What the Soriano Signing Means for the Rest of the Nats Bullpen
One week after signing Adam LaRoche to a two-year $24 million deal the Washington Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to a two year $28 million deal. The reaction from Nats fans was varied and all over the place. There were those that loved a deal that gave the Nats one of the best bullpens in baseball and there were others that didn't like the idea of giving up a draft pick and payroll flexibility for a reliever.
The Nats bullpen has been an issue as of late as they were in need of a pitcher that can get lefties out. The back end looked set with Storen, Clippard, and Stammen, and the only real issue was who was going to fill those last two spots. It was starting to look like it would come down to a Spring Training battle between Bill Bray, Henry Rodriguez, and Erik Davis for those last two spots when Rizzo surprised everyone and signed Rafael Soriano.
Soriano has made it clear that he doesn't want to be a set-up man and while nothing should be counted out with Davey Johnson as the manager it should be expected that Soriano will start the season as the Nationals closer. If he does falter Storen and Clippard are both more than capable to take that role if the need be. It shouldn't be expected for Soriano to fail though. This is a pitcher with a 2.78 ERA career ERA over 11 seasons, a 2.30 ERA in the ninth inning, and 2.49 ERA in save situations.
Soriano is a very fine reliever and while no reliever is worth the $13.5 million a year he is getting that is how the open market values closers and the Nats are fortunate to have him only on a two-year deal. Just last season the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four year $50 million deal. The Nats had two open spots in the bullpen and instead of settling for someone like Brian Wilson coming off of injury or fixing the price of Morse as a reliever the Nats signed the best available player. This is what good organizations that are committed to winning do. They fill needs not just with a player, but with the best players.
Now the rest of the bullpen can start to take shape. Storen will move into the set-up role and Clippard will be the seventh inning guy if needed. The duty of getting lefties out can now fall to Stammen who has some interesting reverse platoon splits with lefties hitting .198/.274/.331 off of him in 2012 and righties .224/.309/.346. Stammen now becomes a guy Davey Johnson and the Nationals can use in match-ups, but with Stammen's overall success as a reliever in 2012 and his ability to get both lefties and righties out he is more than a match-up guy. The Nats bullpen is full of relievers that are better than match-up guys.
The Nats now have a right-handed reliever who had a 2.85 ERA in 2012 in Ryan Mattheus as the fifth guy out of their pen. This is a very strong bullpen and it is made stronger because the Nats signed Soriano to strengthen the back end and push the other relievers down into different roles instead of signing a lesser pitcher. And while giving up the draft pick isn't the easiest thing to swallow it was a low first round pick with little to no chance to help the Nats in 2013 or 2014 as much as Soriano will.
The Nats have just started a winning cycle and may not have a better chance to win than they do right now. After the 2015 season players like Desmond, Zimmermann, and Clippard start hitting free agency, and while the Nats would like to keep all of them that will be difficult. The signing of Soriano makes what was the Nats weakest area, their bullpen, into a unit as strong as their line-up, defense, and starting rotation.