The Washington Nationals bullpen needed help and they got it on Tuesday by signing free agent New York Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano. The Nationals signed Soriano, 33, to a two year, $28 million contract with the option for a third year at $14 million. It is a move that may be surprising to those outside of the organization, but makes sense to anyone who is associated with the team. Soriano was signed to close the door that last year’s bullpen did not.
Despite winning an MLB best 98 games in 2012, one of Washington’s biggest weaknesses was its bullpen. Drew Storen was set to start the year as the Nationals closer, but injured his elbow in spring training. Henry Rodriguez was given the first shot at the closers role, but could not do the job. Tyler Clippard took over and earned 32 saves in 37 opportunities, but was shaky at times. The bullpen was not able to hold on to a two run lead in game five of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals and Washington’s season ended in bitter defeat.
There was no question going into the off season that the Nationals needed to upgrade the bullpen. For a while, it looked as though they were not going to address the issue as Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez were all allowed to sign elsewhere. As early as last week, it was believed that Washington would not make a move to shore up the bullpen. It looked as though the team would go into 2013 short on left handed relievers and with Storen and Clippard fighting it out for the closers role.
Part of that will change pending the right handed Soriano passing a physical. Soriano comes to the Nationals after a 2012 season in which he replaced Mariano Rivera as the Yankees closer after Rivera suffered a knee injury. Soriano saved 42 games for New York, which was just two less than Rivera did in 2011, and finished with an ERA of 2.26. He struck out 69 batters in 67 2/3 innings. Since, the Yankees made a one year tender to Soriano, Washington will lose a draft pick.
Barring injury, Soriano will immediately take over the closers role and the Nationals will have to make decisions on Storen and Clippard. They could keep both and use them as middle relievers. After seeing two potential closers injured last season, they could keep one as a backup. They could package either Storen or Clippard with outfielder Michael Morse and use them as trade bait.
One thing that everyone knows is that the signing of Soriano means that Washington feels they are very close to winning a title. A team does not sign a 33 year old player at any position for $28 million unless they think he can help them win a championship. Soriano is expected to help do this.
He was signed to close the door that last year’s bullpen could not.