The pain of the Nationals’ bullpen collapse against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series must still be fresh in general manager Mike Rizzo’s mind.
How else to explain his move to burnish a bullpen that is already stocked with right-handers with the signing of a former All-Star right-hander who has been the primary closer on two division champions.
That’s just what Rizzo and the Nats did on Tuesday, signing Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal, first reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. The deal also includes a mutual $14 million option for a third year that kicks in if Soriano finishes 120 games over the next two seasons
What’s more, the Yankees made Soriano a qualifying offer, meaning the Nats will forfeit their first-round draft pick, No. 29 overall, and the $1 million in bonus money that they might use to sign that pick.
Soriano, 33, is 15-24 with 132 saves in 11 seasons in the majors, with Seattle, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and the Yankees. In those last two stops, he helped the Rays win the American League East in 2010 with a league-high 45 saves, then stepped in for injured closer Mariano Rivera last season and saved 42 games for the Yankees en route to an AL East crown.
This sounds like a proven major league closer the Nats can envision anchoring their bullpen for the foreseeable future. Rizzo now has plenty of what he loves most: options.
So what does it mean for a pitching staff that was already one of the major leagues’ best in 2012?
Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who combined to surrender five earned runs on four hits and a pair of walks over the final, fateful two innings should be taking notice. The Nats have already cut ties with two of the other inconsistent performers, Edwin Jackson and Sean Burnett. Could either of them be next?
We already know that Rizzo is actively seeking trades for Michael Morse, who was made expendable by the signing of Adam LaRoche and the trade for Denard Span. How much more could the Nats get in return if they threw in a 25-year-old who has saved 52 games in this three big league seasons (Storen), or a 27-year-old established setup man who can close games (Clippard)?
One thing is for sure. Rizzo is not a man who will rest on what he has, even f it was the best team in baseball last season. He’s willing to take a chance to make it even better in 2013.