What about Rafael Soriano?

January 6, 2013
Drew Storen could use another closer in the Nats' bullpen to keep him fresh. (Jonathan Newton / WP)
Drew Storen could use another closer in the Nats’ bullpen to keep him fresh. (Jonathan Newton / WP)

This is going to sound crazy, but here goes. If the Nationals want to upgrade their bullpen after missing out on several left-handers – and they should – they might as well go after the best reliever available and try to sign Rafael Soriano.

There are so many reasons that makes no sense. They already have a closer in a Drew Storen and a set-up man who saved 32 games last season in Tyler Clippard. They have two right-handers with the potential to pitch the eighth in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia. Henry Rodriguez, whatever it is he turns out to be, is still kicking around. They have plenty of pieces, and it would be prudent to see if they work, with the option to upgrade at the trade deadline.

Mike Rizzo has shown through previous moves that he is opposed to handing big salaries to free agent relievers – he would not even match the seemingly affordable two-year, $8.5 million (plus incentives) deal Sean Burnett signed with the Angels. Plus Soriano is 33, and he’s a reliever and therefore inherently volatile, so a multi-year contract is asking for trouble.

Soriano declined a qualifying offer and would therefore cost the Nationals their first-round pick (No. 31 overall) and the draft pool bonus money that goes with it. Rizzo, of course, believes first and foremost in building through strong drafts. Signing Soriano would seem to fly in the face of many of his tenets.

Plus, despite some teeth-gnashing, the Nationals are probably fine to start the year given the left-handers they had. It’s a decent bet that Bill Bray, whom the Nats signed to a minor league deal, returns to health and assumes his place as one of the better lefty relievers in the game. Mattheus and Clippard have tremendous “reverse splits” — they get out lefties better than right-handers.

Now that we have that out of the way, there are also plenty of reasons why it does make sense. Davey Johnson loves his ‘A’ and ‘B’ closer system on winning teams, and Soriano’s presence would give him that option. If the Nationals challenge 100 wins next season, both Soriano – who notched 42 saves with a 185 ERA+ and 9.2 K/9 for the Yankees last season – and Storen would get plenty of save chances.

The Nationals don’t need to replace Storen, who was great down the stretch until the final game. But they could augment him. Remember last year, when the Nationals signed Brad Lidge to swing between closing and setting up to take pressure off Clippard and Storen? Soriano would be like a Super Brad Lidge. He’d also be about a dozen times more expensive, but we’ll get to that.

Last year, scouts believed the back of the Nationals’ bullpen wore down significantly in September. Soriano, who has averaged 56 games the past seven seasons, would give them enough depth to prevent that this season. So he’s not a lefty. They could still execute one of the smartest moves in any sport – strengthening a strength.

The Nationals clearly rank in the top third of the league, if not the top five, with their rotation, infield and outfield. By adding Soriano, they would make their bullpen every bit as good, on paper, as the rest of their team. The bullpen is good, potentially very good, as it is. It could be excellent with Soriano.

Price could be a problem (though not as much of a hurdle as the draft pool bonus money). Soriano turned down his qualifying offer, which ensures agent Scott Boras will not accept a deal unless it’s a good deal more than one year for $13 million. But the Nationals could afford it, especially if Adam LaRoche surprises and signs elsewhere.

If the Nationals do not re-sign LaRoche and keep Michael Morse, it would save about $7 million from their payroll. Take $7 million and the $3 million they saved by not signing another lefty reliever. Take that $10 million and use it toward making Soriano a ridiculous one-year offer. Their payroll for 2013 would still be less than $110 million, which should not be a problem. Even if they do sign LaRoche, it really shouldn’t be a financial albatross.

Here is how Soriano coming to Washington would happen. Boras needs a late-winter landing spot for Soriano. He goes straight to Ted Lerner and convinces him that he has a team set to contend for and maybe win the World Series, but with one hole – the back end of the bullpen that faltered at the worst time last season. He tells him the Nationals will have a finite window to compete for titles, and now is the time to become as strong as possible – with Soriano as the final, missing piece.

I again admit the whole scenario sounds crazy. I really don’t think the Nationals going after Soriano is going to happen. I also don’t think it’s a bad idea, and I wouldn’t rule it out. Fanciful? Sure. Possible? Well, think back to this time last year. Did it look like Edwin Jackson would be pitching for the Nationals in 2012? When a preposterously wealthy, 87-year-old man wants to win a World Series, anything could be possible.

Your thoughts? Terrible idea? Too much money? So crazy it just might work?

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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James Wagner · January 4, 2013

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