The Nationals introduced their new right-handed reliever, Rafael Soriano, at Nats Park this evening, and while general manager Mike Rizzo was quick to say that he still thinks highly of Drew Storen, he left no doubt as to who the Nats plan on utilizing as their closer.
“Suffice it to say, Raffy is here to pitch the ninth,” Rizzo said. “He has done it successfully everywhere he has been and we expect him to continue that.”
The Nats agreed to terms Tuesday with Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal with a vesting option for a third year, and today, they made the deal official.
Soriano, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 230 lbs. but looks larger in person, opted out of the last season of his three-year contract with the Yankees this offseason, and while Rizzo contacted Soriano’s agent, Scott Boras, months ago, talks started to heat up in the last handful of weeks.
“(Boras) told me from the get-go, just bide your time, continue to work out, do what you need to do, and when the time is right, obviously it will happen for you,” Soriano said through an interpreter. “I continued to work out, do my work, being patient, and obviously when the opportunity with Washington came about, I thought it was a club that I could help now and obviously help win a World Series.”
Rizzo said the Nationals had three specific goals this offseason: find a true defensive center fielder and leadoff man, whose presence could also allow Bryce Harper to move to a corner outfield spot; get a fifth starter; and “do everything we can to give us the most impactful, complete 25-man roster as possible.”
Denard Span took care of goal No. 1, Dan Haren’s signing allowed Rizzo to put a check mark beside No. 2 and Soriano is part of what Rizzo hopes will give him that complete roster.
“Raffy was a good fit because he’s one hell of a closer,” Rizzo said. “You strengthen a strength and you keep moving forward and keep acquiring talent and assets to become the best ballclub you could possibly become. He’s here because he’s got great talent, great character and great ability and has done it at the highest level at one of the toughest places to perform in New York City. He’s battle-tested, he’s certainly not afraid and he’s only going to add to what we believe is a great, young, deep and talented bullpen.
“He’s a guy with great experience in big games and he’s going to not only be a shut-down type of pitcher for us but he’s also going to be a mentor to our younger... bullpen players to get them to go to a higher level also.”
Outside of the steep monetary cost of signing Soriano, the Nationals had to deal with another cost. Inking Soriano after he had declined the qualifying offer extended by the Yankees meant that the Nats would need to surrender their first-round pick in this year’s First-Year Player Draft, and the bonus pool money that came along with it.
That goes against Rizzo’s typical style of stocking an organization with young, talented, controllable players, but in order to acquire a player of Soriano’s ability, the Nats bit the bullet this time and surrendered the pick.
“The draft pick’s important, but ... we felt that where we were picking (in the first round) and the talent pool that was out there and the chance to acquire a talent such as Rafael, it was a good time for us to forfeit the pick,” Rizzo said. “It’s never easy for us because that’s where our bread and butter is, but we felt that the best strategy for us to win now and in the near future was to forgo the pick and get the talent.”
Soriano’s addition obviously pushes Storen and Tyler Clippard primarily into set-up roles, despite the fact that those two have combined to record 79 saves for the Nationals over the last two seasons. Manager Davey Johnson’s desire to have A and B bullpens will allow for save opportunities to be spread around a bit, but the bulk of the chances will fall to Soriano, who saved 42 games and posted a 2.26 ERA with the Yankees last season. Soriano’s career WHIP (1.05) is also the fifth-best in major league history.
Rizzo said that pitching coach Steve McCatty spoke to Storen and Clippard after the Soriano signing, and the GM added that he isn’t worried about how those two will respond to their new roles. Storen had certainly hoped to bounce back from a blown save in Game 5 of the National League Division Series and prove he could close out big games, but now he appears likely to see most of his game action in the eighth inning.
“By no means (was) the signing of Rafael Soriano based on one inning and one game at the end of the season,” Rizzo said. “(Storen’s) a young closer that was thrust into the closer role as a very young man and a very young major leaguer. We feel that we benefit having Sori on the club. Not only by pitching the ninth inning, but also by mentoring a good young potential young closer in Drew Storen.
“We feel that we have multiple closers on this club that have the ability to close out games and one of them is going to close out the seventh, one will close out the eight and one will finish the game in the ninth. We feel pretty good about that.”