn, increases the incentive for pitchers to test the market and makes it more difficult for smaller-market clubs to retain them.

The Reds are experiencing this challenge firsthand with Homer Bailey, who has gone year to year to this point in his career and is entering his final season of arbitration eligibility. General manager Walt Jocketty discussed Bailey and his team’s other arbitration-bound players with reporters on Friday, and’s Mark Sheldon wrote that Jocketty is undeterred by the slow pace of negotiations with the right-hander.

Bailey, who turns 28 on May 3, delivered a spate of career bests for the Reds in 2013, including a 3.49 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and 2.9 WARP—all while working a career-high 209 innings. The right-hander has a history of minor shoulder trouble, most notably inflammation in 2010 and an impingement in 2011, but he has steadily increased his workload and has been healthy in each of the past two years.

For now, Bailey is on track to join Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Max Scherzer, and James Shields in the free agent class of 2014-2015, which, until their extensions, also included Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. Bailey is the only member of the group who will become available before his 30th birthday, and with only 853 major-league innings on his arm, the LaGrange, Texas, native has plenty of arrows left to shoot.

Jocketty attributes the lack of progress in negotiations to Bailey’s new agent, Casey Close, who has been busy finishing Kershaw’s extension with the Dodgers and fielding offers for Masahiro Tanaka. Bailey, who was previously represented by the Hendricks Brothers, switched to Close’s agency, Excel Sports Management, last month. The sides exchanged arbitration figures on Friday, when Close asked the Reds for $11.6 million and the club countered with an $8.7 million tender.

We should learn more about the state of talks between Bailey and the Reds after this week, as Tanaka faces a January 24 deadline to choose his first major-league organization. Bailey has forgone arbitration in each of his first two years of eligibility, though he took Jocketty down to the wire last year before settling for $5.35 million on February 16.

Nationals could reshape the back end of their bullpen
Two stories surfaced from the nation’s capital over the weekend, both of them related to first-year manager Matt Williams’ relief corps. Rafael Soriano is entrenched as the Nats’ closer, but the setup men who will pave the way to the ninth inning could change between now and Opening Day.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Sunday morning that former A’s closer Grant Balfour might be on general manager Mike Rizzo’s wish list as the winter winds down. As Rosenthal pointed out, the 36-year-old Balfour is an intriguing fit for a couple of reasons: He could save the Nationals from the $14 million option in Soriano’s contract, which vests if he finishes 62 games in 2014, and he would become a candidate to take over the ninth-inning job if Soriano departs.

Balfour previously agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract with the Orioles, but saw that deal fall through when he failed his physical. Most assumed at the time that the O’s flunked Balfour because of concerns about his surgically repaired shoulder, but ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted on January 13 that the red flags were actually his wrist and knee. Balfour underwent surgery on his right knee on February 14, 2013 to repair a torn meniscus, but he went on to pitch 62 2/3 innings without needing any time off. He also has no documented history of wrist trouble, though the Nationals, or whichever team ends up signing Balfour, will surely look into whatever the Orioles’ medical staff found.

In the afore-linked article, Rosenthal wrote that sources also told him that the Nationals would like to trade Drew Storen. Rather than assembling a bullpen filled with former closers—as the Dodgers have done by lining up Brandon League, Chris Perez, and Brian Wilson in front of Kenley Jansen—the Nats could use the savings from the trade (Storen’s $3.45 million salary for 2014) to add a different veteran reliever like Balfour. Tyler Clippard, who filled in as Washington’s closer before Soriano came to town, would continue to serve as one of the primary setup men.

Storen’s base numbers last year were worse than his peripherals—with a 3.59 FIP belied by a 4.52 ERA—but he struggled to find any sort of consistency and was done in by a brutal July. That swoon earned Storen a demotion to Triple-A Syracuse, where the Nationals wanted him to rediscover the mechanics with which he excelled at Stanford. He returned to the majors in August and finished strong, allowing only three runs in 19 1/3 innings, during which he walked six and struck out 15.

Clubs that believe that they could keep Storen’s mechanics in check and help him to narrow his platoon splits (left-handed hitters logged a .300 TAv against him in 2013, raising their career mark to .270) are likely to phone Rizzo in the coming weeks, because 26-year-old relievers with closer experience and multiple years of team control remaining aren’t plentiful. Storen, a Super Two player who took home $2.5 million in 2013, settled for $3.45 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He is under the Nationals’ control through the 2016 season.

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