If you missed Bryce Harper’s appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last night, you also missed Kimmel’s first “clown question” reference coming four seconds after Harper walked out on stage.
No, seriously. I’m not kidding. Kimmel’s very first comment to Harper referenced the famous, “That’s a clown question, bro” incident in Toronto last season. Wish I could say I didn’t see that coming.
Yesterday’s news that the Nationals have agreed to terms with Rafael Soriano on a two-year, $28 million deal with a vesting option for a third year was both surprising and incredibly thought-provoking, at least from my perspective.
There are so many different layers to Soriano joining the Nats - the Scott Boras link (yet again), the Nationals’ loss of a draft pick, the impact on Drew Storen, the question of whether Soriano will continue to violently untuck his jersey after every save - that I feel like we could discuss this deal all day.
The terms of the contract are what jumped out at me first. Obviously, you don’t see many relievers get contracts which will pay them an average of $14 million per season. In fact, Soriano is now the highest-paid reliever in baseball, and only one relief pitcher in major league history - the guy who Soriano filled in for with the Yankees last season, Mariano Rivera - has landed a deal which paid him more than Soriano’s $14 million per season.
The amount of money that the Nationals forked over to Soriano shocked a lot of people. Why spend $28 million ($14 million of which will be deferred starting in 2018, according to former Nats general manager Jim Bowden) to bring in a guy who doesn’t fulfill a specific need for you? And why do it when it didn’t appear that Boras, Soriano’s Ã¼ber-confident agent, had many other teams interested in the 33-year-old reliever’s services?
Soriano’s signing is clearly a case of a team taking a strength - late-inning right-handed relief - and adding to it. I don’t think this deal is an indication that the Nats no longer trust Storen to close games after what happened in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. I think that they merely saw a chance to improve their team and took it.
Tyler Clippard might have tired a bit down the stretch last season, posting an 8.76 ERA in the regular season’s final month. Storen came back pretty strong from early-season elbow surgery but allowed four runs in the final inning of the Nats’ 2012 playoff run.
Did the Nationals overpay Soriano a bit? Yeah, it appears they did. But Soriano is still a very talented power pitcher, a guy who has a 2.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 502 career innings. General manager Mike Rizzo clearly feels that this deal could be what puts the Nats over the edge and gives them what it takes to make a major run at a World Series title.
OK, so the Nats lose a compensatory draft pick by signing Soriano because he was presented a qualifying offer by the Yankees earlier this offseason. Handing away draft picks goes completely against Rizzo’s typical strategy of building a team through the draft, and given all the prospects the Nats have given up in the last 13 months in the Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span deals, it might have been nice to be able to add another strong draftee to the system. The Nationals also lose the bonus money attached to the draft pick they’ll give up.
That said, it seems that many draft experts feel that this year’s draft class isn’t particularly talent-laden, and because the Nationals held the No. 29 overall pick as compared to one in the top half of the first round, they might not have gotten a true top-tier talent with that selection.
Let’s turn now to how the three right-handers at the back of the Nationals’ bullpen will be used this upcoming season. It’s certainly possible that either Storen or Clippard is traded in the days or weeks that lie ahead, possibly packaged with Michael Morse in order to land the Nats a couple nice prospects. But if both Storen and Clippard remain in D.C., can this trio prove effective and avoid any personal issues in the ‘pen?
Sure, I think they can. Some feelings might have been hurt a little bit by the Soriano addition, with Storen aiming to bounce back from his blown save in the NLDS and Clippard hoping to continue to show he can handle multiple late-inning roles. But both Storen and Clippard are as professional as it gets in this game, and they’ll put their egos aside when they’re called into action.
Manager Davey Johnson loves using what he calls an A and B bullpen, allowing multiple guys to get chances to save games and keeping his key relievers fresh for the long haul. Johnson tried to use that strategy with Storen and Brad Lidge (and later, Henry Rodriguez) last season, but injuries derailed that plan.
This year, Johnson can use Storen as his B closer and Clippard as a set-up guy in front of one of the two ninth-inning options. He can also use Clippard, who excels against left-handed hitters, to match up with a key lefty in a big spot. The Nationals’ skipper has plenty of options.
Soriano’s signing seemed to come out of nowhere, and it could theoretically cause a minor disruption within a tight clubhouse. The Nats paid a boatload of money to bring Soriano to D.C., and it adds some intrigue into how the back of the bullpen will be handled this season.
But I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many executives around the league that believe that Soriano’s addition doesn’t make the Nationals a better team today than they were at this time yesterday.