The Nationals’ signing of Rafael Soriano is big and fascinating enough to keep rattling around your mind. Boz weighed in this morning, writing in today’s Post that the Lerner family gave a strong, defiant rebuttal to anyone who thought 2012 was the Nationals’ best chance to win. Building off of James Wagner’s initial thoughts yesterday, here are a few more ways the signing will reverberate.
>>> The Nationals can change their approach to trading Michael Morse. Rather than possibly looking for a reliever in return for the slugger, the Nationals can turn their full attention to landing the best prospect they can for Morse. They simply don’t have space on their 25-man roster to add another major leaguer.
They could also package one of their relievers with Morse for a better return. For example, the Mariners wouldn’t send one of their trio of strong starting prospects – Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Wagner – for Morse alone. If the Nationals offered Morse plus Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen, the Mariners might consider it.
>>> That being said, trading Storen or Clippard would kind of defeat the purpose of signing Soriano. They already had two proven closers in Storen and Clippard, so the point of signing Soriano was not to get good in the back end. It was to get better and, most important, deeper. Opposing scouts believed the Nationals’ staff wore down last year. Another quality arm out there should prevent that. The Nationals would be wise to let Soriano strengthen a strength rather than replace one talented pitcher with another.
>>> Assuming Storen isn’t dealt, he will have to handle a different role. Like Clippard, he has made it no secret he wants to close. The Nationals aren’t paying Soriano $14 million per season to set up. Here we have another example of why the Nationals’ magical 2012, when everyone was young and happy, will never happen again. Storen is at a place in his career when he rightfully should be establishing himself, taking control of the ninth inning. Now he’s forced to subjugate his own career advancement.
Storen has never been anything but a pro. How does he handle this? Will it affect his performance? Those questions don’t get asked on a team hoping to win 80 games. When you gather enough talent to become the World Series favorite, they do.
>>> The bullpen is crowded, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out during spring training. Unless they make a trade, the Nationals have nine relievers to feasibly fill seven spots: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Henry Rodriguez, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus, Zach Duke, Christian Garcia and Bill Bray, who signed a minor league deal but has a real shot to make it as a second left-hander.
With Soriano on board, the Nationals can commit fully to Davey Johnson’s preferred plan of making Garcia a starter and letting him develop at Class AAA Syracuse. (You wonder if perhaps that has the effect of the Nationals backing off their pursuit of Javier Vazquez; Garcia would fill that quality sixth starter role.)
And so that leaves eight. Henry Rodriguez certainly carries the most questions. The story remains the same: He’s out of options, so trying to send him to the minors would effectively mean losing him. When he’s on, he’s comically dominant. When he’s off, he’s catastrophic. Now that they’re full-fledged contenders, do the Nationals lose patience with him? Do they still believe he’ll find consistency and become a top set-up man? The answers to those questions may depend on his performance this spring, when he’ll be coming off elbow surgery.
If they keep Rodriguez, they could make Craig Stammen the recipient of the John Lannan Memorial Option, an award I just made up that no one wants to win. In other words, they could send a deserving major leaguer to the minors in order to boost their depth and prepare for injury. Would that seem fair to Stammen, who was durable and excellent in 2012? Not at all. But if Rodriguez has a dominant camp, it could be the best way for the Nationals to keep all their assets.
That is, unless Bray cannot prove he has recovered from the back injury that limited him to 14 games last year. When healthy, Bray has been one of the best lefty specialists in the sport. But he needs to prove it during spring. The easiest for the Nationals could be sending Bray to the minors. (It’s not known if Bray has an out in his contract, but it’s a safe bet he does. If the Nationals don’t add Bray to the 25-man roster at the end of spring, he would presumably have the option to catch on with another team.)
It will all be sorted out once everyone gets to Viera in less than a month. Suffice to say there will be stiff competition in the Nationals bullpen, and the result figures to be a dominant relief corps.