Going into spring training 2012, the Washington Nationals stockpiled starting pitchers in hopes that they would find five to fill out their rotation. The plan worked, as the team went 98-64 and won the NL East.
This off season, the Nationals have signed free agent closer Rafael Soriano, while so far both keeping Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. It seems as though Washington is trying to stockpile closers in hopes of creating competition that will produce the best man for the job.
The Nationals went into last season unsure of who their closer would be. It was hoped that Storen would win the job, but he suffered an elbow injury in spring training. Henry Rodriguez began the year as the closer, but could not get his curve ball over. Clippard took over and did well enough to save 32 games in 37 chances, but faded down the stretch. Storen came back to share the closing duties with Clippard in September and the post season.
Washington has known since last season that they had to upgrade their bullpen and find a consistent closer. This point was hammered home when the Nationals blew a two-run, bottom of the ninth lead in game five of the NLDS and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Washington has not lost confidence in Storen or Clippard, but may feel that neither is ready to be the everyday closer. This is why the Nationals signed Soriano. He saved 42 games for the New York Yankees last season and 45 for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010. Soriano, also, has post season experience.
In 2012, Washington went into spring training with seven potential starting pitchers. Five were members of the team in 2011 while Gio Gonzalez came in a trade from the Oakland Athletics and Edwin Jackson was signed as a free agent. The Nationals ended up going with Gonzalez, Jackson, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler and won the East.
This season, Washington will have four potential closers in Soriano, Storen, Clippard and Rodriguez. Of the four, Soriano and Clippard have the best resumes. With his $28 million price tag, it is highly unlikely that Soriano will not be the man coming out of spring training. However, as the saying goes about the best laid plans of mice and men, anything can happen between now and opening day. The Nationals found this out with Storen last season and have experienced it with their starting pitchers as well.
By bringing four men into camp with the potential to close, Washington has tried to insure that they will come up with one good one. If they do, then the others can be used to fill out other roles in the bullpen. In the Nationals best case scenario, Soriano wins the job while Storen, Clippard and Rodriguez fill roles that opened up when Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Burnett and Mike Gonzalez left in free agency.
Stockpiling starters in 2012 worked out well for Washington as they were able to put together one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and make the post season.
If stockpiling closers in 2013 leads to the same success, the Nationals could very well take the next step toward winning a championship.