Was Washington Nationals’ Investment in Rafael Soriano Money Well Spent?

Brad Mills- USA TODAY Sports

After the Washington Nationals‘ NLDS Game 5 meltdown, Drew Storen‘s role as closer came into question among fans.

Storen really never deserved as much blame as he received as the St. Louis Cardinals did take some very close pitches, along with the fact that Washington’s offense did something it has done for most of the past season and a half: put a crooked number on the board over the course of a couple of innings then, much a like a bear does for the winter, went into hibernation. Washington’s biggest issue has been adding insurance runs so that if a team chips away, like St. Louis did, they’re always climbing up an ever-steepening hill.

Storen was injured for the first part of 2012, having surgery for bone chips in his elbow, and was solid in 37 games in 2012, going 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA, saving four games in five chances. In fact, up until that fateful Game 5, Storen was stellar, going 1-0 with an ERA of zero, allowing no hits and striking out four. Essentially, if Washington had added on late in the game, Storen would have had time to redeem himself for one bad inning.

After Game 5, Storen was vilified by the low life portion of Nationals fans, so much so that a twitter handle along the lines of “die Drew Storen” was even created but quickly deleted. Storen took the loss understandably hard, placing most of the blame on himself and being very quiet via social media for most of the offseason.

Mike Rizzo has always said he would make any move he believed would help the team now and in the future. Around February, Rafael Soriano sat unsigned by a team, mostly because of the new CBA which calls for a team that signs a player given a qualifying offer of $11M to give up their draft pick to the team that player leaves. In this case, it was the New York Yankees who gave Soriano the qualifying offer and Washington who came out of nowhere to sign him. Many had him going to the Detroit Tigers whose closer at the time, Jose Valverde, seemed to have thrown his final pitch in the Motor City.

Soriano was signed to a two-year, $28 million deal with a 2015 option that kicks in with 120 games finished over the 2013-2014 season, with some of the money deferred to 2018-2025, where Washington will pay Soriano either $2-3M over those years. Soriano, a 33-year-old veteran, has proven that he can close in both leagues, having closed for the Atlanta BravesTampa Bay Rays, and New York Yankees prior to joining Washington with 114 saves in 125 chances with those three teams.

With Storen still being so young, and perhaps slightly self-conscious following Game 5, it would be easy to think a signing like this would kill his confidence as a closer. This was not the case, as Rizzo, reading the tea leaves so well, spoke to Storen and Tyler Clippard prior to making the move to reassure them this was a team-centric move and not because of any individual performance. He’s right in that thinking.

Storen is an established closer, already having almost 50 saves under his belt. A move to get a Soriano makes a lot of sense because it allows Storen, who was thrust into the role very young, to watch an established veteran close and learn about himself as a closer. It also helps Storen become more experienced as a pitcher and learn to roll with the punches more. The move also makes Washington much deeper, and depth is always a good thing.

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