When the Washington Nationals arrived in 2005, who would have ever thought that less than a decade later, they would be able to sign players away from the deep pocketed New York Yankees? However, this is just what happened on Tuesday as the Nationals signed free agent closer Rafael Soriano to a two year $28 million contract with an option for a third year.
The 33 year old Soriano was signed by New York in 2011 after a 2010 season in which he saved 45 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. He took over the closers role in 2012 when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season due to a knee injury. The Yankees expect to have Rivera back for the 2013 season and only offered Soriano a one year tender offer, which he turned down.
This gave Washington a chance to sign him. Despite winning the NL East last season, the Nationals watched as their relievers struggled down the stretch. In the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington relievers lost a two run lead and the series in the ninth inning of game five. The Nationals knew going into the off season that they had to shore up the pen. When the opportunity to sign a pitcher with 87 saves in his last two stints as a closer came up, it was too good to pass up.
The Nationals signing someone away from the Yankees seemed far fetched even last season. Washington has never been a huge player in the free agent market. It was believed that ownership was cheap and wanted to build a team through the draft. This may have been the case when the Nationals were owned by MLB for one year, but not since the Lerner Group bought the club in 2006. They have been willing to spend money on high draft picks and proved Tuesday that they are willing to sign high priced free agents as well.
The signing of Soriano is a typical Washington move. Instead of going out and signing the first big name available, General Manager Mike Rizzo sized up the situation in New York and waited to see whether the Yankees would make Soriano available. Once it became obvious that the Yankees were going back to Rivera as their closer, Rizzo made his move and brought Soriano into the fold. Rizzo not only got the man that he wanted, but at the Nationals’ price.
Over the years, it has been the Yankees who have signed players away from good teams coming off of successful seasons. This time, it is the Yankees who have lost a good player to someone after New York had a successful year.
Until it happened, who would have ever thought it would be the Nationals taking from the Yankees?